This article was originally posted on The Nation
By Marvi Sirmed
If you want to commit suicide, all you have to do is defend a persecuted non-Muslim in a case of alleged blasphemy. The slain Governor of the Punjab decided to stand up for the rights of a downtrodden woman from the persecuted Christian community booked under a case of purported blasphemy. He became liable to be killed.
So told us scores of Barelvi (and some Shia) ‘muftis’ and a TV anchor-lady back in 2009. Taking an informed and brave decision, Taseer chose to go ahead with the cause. Result: he lost his life, left us in obscurity to deal with the madness, the killer became a hero and a large chunk of media and so called intelligentsia busied themselves in justifying what was a brutal broad day-light murder.
Remembering him, and remembering him with reverence has been an act of resistance ever since his guard assassinated him in 2011. Like every year, this year too we planned to hold a quiet vigil in his remembrance and to pay tribute to his struggle on the day of his martyrdom. Already in Lahore for a personal trip, I thought to join fellow activists here while requesting comrades to hold similar events in Karachi and Islamabad.
We were able to pull off tribute-vigils in Mirphur Khas, Multan, Bahawalpur, Larkana and Hyderabad in addition to Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore. Everywhere they went well with small chunks of progressive citizenry who have always afforded threats to their lives while standing up for the rights of weaker communities and for democracy and justice. The vigils went smoothly everywhere, even in the restive and unpredictable Karachi. Lahore became the odd-man-out.
Around a dozen extremists attacked the vigil with quite an envious freedom and left on their will after fifteen minutes of harassment, beating and vandalism. Recounting here what happened that evening is very important in my view, for the purpose of record and for posterity. It is not only the state that is rotten, we as people might need some serious introspection.
On that day, as soon as the citizens started gathering on the planned venue – the Liberty Chowk in Gulberg – they could smell a rat. There was no police around, which was quite unusual. Normally the police arrives almost half an hour before such events. Among the participants of the vigil, there were strange-looking men no one could recognize. One of them who appeared to be leading them was with a thick beard and a Sindhi cap. He, however, sounded nothing like a Sindhi speaker. With his chaste Punjabi accent, he was later heard hurling dense Punjabi expletives to the civil society activists.
There were three young boys with them, clad in casual pairs of jeans and sweatshirts, hiding their faces with woolen scarves and hoodies. At least four were seen standing right inside the vigil proceedings. They didn’t light candles but tried to give the feeling they were part of the vigil. Syeda Diep, one of the very brave activists of this country, was suspicious of them since the beginning. Unable to hold her doubts, when she asked them who they were, one of them said he was sent by Mr. Tahir Ashrafi to support the vigil. Since Mr. Ashrafi has maintained a sympathetic position towards the religious minorities especially those booked under controversial blasphemy laws, a man sent by him would automatically get acceptance in such a gathering.
The problem started, as soon as the participants started raising slogans. The slogans that irked those guys were, ye jo mulla gerdi hay, ye hi dehshat gerdi hay (the religious obscurantism is the root cause of terrorism); Taseer teray khoon se inquilab aaye ga (With your blood O Taseer, a revolution would set in) and Zinda hay Taseer Zinda hay, Shaheed Taseer Zinda hay (Taseer is alive, the martyred Taseer is alive). On this last slogan, they jumped like someone had sprinkled chilies in their – well nostrils!
The man with the beard took out a dagger from underneath his shirt, came to the front row where a couple of activists were holding a big panaflex sheet with a life size portrait of Shaheed Salmaan Taseer. He ran his dagger through the portrait and cut it in two pieces neatly at the point where fell Taseer’s neck. When I later looked at the torn portrait, my heart stopped for a while. It was like Taseer was killed once again. Like his spirit was beheaded right in front of our eyes. It was like we were shown how we are going to end up if we don’t stop.
With this, the rest of them picked up bricks and at least four more joined them from different sides of the roundabout. All of them were holding batons, while two of them were holding guns. The gun wielders stood at the corners while the rest started baton charging the participants, hurling abuses, breaking cameras and beating up the media persons present there. Syeda Diep when tried to resist, was beaten with kicks and punches in her ribs along side filthy abusive language. You are supporting a kaafir, was one sentence that they all were repeating.
Rai Shahnawaz, a news reporter started bleeding after being beaten severely. Another activist got his finger broken after he was attacked with a brick. Shahnawaz resisted when two of the attackers tried to pick him up and put him in their car. Three of the activists hurried their way and helped Shahnwaz when the police vans arrived. On the watch of more than a dozen policemen, all of the attackers rode two cars, three motorbikes and fled from the scene. No one chased them except Irfan Mufti, another fellow activist.
We had to sit in the police station for hours, and approach the Chief Minister of the province in order to get First Information Report (FIR) registered. In our application, signed by seven of us, we had nominated unknown attackers and had expressed our suspicion that the attackers were from Sunni Tehrik. We had named local and central leadership of the outfit, but had to take all the names back when a senior Police Officer reportedly told one of us to do so, otherwise the ‘entire city will start burning’.
Ironically, this is the cradle of government of a province that lost its sitting Governor to mad and blood-thirsty religious extremism. This is the city with the rhetorical label of ‘heart of Pakistan’ and stands as the capital of Pakistan’s most populous province, with more than 60% of country’s population. If this is how the heart of a country beats, God bless the citizens of that country.
As aggrieved party, I call upon the government to take this matter seriously and shun the elements that challenge the writ of state with impunity. I demand that all Barelvi Ulema especially the Sunni Tehrik comes up with condemnation of the incident. I expect that the Deobandi ‘Allamas’ who claim to be on our side on blasphemy cases, must stand with us when we demand arrest of Mulla Abdul Aziz. I expect them to be with us when our Shia and Ahmadi citizens are attacked. If not, then I’d say you all are culprits.