Is “life back to normal” possible for Blasphemy Acquitted?
The trauma of a post life of a “blasphemer” when acquitted is unimaginable and his chances of reintegration to the Pakistani society is next to impossible.
by Shahid Khan It is a sad fact, that once an individual is accused of a blasphemy his normal “life” comes to a halt. Unfortunately, in reality it is the “murder” of his existence which now effects his life at all levels starting from leaving his house, friends, family, job and in some extreme cases even his homeland since his life becomes so unlivable in his own country that he has to flee abroad due to the fear of persecution or threats of being killed at some point of his post-blasphemy acquitted life.
In Pakistan, nine times out of ten, even if courts acquits an individual there are chances that the person will be scapegoated by some radical Muslims who would reckon his “murder” as an act of extreme faith.
In the beginning of Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws,which were inherited from the Indian British rule date back to 1850s and later expanded in 1929, there has been a sleek history of Blasphemy related cases, only 7 incidents in between 1851 to 1947. However, since 1986 more than 1000 people have been charged with blasphemy. Even though none have been executed while their sentences were overturned on appeal. Since 1990s around 52 people have been extra judicially killed . Either in the police custody by the police or members of the public unleashing their fury against the individual.
Recently, Pakistani Courts have exercised and acknowledged the blatant misuses in the most recent acquittal cases of Barkat Maish a hindu-turned Christian, and of 14 year old Rimsha Masih, minor, disabled Christian girl, both accused of Blasphemy. How much “life” is there for these people back into the communities and neighbourhoods which once was their “home”.
Is there any hope for the “Fresh Start” into the new life for them ?
Let me rewind your memory to August, 12, 2012 when the poor girl Rimsha Masih was accused of burning pages of Quran, in Mehrabad colony (slums) of Islmabad, the capital city of Pakistan . According to the reports, more than 1000 people turned up in the Christian community, setting houses on fire and demanding death for the child who committed the act. More than 250 Christian families fled the scene due to the fears since the mob went violent and looted the houses and protested on the main roads in the capital city of Pakistan.
Ever since Rimasha’s case has been dropped last year she has been living in an undisclosed area due to the security issues. It would be extremely difficult for her to go back to her own home, play with her own friends or even have a life which she always had before August, 2012. Her new life is in hiding, away from her house, her community, her friends and into the domain of obscurity.
ONCE ACCUSED IS ALWAYS ACCUSED :
The blasphemy accused is considered as always accused. A criminal in the eyes of society even if he comes clean in court and free of any accusation. There is no place for him back in the society. Due to the primitive mind-set, lack of education and ignorance many people would be biased and prejudiced in their thinking. He would be regarded as an outcast, he would be made feel different in the circle of his age group, in his school and so much so his family and friends will desert him since welcoming him back would welcome any danger and death. So to keep their own skin save the best idea is to keep a distance.
Imagine if you had a well respected job prior to the blasphemy accusation. You will not be permitted back into your employment. Firstly because an employer will think that offering the job to a “blasphemer” will be fraught with threats and danger to his life as well as to his business. The easiest and oft taken option is fire the blasphemer.
THE UNFORGIVING ELEMENT IN THE SOCIETY:
Pakistan is a society where religion is taken with more passion than reasons. Even if an individuals is acquitted of all charges he still is seen with a suspicion and doubt when it comes to a blasphemy. Even if such person is innocent in the eyes of the law. For people he is still a criminal and one of those who deserve death which is why members of public deem it their right to kill those who are acquitted from the court by taking law in their own hands.
Often those who are acquitted from the courts never return back to their “old” lives. They choose to live away from where they were picked as “blasphemer” for the most obvious reasons mentioned above. They are unwelcomed in their communities and families due to the harsh treatment they are given. They are also generally ostracized from the neighbourhoods.
LIFE IN OBSECURITY:
Due to the scale of the country-wide projection in the press and media on blasphemy cases such “Individuals” become the town’s talk. Features are written, talk shows are done which makes an unknown person “known” in the country. The images of such persons are published everywhere in the print as well as electronic media, which at times makes is very easy for the criminal minded to find details about the “blasphemer”, for instance, the origin, locality and the people related in the case. Many a times, people who are acquitted either go into hiding, or live an obscure life, away from the hum drum of their lives which once rocked their world in a more quieter, safer and less popular areas.
There are countless cases who are now living an obscure life not only in Pakistan as well in abroad like Gul Masih, the first Christian sentenced to death since the amendments in the Blasphemy Laws were made since 1986, who fled Pakistan after a long and enduring episodes of affliction and intimidation from the Muslims community. He now lives in Europe. Their lives and challenges become more harsh.
LACK OF GOOD GOVERNANCE:
The Government of Pakistan has a long history of ignoring the perils of members of minorities generally and when it comes to helping and assisting the
persecuted and blasphemy acquitted cases, such help is widely and sadly winked at. Government run programs which gives subsistence to these most vulnerable citizens of the society in order to help them, support them and give them a new hope of life are not a common practice. The blasphemy accused go through the indescribable trauma during the process of their trials, the burden of uncertainty, and colossal pressure of threats of killing. If acquitted from the blasphemy charges they are released into a life of further horrors. In such situations, there is not much medical or social help which is provided to these people who are highly traumatised. The lack of any medical or social facilities at the expense of Government further compounds the life of an individuals who is already having trouble getting back to his old life.
LACK OF INTEGRATON:
Minorities in Pakistan such as Christians, Hindus, Bahai’s etc. who live a very disintegrated lives. The communal life between people of different faith background is next to nothing. The less interaction between the members of minority group with the majority also widens the misunderstanding between the groups which further become the basis of any bad happening. Since minorities in Pakistan are labelled as “alien” and not seen as “sons of the soil” they often become the victim of the wrong mind-set. The lack of integration between the faith group is further problem which calls for attention to create a more harmonious neighbourhood where people can learn to understand each other as well as to support the vulnerable in the society.
The life of a man once accused of a blasphemy will never be the same even if he is acquitted from the court ten times. The stigma of being a “blasphemer” will be his unwanted destiny. It will take years upon years till his memory will be faded or there are more recent ones coming on the surface then people can forget the first ones. Till then they are dangers lurking at every step. The “life back to normal” will be a dream for them until there are more hands (public) that help them tend their lives once they had before their life was rocked.
It calls for more responsibility on the public as well as on the Government of Pakistan to create and chalk out such programmes where people who are accused of blasphemy are helped back into their former lives.