When Founder-Maker Mohammad Ali Jinnah told the future legislators of his country-to-be that “religion is not the business of the state” he knew what he was saying. He spelt out some of the reasons why it should not be, stressing the point that bigotry and intolerance should have no place in a new country about to take its place in the democratic and civilised world.
His warning went unheeded. It took only six months after his death for those same legislators to come up with the objectionable Objectives Resolution which firmly set Pakistan on its path towards complete intolerance of anything outside the state-defined religion, opening up the scope for the legislating of laws inherently at odds with accepted international fundamental human rights.
The first ominous signs came with the 1953 state-cum-mullah inspired Punjab riots involving the Ahmadis. In 1956, the authors of the first of the three constitutions with which we have been unblessed decreed that the Republic of Pakistan should be an Islamic republic. We move to 1973 and the insertion of the Objectives Resolution as the preamble to the constitution, and on to the second amendment of 1974 when an entire community which had been part of the majority since the country’s birth was declared a minority.
Now, when legislation is undertaken in the name of religion and the clerical lot is allowed to play a disproportionate role in the business of the state, it is virtually impossible to undo what has been decreed. Take the laws of 1977 when the then prime minister acted in a vain attempt to save his kursi and uncharacteristically banned alcohol (thus depriving the exchequer of a fair amount of money and enriching bootleggers), and gambling (which continues under the counter) — but the laws ridiculously remain with us.
All was opened up for Ziaul Haq to impose his wicked ways. In 1979 he came up with the Hudood Ordinances under which God alone knows how many innocents have suffered as they are open to gross abuse when it comes to women. Then he made his first move on the blasphemy law, Section 295, an innocuous law dating back to 1927, under which anyone injuring or defiling a place of worship with the intent to insult the religion of any class would be punished by imprisonment of up to two years or by a fine. He added 295-B which awarded imprisonment for life to anyone defiling the Holy Quran. The master stroke came in 1986, Section 295-C passed by the Zia-Junejo government which decreed that anyone using derogatory remarks in respect of the Prophet of Islam (pbuh) “shall be punished by death” or imprisoned for life or fined.
This law is tailor-made for those wishing to take revenge, or to grab property, or to rid themselves of a meddlesome rival, or even to gain employment. Murders have taken place, using 295-C, even the murder of a judge who dared to declare an accused innocent, several accused have been shot down in court premises, and countless citizens conveniently languish in the country’s jails accused of the ultimate blasphemy. And to top it all, not one of the many who have made known and obvious false accusations has been punished.
And now, in 2010, with the party of the people in place, an innocent woman, falsely charged, has been sentenced to death by a judge of our independent judiciary, under Zia’s iniquitous and depraved bit of legislation. No government has had the guts to at least try to do something about this horrid law. What is wrong with the PPP (both B and Z versions) that it is unable to move against something imposed by the man who hanged the founder of the party? If democracy is its best revenge, then let us have some revenge for the citizens of this country against the dangers posed to them by Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 20th, 2010.