By Sybil Daniel
The “Land of the Pure” is once again being blackmailed by Zia’s vision. His creation, the Taliban and his laws that persecute minorities are at the forefront of all that is bad in Pakistan. The controversial laws are used to resolve land disputes mainly in the rural areas of Punjab and to remove the vulnerable and untouchable members of minority religions, by intolerant communities. In many cases the real perpetrators of blasphemy, who disgrace the holy prophets by inciting hatred and enacting blasphemy claims for their own benefit, do so with impunity.
Minorities in Pakistan are very well aware of the sensitive emotions of their Muslim countrymen. It is inconceivable that they would ever use derogatory remarks for the prophets of any religion. They simply do not need to and are very aware of the fatal consequences. However, the detestation for minorities is a common theme amongst rural communities. The minority community is frequently subjected to verbal and physical abuse. They are expected to remain silent if something insulting is said regarding their religion and in the main they comply. In recent times we have seen an increase in malevolence towards the Christian community much due to the Iraq and Afghanistan War which is perceived by many extremists and those they influence, as a religious war between Christianity and Islam. This has resulted in a heightened level of blasphemy cases and large scale incidents of persecution, yet few cases attain any media attention. many cases simply go unnoticed. This rise in intolerance and hatred for minorities has been allowed to continue, mostly unchecked, by the very state whose duty it is to protect them.
In less than the space of two months, the world has witnessed the brutal murders of two courageous and daring leaders from the so called ‘land of the pure’. One of them the sitting Muslim Governor of Pakistan’s largest province – Punjab was killed by his own security guard. The second the only Christian Minister in the Federal cabinet with many questions surrounding the lack of security around him at a time when he has made several public declarations of death threats being placed against him. Both Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti were silenced for raising their voice in opposition to the misuse of the blasphemy law calling for reform of the law itself and the way in which it is administered. All the time knowing their call for change would cost them their lives. Both men worked individually and without collusion, they simply felt compassion for the many victims that have been consumed by the Blasphemy Law.
Shahbaz Bhatti, an unmarried man of 42 of good nature, came from a small village Khushpur. This place is known previously for another martyr the late Bishop John Joseph who committed suicide to protest the persecution of Christians in Pakistan.
Shahbaz Bhatti founded ‘Pakistan Minority Alliance’ in 1985, after taking up the position of Minorities Minister. One of his greatest achievements was the attainment of a stipulated quota of 5% of all Federal Government employment posts being positively discriminated in favour of minority candidates.
Minister Bhatti also was responsible for the declaration of the 11th August as “National Minorities Day”, and an increase in the salaries of minority workers.
He received various recognitions from UK, Canada, Finland and many others for devoting his life for social justice, interfaith harmony, religious freedom, human equality and for the welfare of the religious minorities of Pakistan. These positive gestures were the same crimes that subjected him to constant death threats and ultimately the loss of his life.
He boldly voiced his support for Asia Bibi and all the victims of Gojra , a small Christian village where 7 people were burnt alive and 60 houses were set on fire in an unprovoked act based on a false blasphemy charge. The siege took place in the presence of police who later confirmed that reports that torn shreds of a Quran being used as confetti were spurious. No-one has been brought to Justice? Minister Bhatti called it a deep conspiracy and reviled the propaganda instigated to cause damage to interfaith harmony.
While political parties are playing their usual blame game. The Christians in Pakistan mourn for the brutal assassination of their leader. He was in constant fear that the threats to his life would one day lead to his demise. Yet he still bravely continued his efforts to make life more stable for those who suffered most. In a video message, he recorded to be released on the event of his death he clearly expressed his fears regarding the threats to his life for defending the oppressed, downtrodden and marginalized Christians and other minorities.
I Pray that Pakistan will have a leader as devoted, loyal, fearless and committed as him, to take the helm in what must be a very critical point in our history. A strong leader is required to steer us away from the abyss of religious fanaticism that we are surely heading towards.
His last message was ‘I am ready to die for a cause’. Minister Bhatti laboured hard for his people and his ultimate sacrifice will always be remembered by the nation of Pakistan.