We all live in a Paglon Ki Basti

The latest case of blasphemy being reported and discussed involves two Christian men Patras Mesih (main accused) and his cousin Sajid Mesih. Many people have expressed their shock and disgust at the alleged torture Sajid described on TV after he was severely injured when he jumped from the 4th floor while under interrogation. The details of the case are sketchy, all we know is that a complaint was lodged against Patras by a religious group and he was arrested on suspicion of committing blasphemy, why was his cousin Sajid arrested is not clear but now he has been charged for attempted suicide.

Since the creation of Pakistan there have been a number of cases registered against men, women and even children for committing blasphemy this carries the mandatory death sentence with no right of appeal if the crime involves disrespecting Prophet Mohammed. Majority of these cases have been registered against the non-Muslim citizens of Pakistan, Christians or Hindus. Not infrequently when such allegations are made they are followed by a pogrom against these minorities in which they are harassed, looted and sometimes killed by the lynch mobs.

While we do not know the details of the latest case it is not hard to guess that the accusation of blasphemy will be based purely on the word of mouth and may even then sound trivial. This can be illustrated by re-visiting the case of Asia Bibi who is still languishing in jail after given a death sentence for committing blasphemy many years ago.

According to her statement, ‘That morning I got up earlier than usual, to take part in the big falsa-berry harvest. I’d been told about it by Farah, our lovely local shopkeeper. “Why don’t you go falsa picking tomorrow in that field just outside the village? You know the one; it belongs to the Nadeems, the rich family who live in Lahore. The pay is 250 rupees.”

Because it was Sunday, my husband Ashiq wasn’t working in the brickworks. While I was getting ready to go to work he was still fast asleep in the big family bed with two of our daughters, who were also worn out after a long week at school. I looked at them with love before I left the room, and thanked God for giving me such a wonderful family.

When I got to the field, around 15 women were already at work, picking away, their backs hidden by the tall bushes. It was going to be a physically exhausting day in such heat, but I needed those 250 rupees.

Some of the women greeted me with a smile. I recognized my neighbor, Musarat, who was the seamstress in my village. I gave her a little wave, but she turned back to the bushes again at once. Musarat wasn’t really an agricultural worker and I didn’t often see her in the fields, so I realized times must be hard for her family. In the end, it was just our lot to be poor, all of us.

A hard-faced woman dressed in clothes that had been mended many times came over to me with an old yellow bowl.

“If you fill the bowl you get 250 rupees,” she said without really looking at me.

I looked at the huge bowl and thought I would never finish before sunset. Looking at the other women’s bowls, I also realized mine was much bigger. They were reminding me that I’m a Christian.

The sun was beating down, and by midday it was like working in an oven. I was dripping with sweat and I could hardly think or move for the suffocating heat. In my mind, I could see the river beside my village. If only I could have jumped into that cool water!

But since the river was nowhere near, I freed myself from my bushes and walked over to the nearby well. Already I could sense the coolness rising up from the depths.

I pull up a bucketful of water and dip in the old metal cup resting on the side of the well. The cool water is all I can think of. I gulp it down and I feel better; I pull myself together.

Then I start to hear muttering. I pay no attention and fill the cup again, this time holding it out to a woman next to me who looks like she’s in pain. She smiles and reaches out . . . At exactly the moment Musarat pokes her ferrety nose out from the bush, her eyes full of hate:

“Don’t drink that water, it’s haram!” Musarat addresses all the pickers, who have suddenly stopped work at the sound of the word “haram,” the Islamic term for anything forbidden by God.

“Listen, all of you, this Christian has dirtied the water in the well by drinking from our cup and dipping it back several times. Now the water is unclean and we can’t drink it! Because of her!”

It’s so unfair that for once I decide to defend myself and stand up to the old witch.’

What followed was a comparison of faiths and prophets, with Asia Bibi’s refusal to convert.

‘That’s when the hatred bursts from all side. All around me the women start screaming. One of them grabs my bowl and tips the berries into her own. Another one shoves and Musarat spits in my face with all the scorn she can manage. A foot lashes out and they push me. Even when I run home, I can still hear them complaining.

Five days later, I went to work fruit picking in another field. I’ve almost filled my bowl when I hear what sounds like a rioting crowd. I step back from my bush, wondering what’s going on, and in the distance I see dozens of men and women striding along towards our field, waving their arms in the air.

I catch the cruel eyes of Musarat. Her expression is self-righteous and full of scorn. I shiver as I suddenly realize that she hasn’t let it go. I can tell she’s out for revenge. The excited crowd are closer now; they are coming into the field and now they’re standing in front of me, threatening and shouting.

“Filthy bitch! We’re taking you back to the village! You insulted our Prophet! You’ll pay for that with your life!”

They all start yelling:

“Death! Death to the Christian!”

