This piece was originally published in Daily Times on March 6, 2011
Never had I felt so dejected and heartbroken throughout my life of activism and movements I had ever been a modest part of, the way I did when a friend called me to be careful. These ‘be careful’ messages have become a routine after each of my media appearances. “No dammit, you have to remain at your home today,” the frantic voice at the other end insisted with unusual fray of fear, concern and shock. Something had finally happened that we have been apprehending for over a month. Not even eight weeks had passed since the Governor of Punjab’s brutal assassination by his own security detail, when an exceptionally fine, committed, courageous member of the federal cabinet, Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti had been killed by ‘unknown’ assailants.
We were still contemplating ways to challenge the extremist blitzkrieg directed towards every voice of dissent post-Salmaan Taseer’s assassination when we were given this irreparable blow to the movement for sanity. People were still fighting their fear after January 4 when the voice of Governor Taseer was silenced, when they were once again pushed to an even deeper sense of dread and reticence. It could only happen in an environment where every institution, every responsible functionary, just everyone was shifting the responsibility onto each other’s shoulders and shoulders unknown.
No one in the Punjab government took a stern decision to remove the salaried cleric of Badshahi Masjid when he refused to lead the funeral prayers of the slain governor based on a media-created false notion of alleged blasphemy by him, which he had never committed. No one else could teach a lesson to the clerics and media persons who had been inciting violence through their irresponsible pulpits located in mosques and in TV channels’ studios. No one could act sternly against those hurling fatwas (edicts) against Sherry Rehman (MNA from the PPP who had moved a bill to amend the blasphemy laws) and anybody who supports Aasia Bibi, the alleged blasphemer, sentenced to death for the same.
Someone could not come on the streets against the shouting mullahs belonging to banned extremist and terrorist outfits’ readily joined by the religious political parties. Someone could not ensure that these banned outfits are shunned before coming openly on the streets and inciting people. Someone could not highlight the public sentiment against religion-based violence; in favour of an extremist viewpoint, which was being overly glorified 24/7. Someone maliciously moulded and falsely depicted the orchestrated viewpoint of minority urban confused youth as being representative of Pakistan. Someone did never let it come to light that there have been no rallies in support of Salmaan Taseer’s killers in any rural areas of Punjab, all of Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The viewpoint of just three cities was presented as that of the entire country.
Someone could not say loudly that Salmaan Taseer died for a right cause, which must be owned by the institutions, people and those who run the country. Someone did not deal with the elements that have permeated the structure of state in the shape of Qadri, his associates, those who were sitting in institutions like Pakistan Television (PTV) and PEMRA who changed the word “Shaheed” (martyr) for Salmaan Taseer by a milder “murdered” within an hour of his assassination. Someone could not come forward in paying tribute to his sacrifice. Someone ducked in even participating at the tribute events organised by common (and few) citizens. Someone made a mockery of justice by appointing an arch-enemy of Shaheed Salmaan Taseer as the in-charge of prosecution in his murder case. Someone could not cancel the licences of lawyers who openly pledged their support — not professional, but ideological and moral — to the lunatic killer. Someone could not take action against jail employees who refused to open the jail gates for the cursed murderer, Qadri.
There is a long list of those who could not do what they needed to do. But one thing we all kept doing with commitment, i.e. pointing fingers at someone else for not doing the needful. One did not see any banner, poster, public media display of the support to what Salmaan Taseer gave his life for, or to pay tribute to him. But we all saw hundreds of expressions from the opponents fearlessly displaying their support for the killers. One did not see even one statement from anybody who had pointedly condemned those who kept on coming on the streets and threatening all of those courageous activists and media persons who were still condemning the murder. One could not see any verbal attack on the banned terrorist organisations by anyone — politicians, media, lawyers, liberals, and civil society. No banner to condemn the enemy. Seems even our hatred is being controlled by those who do not want us to turn against them, but against a wrongly perceived enemy.
Give a cursory look at the list of these “someones” and you would find out that all of us are accomplices in the situation that resulted in the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti. He was not a minor minister. He had accomplished rare achievements while being a part of the cabinet. One can recall the minority ministers under the last dictator, Pervez Musharraf, who had greatly damaged the cause by being timid and in many cases, by being collaborators in keeping not only the blasphemy laws but other highly discriminatory laws safe. Shaheed Shahbaz Bhatti was undoubtedly a voice of change not only for the minorities but also for the country at large. He had announced August 11 as the day of the minorities. Recognising the fact that the blasphemy laws of Pakistan authored by a military dictator (not divine by any means) had proved the most flawed of all laws to have eaten up the lives of Muslims, Ahmedis, Christians and Hindus alike, Shahbaz Bhatti remained committed to the changes that would allow relief to all the citizens of Pakistan.
Despite these vicious laws, over 33 people have been killed out of court as a result of public vigilantism. If religious fanatics have to decide the fate of every alleged blasphemer, where is the need for these laws at all? And if every voice of dissent, every voice committed to modernity, sense, logic and compassion has to be silenced like this with the state’s tacit consent, where is the need to call us a republic? Declare it a khilafat (caliphate) and do away with parliament, the so-called free judiciary and executive branches. Let’s confess that we have become a nation state of murderers who murder their heroes by being insensitive enough to let it happen every two months.