“Mashal” means candle. Mashal as a person was true to his name. Named so artistically by his father Iqbal Khan, himself a Pashto poet, Mashal was a boy from my hometown Swabi. Son of a poet, a student of Journalism, a student leader, an inquisitive mind, progressive and concerned over all that ills our society, Mashal was not a mediocrity like millions around. He was true to his name and would shine through his words, thoughts and acts.
Mashal was supported by his extended family as well. He got a scholarship to Moscow, Russia for engineering. Becoming an engineer and earning a livelihood was not sufficient for the boy having a desire to become a harbinger of change in the society. Hence, he got admission in Journalism at AWKU, Mardan, and was about to finish his degree.
However, the lightness of Mashal invoked the darkest evils of the mediocrities that he tried to reform through his light. On April 13, 2017, the light of Mashal died and succumbed to the infinite darkness of our society — killed and lynched by a mob of hundreds of students inside the university campus over charges of religious blasphemy. The charged mob was not some ultra-conservative religious group. They were students of the university pursuing their degrees in various fields of social, natural and physical sciences. They were middle class lads getting somewhat quality education from mostly PhDs in various fields.
An irony indeed, yet a stark reality of human history — we have been beheading, scaffolding, torturing and mistreating our benefactors since ages. Jesus was celebrated on death by his people. Socrates, Galileo and the Sufi Mansoor Hallaj of ‘Anal Haq’ were also killed. A Pashto verse has been circulating on social media about Mashal’s death which says: “How will light come to our country, while every day we kill a Mashal (candle)”.
Mashal’s father is a poor man. He supported his children against all odds to get them a respectable place in society through education. Being a poet and a literary person, he spent all his life inculcating education, literature and love for fellow humans among his children. The interview he gave to media at the time of his funeral is indeed a testimony to his greatness. He was calm and talking objectively to reporters.
Iqbal Khan told the media: “It is the brutal system responsible for this incident which has become a quagmire of dirty waters where we all are drowning. Mashal would often say, ‘we have rebelled against the law of nature, therefore we are doomed’. If the civil society, lawyers, literary people and other social groups raise their voices against this issue, at least it will create awareness in the society and that will be a step forward. The rays of Sun can never be chained.”
The issue has two dimensions. One is the misuse of “blasphemy law” and the other is mobs taking law into their own hands while the state becomes a spectator. Both have become sources of injustice, yet the state likes to look the other way for being either complicit or incapable.
Our blasphemy law is an extension of offences relating to religion that were first codified by British rulers of the Subcontinent. The blasphemy laws were introduced through Sections 295-B and 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code during the dictatorial regime of General Ziaul Haq. The British used the same to ensure religious harmony among the followers of various creeds of India. In 1986, Gen. Zia introduced the death penalty though with an option of life imprisonment as well.
In 1991, the Federal Shariat Court struck down the option of life imprisonment and thus remained the death penalty only. The law has been abused by all the powerful and manipulative minds to settle scores especially against the minorities since they live under the hanging sword of 295-B/C of PPC. Hundreds are languishing in jails and many have been tortured even to death before the law came into action.
Blasphemy and due procedure as per Islamic Sharia as well as PPC lays down a comprehensive procedure to deal with this or any such issue. Besides, if not the substantive law, at least the procedures to apply them are being modified by jurists and legislatures according to the need of times. No one bothers to do that here though. There are many forces at play which halt the evolution of our laws. The foremost is will of the state further reinforced with its incapacity to come up with something innovative and assert itself in a befitting manner. If the entire society is sure of its misuse, why not review it. If you want to save the essence of a law, you have to keep it relevant so the society trusts it sufficiently to honour it.
Only a few cases of blasphemy were registered till 1986. Now, it runs into thousands. No one has been convicted to death as of now since most of the cases are commuted due to lack of evidence. Well, the court will free them, but what of the society? They have to run for their lives now, not from law but from the people. And yet the state is only watching.
The more gruesome part though is when the mob becomes lawyers, judges and executioners themselves. I still remember the two smart brothers of Sialkot being killed in cold blood by the mob. Perhaps all the mob instinct wants is a tickle, a shout of “chor” or “kafir” and then let them do whatever you want of them.
It is high time to monitor the blessing-cum-spectre of social media as well. The FIA and other agencies have been checking the hate material or other stuff meant to harm a person or group, but even that is not enough. Above all, why a Facebook ID cannot be registered like mobile sims. Why is anyone allowed to make a Facebook ID in the name of anyone and in any number? Yes, the bloggers were arrested or kidnapped for posting things inimical to state and society (which weren’t proved though) yet those who spread venom and hazarding the lives of innocent citizens in the name of any religion are not taken to task.
Reportedly, many political parties, religious groups and even state agencies have dedicated social media cells where hundreds of fake accounts are used to propagate their view as well as harm their opponents. If such is the state of affairs, it will become a virtual jungle that would create mayhem in real world. Anyone can make a fake account in anyone’s name and say anything blasphemous.
What has become of our kids? They were to become good Muslims, just citizens and productive members of the society. Yet we made them as misguided savages — at the beck and call of all those having enough evil faculties to misuse them.
Much is required to be said and done, but we must live with this sin for the rest of our lives that we killed Mashal – the young scholar son of a poet. He was yet to shine, but succumbed to our darkness. Or I may say he did shine more on his death.