The National Assembly Standing Committee on Interior yesterday considered different amendments in the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), to deal with the elements inciting religious violence through hate speeches, mob lynching and the issue of forced marriages. The amendments propose increased punishments of up to three years for hurting religious feelings, up to seven years for registration of false FIRs and awarding 10-year imprisonment for forced marriages. Along with extended imprisonment, heavy fines could be slapped for any of these misdemeanours.

This move comes as part of the National Action Plan (NAP), which aims to tighten the noose around all such features that want to divide the country with sectarianism. These amendments are a much-needed addition to the PPC, which has been in place since 1980. In recent times all state institutions have come together in unison- the government, religious groups and the Pakistan army- to reiterate their combined effort to back the NAP. Political will is the most important factor that proves the effectiveness of laws and policies. In the case of rooting out terrorism from the very fabrication of our society, a real effort is finally visible to change the state of things for the better.

A couple of high profile incidents of hate speech inciting mob lynching and other cases of alleged blasphemy has gripped the country which brought forth the realisation that the law is failing to protect the vulnerable. The blasphemy law has been an untouchable one, one that enjoys the support of religious hardliners for decades. Although it remains steadily in place, zero tolerance for hate speech and hate literature has been reiterated to protect the minorities. As Interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said very aptly, “There will be no tolerance for calling each other infidel or liable to be killed. There is a very thin line between sectarianism and terrorism. They both go hand-in-hand.” The damaging affect of intolerance has finally been realised. Individuals can no longer hide behind the mask of religiosity to spew hate.

Police reforms are not possible without government will and support. Police officers are often accused of registering false FIRs, and a specific clause in the bill to punish the police in such cases has also been proposed. If this amendment is passed it has the potential to make a marked difference as accountability lacks in every institution of this country especially those who set out to protect the vulnerable in the first place. The police often find themselves failing to protect victims of forced marriages or those consumed by mob rage and it is their responsibility at the end of the day to ensure that these amendments are enforced in practice not just on a paper.