The angry crowd is pressing closer and closer around me. I’m half lying on the ground when two men grab me by the arms to drag me away. I call out in a desperate, feeble voice: “I haven’t done anything! Let me go, please! I haven’t done anything wrong!”

Just then someone hits me in the face. My nose really hurts and I’m bleeding. They drag me along, semi-conscious, like a stubborn donkey. I can only submit and pray that it will all stop soon. I look at the crowd, apparently jubilant that I’ve put up so little resistance. I stagger as the blows rain down on my legs, my back and the back of my head. I tell myself that when we get to the village perhaps my sufferings will be over. But when we arrive there it’s worse: there are even more people and the crowd turn more and more aggressive, calling all the louder for my death. More and more people join the crowd as they push me towards the home of the village headman. I recognize the house — it’s the only one that has a garden with grass growing in it. They throw me to the ground.

The village imam speaks to me: “I’ve been told you’ve insulted our Prophet. You know what happens to anyone who attacks the holy Prophet Mohammed. You can redeem yourself only by conversion or death.”

“I haven’t done anything! Please! I beg you! I’ve done nothing wrong!”

The qari with his long, well-combed beard, turns to Musarat and the three women who were there on the day of the falsa harvest.

“Did she speak ill of Muslims and our holy Prophet Mohammed?”

“Yes, she insulted them,” replies Musarat, and the others join in:

“It’s true, she insulted our religion.”

“If you don’t want to die,” says the young mullah, “you must convert to Islam. Are you willing to redeem yourself by becoming a good Muslim?”

Sobbing, I reply: “No, I don’t want to change my religion. But please believe me, I didn’t do what these women say, I didn’t insult your religion. Please have mercy on me.”

I put my hands together and plead with him. But he is unmoved.

“You’re lying! Everyone says you committed this blasphemy and that’s proof enough.

Christians must comply with the law of Pakistan, which forbids any derogatory remarks about the holy Prophet.’ He turns on his heel and the angry crowd falls on me. I’m beaten with sticks and spat at. I think I’m going to die. Then they ask me again:

“Will you convert to a religion worthy of the name?”

“No, please, I’m a Christian, but I beg you . . . ”And they go on beating me with the same fury as before.

I was barely conscious and could hardly feel the pain of my wounds by the time the police arrived. Two policemen threw me in their van, to cheers from the angry crowd, and a few minutes later I was in the police station in Nankana Sahib.

In the police chief’s office they sat me down on a bench. I asked for water and compresses for the wounds on my legs, which were streaming with blood. A young policeman threw me an old dishcloth and spat out at me: “Here, and don’t get it everywhere.”

One of my arms really hurt and I thought it might be broken. Just then I saw the qari come in with Musarat and her gang. With me sitting there they told the police chief that I insulted the Prophet Mohammed. From outside the police station I could hear shouts:

“Death to the Christian!”

After writing up the report the policeman turned and called to me in a nasty voice: “So what have you got to say for yourself?”

“I’m innocent! It’s not true! I didn’t insult the Prophet!”

Immediately after I’d protested my innocence I was manhandled into the police van and driven away. During the journey I passed out from pain and only came back to myself as we were arriving at Sheikhupura prison, where I was thrown into a cell.

Since that day I haven’t left prison.’ So some would say, this is just her version, but there is no other version. The prosecution case is based on several women only alleging that she did indeed insult the Prophet without any specifics as to what the insult was.

And then we have the ludicrous argument that is is not the law, it is the misuse of the law that is wrong, or in other words this law should remain but used properly. I think anyone who accepts this is no different from a Taliban for anyone who can justify killing a human being for verbally insulting another human is capable of condoning the murder of little children, provided it is done for the right religious reason.

For there is no doubt that the blasphemy laws as they stand are primitive, barbaric and cruel, not only that they are also clearly un-Islamic and I am unable to understand how the ulema of all Islamic sects endorse them.

We may not know the full details of Patras/Sajid Mesih case but this much is known that Patras has been accused of posting a disrespectful photo on a web-site called Paglon Ki Basti (no one knows the details of the image) and while I am unable to see any evidence of blasphemy it is absolutely true that we are living in Paglon Ki Basti (Land of Madmen).

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1 Comment

  1. Mahmood says

    Are you insinuating that because the law is misused like other laws in pakistan where criminal proceedings are frequently manipulated as well,that the majority of Pakistanis are living in a madhouse,or are you trying to say that because most Pakistanis and muslims believe that if a sane adult man or woman deliberately chooses to insult the Holy Prophet PBUH,that they are deserving of strict punishment?If you are for the former,I agree absolutely but with the caveat that Pakistan is a land where pretty much all laws are misused and abused,if you are trying to insinuate the latter then you are living in a madhouse called the UK where far worse genocides have originated from.

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