Are we going the Pakistan way?
The threat of communal bias influencing institutional activity
Not long ago, former Governor of Pakistani Punjab, Salman Taseer was publicly gunned down by the man detailed to protect him from terrorists, his security guard Malik Mumtaz Qadri and the murderer was feted as a great crusader (Ghazi) in the cause of Islam by the lawyers of Lahore High Court where he was produced after his arrest. Judges went on TV channels, justifying Qadri’s treachery in the name of Blasphemy. Pakistani Lawyers, stampeded to garland and kiss this treacherous assassin whom the world watched opening fire on his protectee.
Taseer’s crime: He had opposed the death sentence handed to a Christian woman under the outrageous Blasphemy law of Pakistan which Salman described as a “Black law,” and sought its removal from Pakistan’s statue book. Even if Taseer had committed an offence, can those pretending to be protectors and upholders of law go around hailing a murderer? But they could and did with impunity in the name of religion.
The mullah in khaki the father of Salafi, Jihadi Islam in Pakistan, General Mohammad Ziaul Haq had brought in this law, in collusion with the mullahs to counter the growing popularity of former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who was sentenced to death by a Punjabi judge Mohammad Husain of Lahore High Court. Zia’s Punjabi protégé Mian Nawaz Sharif went a step further and created and patronised sectarian private armies to attack minorities and secularists in Pakistan, the Sipahe Sahaba, Lashakare Jhangvi, Jamaat-ud Dawa and Harkatul Ansar/Jaise Mohammad of Masood Azhar and the cowardly mullahs of Lal Masjid, who fled in Burqa when faced with the prospect of facing death.
Today Nawaz Sharif and General Raheel Sharif are making some half-hearted attempts to rein in their Frankenstein. But there is hardly any hope because from the Army to the Judiciary all pillars of Pakistan establishment have been taken over by the frenzied screaming mullahs. They have tasted blood and won’t relent easily.
Zia began his 11 year tyrannical and treacherous rule over Pakistan with the help of Mullahs, Saudi Arabia and the US, with the judicial murder of Bhutto. The very plea of the state against Bhutto could not have invoked Section 302 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) which is by and large same as the IPC, because its basis was a complaint filed by a Bhutto baiter Ahmad Raza Qasoori (still strutting around) alleging that Bhutto had ordered his killing and at Bhutto’s instance the secret police fired at his car to kill him. But instead of him, his father travelling with him in the car was hit by the bullet and died. So the complaint stated in the FIR that the supposed target did not get killed and the man who died was not the target. How then, going by the complaint, does it invite 302? No judge with any judicial integrity could pass a death sentence on Bhutto on this count. But Mohammad Husain did this setting aside all judicial propriety obviously to please his Punjabi Army master.
In the meanwhile Bhutto, deposed by Zia, had filed a petition in Pakistan’s Supreme Court seeking a death penalty for the Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA) Zia for trampling upon the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan. The Pakistan Supreme Court conceded that the 1973 Constitution did provide for a death penalty to anyone subverting the Constitution, but gave an escape route to Zia under what it called “The Law of Necessity.”
Returning to the murder of Salman Taseer and innumerable hapless members of minority community in Pakistan, just standing up for undefended Christian women victims of Muslim lynch mob and speaking against the preposterous Blasphemy law of Pakistan calling it a Black Law can invite such retribution! Why? Because this law suits all the scoundrels in Pakistan to harass their decent law abiding neighbours or anyone, in particular those from the minority communities , to dispossess them of their land and other belongings, pack them off to jails, or simply kill them alleging they had desecrated the Prophet/Quran/Islam, whichever you choose, without even bothering to utter, let alone prove what the other person said or did, claiming immunity on the plea that the repetition would amount to blasphemy too. You tear a page of Quran, or even anything written in Arabic, blame it on your adversary collect a crowd shouting blasphemy, blasphemy and kill the man/woman or get him sent to jail and then have him/her sentenced to death. That’s what misuse religion has done to Pakistan.
This is worth remembering because when we have judges like Anil R Dave, who proudly flaunts his Hindutva leanings by delivering a lecture that had he been the Dictator in India he would have made all school going children first read and imbibe Ramayna, Geeta and Mahabharat and then proceed any further, is chosen by the Chief Justice of India H L Dattu to decide the fate of Yakub Memon, the result was a foregone conclusion.
Would anyone caring for objectivity and fairness of a judicial pronouncement have appointed Dave the proud believer in Manusmirti rather than the Constitution of India, to decide on the fate of a man for whose blood the crowd of right wingers was baying?
Why take my word. Even a Modi admirer Pratap Bhanu Mehta was mighty embarrassed by the blood thirst demonstrated in seeking death sentence for Yakub Memon. In his edit page article in the Indian Express on July 31, 2015 Mehta regretted that, “First, there is an open legitimising of blood lust. Even if you believe Yakub Memon should have been hanged, the sensibility that accompanies that belief is important. For swathes of the media and civil society, the hanging was less about justice or concern for the victims. It was almost as if years of deep frustration, resentment and a sense of inadequacy about the state had morphed into an open mob mentality. Lawyers, doing their jobs defending Memon, were heckled. Many journalists displayed a lynching sensibility rather than professionally reporting the case. Social media managed to create the postmodern equivalent of a medieval lynch mob, an almost cowardly but Talibanesque hounding of anyone who disagreed with the hanging. The calls for justice have become a pretext for aggression and faux patriotism. You wonder what insecurity and sickness lurks underneath, and what forms it will express itself in.”
Mehta also implicitly blamed his one-time darling Narendra Modi for this saying, “Whatever the prime minister might say or believe, sections of the right that want to bait minorities are feeling emboldened. And their favourite tactic is to set up an ideological test for state institutions, whether in education or the police, and delegitimise them by making them appear partisan. This will create the conditions for a “takeover”.
Hhaven’t we already taken quite a few steps in that direction? Already one of the seniormost ministers in Modi’s cabinet M Venkaiah Naidu has condemned anyone questioning the judicial murder of Yakub Memon as a “Traitor” and naturally a traitor ought to be hanged, be it former Deputy Registrar of Supreme Court Anup Surendranath who quit his post in protest or noted lawyer Prashant Bhushan.
Similarly how are the new laws regarding beef passed by each BJP state any different in substance from Pakistan’s Blasphemy law? The mere possession of beef, even if it is bought in cans imported from abroad is a crime worth severe punishment and in any case so many truck drivers and cattle breeders carrying bulls have been lynched in Haryana, Rajasthan, outer Delhi and western UP. Their war cry on cow slaughter or its attempt is similar to charging the target with Blasphemy. Cattle thieves are being lynched around the Capital and meat traders are being arrested for supposedly transporting Beef. I wonder how they can distinguish between minced Mutton or minced Beef and in particular between Beef from Cow or Bull or from buffalo and Oxen, which is legally permitted. But in the eyes of the Sanghis non-vegetarians are infidels who need to serve prolonged jail sentences, if not killed outright.
India still has a very large vocal section of sane people, who stood fearlessly for the rule of law and fair and just treatment of even Yakub Memon. But one wonders how long will it take under the current dispensation to do a Salman Taseer or Shahbaz Bhatti on any civil right activist. Already Teesta Setalvad and Greenpeace are being hounded and the threat of custodial interrogation and jail term is hanging over their head.