As the details of the gory incident of a student literally back stabbing his teacher emerge, frightening images of Pakistan’s society are revealed. How intolerance and extremism is sweeping the nation, especially the young minds, is not only a hair raising thought; it provokes questions about the future which demand urgent answers.
When a teacher was brutally murdered by his college student in Bahawalpur recently, the country was grieved and shocked. Not only because the place of murder: the college staff room, the victim: an educationist, and the culprit: a student enrolled in the college’s bachelor program, were all highly unlikely to trigger such a violent act. It was also the motive which was utterly unbelievable, at least to me. The college teacher was stabbed to death over his defending a welcome party for new entrants, an act deemed ‘unIslamic’, ‘immoral’ and sacrilegious by the student.
But it was not just a solitary move. There was a shady accomplice, although not directly involved in the murder. Dawn has reported that Khateeb Hussain, the student who killed the teacher, was in regular contact with a Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) leader, Zafar Hussain Shah Gillani, who also happens to be a lawyer. The report reveals that Hussain and Gillani corresponded with each other through social media, though not in person. Khateeb Hussain was deeply impressed by TLP’s leader, the foul mouthed Khadim Hussain Rizvi. Hussain shared his sinister plot with Gillani on WhatsApp, to which the TLP leader gave a “go-ahead”, saying that the professor should be punished. The eagerness of Khateeb Hussain to “take credit” for the act shows that he still has no qualms about it.
This incident has an eerie resemblance with another taking place hardly months ago. Last year, a college student of Charsadda gunned down his principal on the pretext of ‘blasphemy’. The principal had expressed anger over his absence from college for three days due to the student’s participation in a sit-in. In response, the student, Faheem fired six bullets at the head of the institution, saying he had ‘no remorse over killing the principal’.
The sit-in where Faheem had participated in had paralysed the country’s capital for nearly a month. The ‘peaceful’ protest had demanded the resignation of the then law minister of the country, due to a previous omission of an oath in the country’s new electoral law. The oath to be taken by elected officials had not included a declaration of the finality of prophethood and had led to an uproar in the National Assembly. Although almost immediately corrected, the grave omission was not to be excused by Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the TLP leader. Not to include a belief regarding the finality of prophethood in the country’s electoral law was seen as many an act of blasphemy. And all reactions were probably seen as waging a holy war and those against it as infidels.
The country’s infrastructure was choked multiple times also on the acquittal of a Christian woman, when the apex court ruled that the evidences charging her with blasphemy were unconvincing. Here again, the leading role of enticing and provoking the nation into violent, aggressive reactions, was played by Khadim Hussain Rizvi and his party. Consequently, Rizvi was booked under sedition and terrorism charges
In 2017, Mashal Khan, a visionary student in a university in Charsadda – where a college principal was gunned down last year, was brutally lynched to death by a mob on his campus on allegations of blasphemy. The allegations were proved wrong, only after his death.
There are similar conclusions to these different events. First, in all of them, religion has been used as the motive for an extreme, violent action. The religion, Islam – which is an embodiment of peace and tolerance, is used in almost all incidents as a pretext to fatally wound a person.
Secondly, with the motive justified by the believer himself, the resultant action has been taken virtually in the hands of the perpetrator, in complete ignorance of laws and regulations present in the country. It means that any person in this country can have his or her opinion on a matter as wrong or right. This can and should happen as it is the person’s right and a sign of democracy. But what should not happen is that the person also decides how that matter should be resolved and takes it in his or her own hands. What should surely not happen is that the decision entails taking someone’s life.
Then, the more disturbing part is that so firm is the culprit’s belief that he is on the path of justice, that even after committing a heinous crime, which can happen in a fit of rage or an outburst of emotion, there is no remorse, no guilt.
Lastly, these are not singular incidents, conducted by lone persons. In some cases they are but in others, like in the sit-ins or lynching of Mashal Khan, they involved large mobs. This means that the frightening mentality has spread like an epidemic.
This last factor is the most crucial, because it posts a big question mark on the future of the country’s society. If the trend continues, if students like Khateeb Hussain are encouraged and incited instead of being preached and counselled, more professors and students, who possess a liberal mind would lay down their lives. If the brain drain and brain washing of the young is not stopped, we would be contributing zealots instead of progressive minds. If this issue is not addressed at large, the society in Pakistan would slowly evolve to be one where there would be no tolerance for opinion, comment, thinking or action. Gradually, there would be an atmosphere stifling, suffocating so that one may not be able to even breathe.
Mashal Khan’s father is still fighting for justice, with one by one, Mashal’s murderers getting acquitted from jail. Even if Khateeb, who killed his teacher in Bahawalpur, or Faheem, who murdered his principal in Charsadda, are punished, the sick mindset would stay alive. We saw remorse by some students in Bahawalpur, who put posters of apologies for the soul of the departed teacher, but did the administration of the college in that city or the one in Charsadda hold a mass talk and unanimously condemn the respective incidents? Has any lawmaker proposed legislation that any citizen killing another in the name of religion be punished severely?
Is there any guarantee that such incidents will not take place in the future? There is none. Until then, all these questions remain unanswered and become a major source of worry for our future. The new face which emerges of our society is distorted; with anger, malice and intolerance. Does our ignorance or quiet reflections mean acceptance? If the answer is yes, this would surely mean the demise of this society.