Aasia perhaps is much braver than I am. She raised her voice against this bigotry and discrimination and learned it the hard way that such valor and bravery is not valued much in this society. Her story is the story of centuries old intolerance that is deeply embedded in our society and no amount of education or interaction with the outside world has made much of a difference. In my opinion, Aasia Bibi was first lynched by a mob and was later taken into police custody because she raised her voice against the treatment meted out to her, something peasant women do not do in Pakistan and a Christian peasant should not even think about.
Most of the print media – at least the papers I read – are covering the story of Aasia Bibi who is the first Pakistani woman facing death sentence under the draconian Blasphemy law of the country. Aasia Bibi was reported to have committed blasphemy against the prophet and the religion, but according to her she never said anything about either. She offered water (a kind act) to some of her co workers who refused to take it from her because she was an ‘unclean’ Christian. She was not too happy about it and had an altercation with her colleagues. A few days later, she was accused of blasphemy and a local mullah took a frenzied mob to her house to teach her a lesson; she was later taken by police in ‘protective custody’. Instead of providing her with protection and holding those leading the mob accountable, the local Police charged her with Section 295 C of the Pakistan Penal Code, the much maligned – and rightly so – blasphemy law. After a year and half, she was awarded death sentence by Judge Naveed Iqbal of the Sheikhupura district and sessions court – perhaps the most glaring case of bigotry at lower level judiciary.
To say that this case is particular to either Aasia or rural Pakistan is incorrect. Such attitude is pervasive all over. Just a couple of months, our maid asked me if I can help her son find a job. I asked if he has had any education and what kind of work he is interested in. He has passed his matriculation (tenth grade) and was interested in working a peon (a combination of mail boy/tea boy). I asked someone I know to give him job in his fairly large firm, he agreed and I thought that was the end of it. A couple of days later, I got a rather indignant call from the same gentleman (an Ivy League graduate) who asked me if I knew the boy I was suggesting for employment was Christian. I told him that I knew to which he quite openly expressed his discomfort and said that he cannot hire him because his employees would not be too happy taking water and tea from a choora (a derogatory term for Christian sanitary workers). I argued that he is the boss and if he hires someone, no one in his employment would have issues with it but he decided that he cannot disturb the ‘peace’ of his office. I was extremely sad at this blatant display of injustice but did not push the matter for the fear of any crazy guy going after that boy accusing him of blasphemy because he dared to refuse to become a sanitary worker like his father and grandfather and actually contemplated upward social mobility. That boy is now working in a bank as a sanitary worker.