Blasphemy, a concept otherwise little known to the South Asian religions, started percolating in the social fabric, after it was introduced in statute by the British in colonized India back in 19th century. The criminalization of blasphemy, however, did not start with the British India.

Muslim rulers of subcontinent have been awarding death sentence to political rivals and dissenters on charges of ‘heresy’. Heresy was seen as an unforgiveable crime, but profanity about other religions was apparently not much of an issue. Muslim rulers have been taking pride (and are still remembered with a sense of vanity and triumph in our textbooks) on desecrating Hindu temples.

Sufi saints from Mansur Al-Hallaj to Baba Bulhay Shah, Syed Sarmad Shaheed, Dara Shikoh (brother of the ‘pious’ king Aurangzeb) and even Rehman Baba had to face the heresy charges. Most of the cases, even then were politically motivated and were consequence of a power struggle. This still reflects in the way blasphemy laws are being used by the influential segments, mostly the clergy. In majority of the cases, Muslims initiate blasphemy allegation against either fellow Muslims or against the powerless non-Muslim communities in Pakistan.

It is now changing. As it happens with every poison that doesn’t take much time to seep through the surface and goes deep down to corrupt the entire body. Happening now.

A year ago, Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee had filed a complaint against its former chief Sardar Mastan Singh, and his 20 Sikh accomplices under blasphemy laws and other charges for allegedly being involved in desecrating temple, condemning creation of the State and advocating abolition of its sovereignty etc. on the eve of main ceremony to mark the birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak in Nankana Sahib.

But earlier in May of this year, for the first time in the history of Pakistan that a non-Muslim filed a complaint under blasphemy laws against Muslims.

The complainant, Mahinder Pall Singh, a Sikh by religion, lodged an FIR with the Chichawatni City Police on May 2. While he was travelling to Multan from Faisalabad, the bus he was travelling on broke down and stopped at a terminal at Chichawatni. Singh and fellow passengers complained about the slow speed of the bus and asked for a replacement.

Instead of doing something about the complaint, six employees of the transport company started fighting with the passengers and in the process snatched Singh’s turban and threw it on the ground. In Sikh culture, a turban is considered a religious symbol and disgracing it is equivalent to religion sacrilege. Singh immediately went to the Chichawatni police station and lodged an FIR there.

The accused were booked under the section, which deals with bail-able offences and ‘desecration of a worship place’.“I am not a worship place but a citizen of Pakistan having Sikh faith and attackers have disgraced one of my religious symbols. So police should have added 295/A which deals with non-bail-able offence with maximum penalty of 10-year imprisonment”, Singh was reported to have said. He now is applying for adding Section 295-A to the FIR and would even move to the court if required. The case lingers on ever since.

And here let us move on to another tale of another case of blasphemy. This happened four years ago in 2012 in Islamabad. A minor girl, Rimsha Masih, was arrested on August 16, 2012 for allegedly burning pages from Holy Quran. While carrying trash in a plastic bag in the neighborhood where she lived she was told by a Muslim boy to let him inspect the contents of her bag. The boy then took the bag to the imam of a local mosque, Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti, who accusing Rimsha of desecrating the Quran, gave police burned papers from the trash as evidence against her.

On August 24 Chishti told media that he thought Rimsha had burned the pages deliberately as part of a Christian “conspiracy” to insult Muslims, and that action should have been taken sooner to stop what he called their “anti-Islam activities” in the area. Outrage by local Muslims forced 300 local Christian families to leave their homes and to attempt to “find shelter in one of the Islamabad forests”. Police took Rimsha in protective custody as the mob wanted to burn her alive.

Meanwhile, following a medical examination, a medical report estimated her age as being 14 (therefore scientifically proven that she was a minor under Pakistani law), and was suffering from Down’s syndrome, a mental illness that severely affects one’s sense of judgment.

In September, it was reported that Chishti was arrested for desecrating the Quran himself and tampering with evidence. Police suspected him for planting pages of religious texts in Rimsha’s bag. But despite this, there was no public outrage against him. Rimsha, however, remained the sole target of the rage of the ‘pious’, which gathered in hoards in front of the courts threatening judges of consequences.

Few days later, Rimsha was released on bail. But she had to be clandestinely airlifted to an undisclosed location to rejoin her family so they could not be harmed by the ‘pious’ who were still outraged knowing fully well she was tricked into a concocted blasphemy case by one of their own cleric comrade. Says a lot about the ‘love of Prophet’ that some of the righteous so eagerly wear on their faces but actually have nothing to do with the teachings of Prophet (PBUH).

According to media reports, Chishti was later arrested after his deputy Maulvi Zubair and two others told a Magistrate that Chishti had added pages from the Quran to the burnt pages brought to him. Zubair and the two others, Mohammad Shahzad and Awais Ahmed, said they had urged Chishti not to interfere with the papers but he told them it was the only way to expel the Christians from the area.

A desecration was thus proven duly authenticated by witnesses. Only that, it was done by a Muslim cleric. But no one was outraged about it. Rimsha and her family, despite being proven innocent, could not live in Pakistan, their home, and their country as much as it is yours and mine. She still can’t afford to live here.

Mahendar Pal Singh, on the other hand, is receiving death threats and facing state’s non-cooperation on a blasphemy case witnessed by dozens. The state protected a real blasphemer of Quran when it was a Muslim cleric. The state is still protecting a Muslim blasphemer of a faith other than Islam.

After Rashid Rehman, the human rights defender and lawyer who was defending a blasphemy accused, was brutally killed, no one is sure if Mahinder Pal Singh would even get a lawyer.

Things might have been different, had the state done something in case of Shantinagar massacre. The judicial report on it is still awaited. Tragedy after tragedy – Gujran, Joseph Colony, Sangla Hill, Bahmini Wala, Kot Radha Kishan and Yuhnabad – has vanished in our memory lane. It must have taken a lot of chutzpah for this state to claim being created in ‘Jinnah’s vision’. It is shameful to say the least.