Rimsha Masih’s departure for Canada may bring relief for many who worried for the immediate safety of the girl and her family. In the past as well we have shamelessly seen Western countries giving refuge to those who are in danger in Pakistan.
One wonders whether this is the best possible solution to cases of a similar nature. Should everyone who faces immediate danger to their lives be given asylum and forced to emigrate? Can we not do something to let these people live safely in their own country? And be certain of this: circumstances force them to leave, not the other way round.
Despite being cleared of the charges by a court, Rimsha and her family still had to go into hiding. The government ferreted her to a safe house but they eventually preferred a life out of Pakistan, fearing for their lives.
This case was different. The state took a proactive role. Not only did Rimsha get justice, she was also given protection. Given this, her departure is somewhat unfortunate. At the same time, it gives the girl and her family a new chance at building their lives.
It has not always been the case that the government has acted in the manner it did. In the past the state in Pakistan was unwilling or unable to protect persons in similar circumstances.
One can argue that given Pakistan’s poor law and order situation or the fact that every day several people lose their lives in one sad incident or another, why should we worry about such individual cases? Why should they even be given asylum, they ask.
There is the suggestion that given that most of those accused under the blasphemy laws are non-Muslims, this is possibly an issue that has been overblown by the Western governments under the garb of human rights abuses. It is a hidden agenda, say some, to defame Pakistan.
We need to wake up to the injustice here. This is our problem. Most of those who are accused of such charges are not given a fair trial. Barring a few high profile cases, hundreds of people are suffering in silence.
Brave women like Mukhtaran Mai have also proven that not all victims of such circumstances seek to escape or to emigrate. Many stand and fight and emerge stronger. In fact, most of those who have found themselves in similar circumstances are still very much in Pakistan – alive or dead.
The bigger issue here is the role that the state plays in handling such cases. The manner in which such cases are registered, how the police investigates and how the courts function puts into question the whole process.
More important, while the accused suffers even before being tried or convicted of the charges, the accuser usually remains untouched. Possibly that is why the number of such cases is increasing.
The mindset of those in power can be gauged from President Musharraf’s comments in an interview to the Washington Post in 2005 where he said that rape had become a “money-making concern” in Pakistan. He told his interviewer that “a lot of people say if you want to go abroad and get a visa for Canada or citizenship and be a millionaire, get yourself raped.”
His comments could be linked to a high profile rape case earlier that year in Balochistan. The case was that of a doctor employed by Pakistan Petroleum Limited who was allegedly raped by a masked intruder while residing in a dormitory at the safe and secure compound of her employer guarded by the security forces.
In his comments, President General Musharraf cleared the main accused, an army captain, before proper investigations let alone a trial. The case then fizzled away. Once the president had spoken, his minions fell into line. The PPL, whose then chairman was Munsif Raza, had the victim shifted to a Karachi psychiatric hospital. Eventually, the victim and her husband, took a plane out of Pakistan.
If we don’t raise a voice now, many of us will continue to have two options – suffer in silence or leave the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 1st, 2013.