LAHORE: Esha, the 10-year old disabled daughter of the woman who has been awarded death sentence in a blasphemy case, is anxiously waiting for her mother to come home. She doesn’t understand the complications that might be involved in acceptance of her mother’s clemency appeal. All she wants is that President Zardari approves it immediately so that she could be with her mother again.
For the last one and half years, Esha has been weeping for her mother and now her hopes have been raised after Governor Salman Taseer met Aasia Bibi in Sheikhupura Jail on Saturday and assured her that he would take her clemency appeal to the president to pardon her death sentence.
Talking to The Express Tribune at the family residence in Sheikupura on Sunday, Aasia Bibi’s family said that they were hopeful. “I just want to see my mother,” said Esha, as tears streamed down her cheeks.
The family has been in shock since the day when Aasia Bibi was accused of blasphemy. They lost hope in the middle of ever seeing their mother again. Now they say things may change. “Many people have been coming to this place for the last few days and Esha asks everybody who is that will bring her mother home,” Sidra, the 18-year old elder sister, said.
Aasia has five kids: Naseem, who is married, 22-year old son Imran, 18-year old Sidra, 10-year old Esha and 9-year old Esham. Esha is most attached to her mother as it was she who took care of the special child.
“I met my mother on Tuesday,” Esha said as she also confessed in an innocent tone that she feared her mother was going to die.
The rented house is quiet apart from the visitors who bring a bustle of activity and hope. Sidra now looks after the family chores as well as the needs of Esha. “We have passed through very tough days. The day when my mother was awarded the death sentence was the worst day of my life.,” said Sidra, adding “My father and brother didn’t tell us at first but when we came to know we all got very depressed and didn’t eat anything. Now we have hope that she will be pardoned.”
When asked what plans they have to please their mother when she comes home Sidra replied with a mischievous grin, “What’s the use of a surprise if we reveal it. We are ready to do anything which pleases her and the biggest surprise for us will be her release”.
The family has migrated from their original village of Ittanwali to Gloria Colony, a Christian locality in Sheikhupura. Sidra says: “We don’t want to go back to our village. The women who accused my mother used to work with her and now there isn’t anything left for us there.
We have our house there but we don’t plan to go back”.
She said that they shifted from their native village to Sheikhupura 15 days after the incident as they received threats their house would be set on fire.
Nine year old Esham, who is the youngest daughter of Aasia, now remains quiet most of the time. “She remains afraid and often goes out to play when someone asks her about our mother,” Sidra said. The family is scared and the children traumatised.
Aasia Bibi, a 45-year-old Christian woman, was sentenced to death by additional district and sessions court in Sheikhupura on November 9 for allegedly making derogatory remarks against the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Aasia, mother of five, has denied the charge of blasphemy. She told investigators that she was being persecuted for her faith.
Ashiq Masih, husband of Aasia, said that the reason for the accusation was a quarrel that had taken place in which some people had taken offence. He said that a quarrel broke out over serving water to some women. Aasia at the time worked with some women in a Falsa garden owned by one Muhammad Idrees. A woman asked her (Aasia) for a glass of water. When Aasia brought the water in a jug for all the women, one of them said that she “couldn’t drink water from the hands of a Christian.” The other women said that this did make a difference but in between all this, a quarrel ensued between the women and Aasia. “Four days later, a blasphemy case was registered against Aasia,” said Masih.
Interestingly, the incident took place on June 14, 2009 while the FIR was registered under 295-C of Pakistan Penal Code in Saddar Police Station Nankana on June 19, 2000. The complainant, one Qari Salam, a local cleric, wasn’t even present on the occasion of the quarrel between Aasia and the women. “I wasn’t present when the blasphemy occurred but I came to know about this through the women who listened to Aasia speaking against the Holy Prophet (pbuh). I became a complainant because the women couldn’t go to court and the police station,” Qari Salam told The Express Tribune. When asked whether he could pardon Aasia now, he replied, “This is not my personal matter. I could if it were my personal matter. She should be punished”.
Napoleon Qayyum, who is associated with the Community Development Initiative (CDI), a non-profit organisation working for minority rights, brought this incident to the knowledge of President Asif Ali Zardari. He told this correspondent, “Things could have been settled had the issue been resolved at the local level. But it is difficult for a judge in the lower courts to go against the pressure of right-wing parties in blasphemy cases.” The verdict has been challenged in the Lahore High Court already. But the downside to all this is that Aasia has been in jail for over one and half years so far, he added.
When contacted, presidential spokesman, Farhatullh Babar, told The Express Tribune that the President would look into clemency appeal when it reaches to him. “Clemency appeals reach the President through the proper channel. We will look into this when we receive it. Right now, I cannot comment as to how long it will take for it to reach the president,” he maintained.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 22nd, 2010.