The 14-year-old girl, whose case took the nation and the world by storm, Rimsha Masih, accused of blasphemy, has been set free by the Islamabad High Court (IHC). Accused of allegedly burning some pages of the holy Quran by the imam of a mosque, she was rounded up and thrown into jail despite the fact that she is just a child, one who it is said suffers from mental impairment.
An overwhelming outcry poured in from around the world at our refusal to grant this poor, simple child reprieve. Blasphemy in Pakistan is a crime that carries the death sentence. It is heartening to see that good sense has finally prevailed, which is not usually the case when blasphemy accusations are levelled in this country, and Rimsha has been set free. That she was released from custody on November 20 is a feel good factor as the date is Universal Children’s Day although one doubts this is more than just a coincidence.
While we may rejoice at this little victory, the fact remains that Rimsha, her family and people like her remain sitting ducks for angry mobs, crazed fundamentalists and religious firebrands who believe that an accusation of blasphemy is as good as a conviction. It is a sad fact that blasphemy allegations are usually false, levelled against individuals to settle personal scores or to grab someone’s land. It is also a sad fact that even children are not spared in this sick game.
It is because of this that something must be done about the blasphemy laws in Pakistan. Unfortunately, it has now become tantamount to going against the ‘word of God’ to try and repeal or amend these laws, or to even stand up for those wrongly accused of blasphemy — for which former Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer and Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti were gunned down last year. One has now been left begging for scraps as far as the blasphemy laws are concerned.
If repealing them is not an option because this step is hostage to the irrational religious lobby, then one can only argue to our leaders to provide some sort of safety clauses to prevent false accusations from seeing the light of day and to prevent children becoming pawns in this matter. Allegations of blasphemy are enough to ruin the lives of those on the receiving end forever and this must be prevented. It is time to take a fresh look at these laws that have been proved to be subject to misuse and even abuse. The way the world took offence at our castigation of a young, mentally challenged girl ought to knock some sense into us so that we think twice before entrapping children or anyone else in the blasphemy fracas.