19th Feb, 2023. 09:10 am

Cruel lynching

An almost 800-strong mob lynched a man in Nankana Sahib, Punjab last Saturday over accusations of blasphemy. This violent, gory crime has not been committed for the first time in Pakistan. And considering the impunity the right-wing enjoys in the country this will neither be the last. No matter how much we wish and hope for it to be. Accused of the crime a second time, the man, identified only as Waris, was recently acquitted of the same charges by a court of law and had been set free from prison some six months ago. What boggles the mind more is that the victim was in police custody when the mob attacked. They managed to overpower the meagre police force present at the Warburton Police Station and get hold of the accused. Disturbing videos of the man being dragged naked on the streets and being subjected to a brutal assault while helpless police officers looked on were all over social media.

The ghastly fate that many blasphemy accused reach in Pakistan is not hidden from anyone, especially not the law enforcers. Reports suggest that the police had received multiple phone calls regarding a man desecrating the Holy Quran over a period of days. The police’s incompetence and incapacity to deal with the matter thus, raises several questions. Time and again we have seen police officers offering explanations after the incident has occurred about how they couldn’t protect a detainee. For this particular murder in broad daylight, they said that the contractor had left a three-foot wide hole over the main entrance gate from which some mobsters managed to climb inside and open the gates of the police station. They also explained how a call for reinforcements had already been sent. But they reached only after the man had died. Their only success being saving his body from being set alight.

That being said, the police’s failure is only a part of the larger problem; that of the state’s inability to bring extremist individuals and organizations to justice. The dichotomy of the situation is that while select violent extremist groups face crackdown, others seem to enjoy impunity. This underlines the weakness and perhaps the lack of political will on part of the state and its institutions. The mixed signals and the policy of appeasement in many cases encourage the violent extremist forces to take the law into their hands. It is also unfortunate that efforts to open up a rational and progressive discourse in public often meet stiff resistance from extremist forces and their backers. The fact that a student, Mashal Khan, was lynched on the premises of a university by fellow students, merely over a difference in opinions, speaks volumes of the depths of crude darkness that we have reached as a society. From our media houses to educational institutions, even sacred places of worship have been used to peddle intolerance and hate. What even to say of our political parties! It will be tough to figure out which one of them has not misused the blasphemy narrative and laws to further their political agenda against rivals, instead of the other way round.

Two police officers have been suspended, and at least 60 people have so far been arrested for the horrifying lynching. Videos of the incident have been sent for forensics, and condemnations have also poured in. But what next? A week into the incident and it is hardly being talked about. A handful of those with a conscience will follow the tawdry coverage of the goings on in court for the next few months. An even lesser number of them will see the case reach its logical conclusion – a few murder convictions and death sentences, as has happened in the past. And then its business as usual, till another blasphemy accused is ruthlessly beaten to death.

A lot more will need to be done, and for years, if those at the helm wish to genuinely put an end to this disturbing pattern. Difficult but necessary debates on regressive policies will need to be held inside and outside government buildings. Those policies will need to be rethought and revoked. Our education system and curriculum will need to be overhauled to instil critical thinking and tolerance in our youth. We will keep going down the same road till this happens.




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