The ultimate tragedy of a people, and a nation who is more obsessed with the past and re-writing its past in a self-serving way, is that its future is lost and its present is gloomy. At some level, it points to the nation’s inability to buckle up and amass the required discipline to envision a future. Thus, a people who can’t write their future, always rewrite their past. And in this quagmire, the openness to accept the past misdeeds, the ability to debate them in a dispassionate way, to formulate inclusive polices that take stock of all, especially the needs and interests of the most of the downtrodden, are lost to the harrowing shrills of blind patriotism and misleading nationalism. A study of history which is in service of imagining an exclusionary identity always belittle dissident inclusionary strains of the past, and seeks precedents from the past which help in magnifying and reinforcing the current rhetoric of appropriating the national discourse such that it excludes multiple sections of the society.
Unfortunately, this rhetoric expresses itself vis-à-vis pushing the minorities further into the fringes of society, and refusing to afford them any of the rights and privileges that any citizen has a right to. This expression needs cases that can be singled out and which can be rallied behind. Justice to an individual is pushed down the priority line and the sense of fairness is lost in the echo chamber of maddening self-righteousness.
This is what we are seeing in the case of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who had allegedly committed blasphemy and even after six years is waiting for a fair and just trial. The fact that most of the blasphemy cases are born out of idiotic feuds and ludicrous quarrels is just another footnote to the zeal of avenging the honor of the Prophet. The fact that a governor and a federal minister lost their lives in defending the due right to fair trial of a hapless woman is something to be not bothered with. The charge has been labelled. With the charge of blasphemy, the due course of law has to take the backseat. The levelling of the charge in itself covers for prosecution, sentencing, and punishment. Going by the precedents of the past and the killings of lower court judges when they acquit those accused of blasphemy, one can understand that the lower courts will bow down to the pressure of the lunatic brigade which has lost all sense of fairness. But the inability of a higher court to come to the rescue and serving the cause of justice mocks the very purpose of existence of a higher court.
A judge of the Supreme Court, the highest court of the land, is expected to excuse himself from listening to a case while there is a conflict of interest. But in case of Asia Bibi, it is either bowing down to the dictates of non-state actors which demands that the dispensing of justice should be outsourced to them in a few domains, or has also internalized the arguments that a person accused of blasphemy should have no chance at a fair trial. Both manifest a lack of will on the part of the state to challenge the narrative of exclusion and arbitrary notions of justice.
Farahnaz Ispahani in her book “Purifying the land of the pure” has given a detailed account of how the process of Islamization acted as a mutual reinforcement for both the state and the Islamist parties of the country. The people at the helm of affairs always knew that the minorities, being a small proportion of whole population, would not react much to the state’s policies of ‘otherizing’ them in their quest for defining Islam as the raison d’etre of the state. To gain traction in corridors of power and to assert themselves into the equation of power, the religious parties turned vociferously at the minorities who were already at the fringe of the society. The fact that there was no retaliation from the minorities – being politically unrepresented and socially disorganized – and the complicity of the state made the most despicable of demands from the religious parties’ laws of the land.
The past which provides ample evidence that minorities are ostracized without committing any wrongdoing is an inconvenient for the blasphemy brigade of today. They will not read history and will be unable to see that their refusal to give due rights to the minorities is a travesty to the fairness of law in every sense of the word. Asia Bibi has become a test case for their narrative and in their eyes, the viability of their model of the state and vision of the society depends upon the outcome of this case. They will not back down. They will come more vociferously. Their entire reading of history and their entire struggle in this country has boiled down to this case. What is needed on the part of the saner ones is to challenge their narrative by standing firm to their stance that every citizen of the country has a right to fair trial. That justice to an individual is more sacred than any ideology is a point that needs to be driven home and should define the future course of this country.