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LUCKY ESCAPE

It is rare for a blasphemy case to be thrown out of court in Pakistan, and within such a short time as the Rimsha Masih case spanned. Clearly, the reported mental instability of the teenager and doubts about the evidence provided by the complainant have affected the court verdict. Unfortunately, in matters as explosive as blasphemy, which is punishable by death, the court has never been able to have the last word. Whether proven guilty or not, anyone accused of blasphemy in Pakistan remains susceptible to the law of the jungle. It is usual for the accused to die at the hands of the assassin than in the gallows. Pakistan, in fact, has never executed anyone for blasphemy but innumerable among the accused have died. It is such a sure-fire way of igniting passions that the charge of blasphemy has become an invariable weapon used by the Sunni majority against minorities such as Christians, Ahmadiyas, Hindus and Shias. It is also used to defame and disown members of the majority community. With the growth of religious extremism in Pakistan, the narrative surrounding blasphemy has become more twisted. The rise of Wahabism, and the attendant denigration of Pakistanís Sufi legacy, has brought with it an unprecedented backlash against the minorities. Anyone suspected of upholding their interests is automatically branded a public enemy. It was this sentiment that led to the assassinations of Salman Taseer, the Punjab governor, and Shahbaz Bhatti, minister for the minorities, last year. The murders were followed by the grotesque celebration of the assassins as public heroes.

An even greater tragedy for Pakistan lies in the fact that the State has remained a mute spectator to the goings-on. There was hardly any official condemnation of the murders of Taseer and Bhatti. And there has been little action to protect the minorities from violence. A State which has canonized religious discrimination in its constitution could hardly be expected to act otherwise. With the law-enforcing authorities themselves upholding religious prejudices, the marginalized will remain vulnerable. The impending elections are likely to worsen their status as the minority government does its best to shore up its chances. The Pakistan Peoples Party government is apparently thinking of taking blasphemy cases more seriously. In other words, there will be more Masihs, only less lucky than her.