One of the best pieces of news, amongst all the mayhem and tragedy, was that of the Punjab government having decided to defend a set of (about 50) blasphemy accused. ‘In association with Home and Police departments,’ the government is reported to have resolved to expedite these selected cases out of about 262 such pending cases registered in the province since 2010. The effort, or the intent behind it rather, is admirable. The news is that the Punjab government wants to address cases of those it deems have been ‘victimized’ by complainants.

All 50 or so cases selected are those of Muslim victims. Rashed Rehman’s murder last year seems to have triggered this initiative. Rashed was gunned down for taking on, and refusing to back off from, the case of a blasphemy accused in Multan. It was a first of its kind murder – the murder of a lawyer providing defence – a constitutional right – to an accused. This is what things had come to. Rashed was the nephew of iconic human rights giant, I A Rehman.

However, brave as it is, the initiative is telling of the government’s timidity in this respect. “Sources said the committee as empowered by the government was mulling to get decree from religious scholars of all schools of thought to avoid reaction,” reported Dawn. “A high-powered committee, headed by provincial secretary prosecution Rana Maqbool, sat fourth time a couple of days back since its formation by the provincial government in Jan 2015 to discuss the modalities to pursue cases on a fast track basis and take all the religious schools of thought into confidence.”

Baby steps, when giant ones are needed, in the face of the NAP. Only 50 cases, and all those of ‘Muslims’ accused of blasphemy. Perhaps this is the path needed in this banana republic to finally reach cases akin to that of Asia Bibi, a Christian accused of blasphemy over a glass of water she did or did not serve to ‘Muslim’ women. How ashamed I am today of being a ‘Muslim woman’?

One is sure the Punjab government has picked only 50 cases of the very ‘defensible’ case variety to set the ball rolling. Or so one hopes. But the rest are also certainly ‘victims’ of the blackest law of this land which seeks to persecute, victimize, and silence any and all at will – for the sake of vendetta, political or economic rivalry, or just pure malice.

How did we get here? Yes, a dictator warped the one century old British law to make it lethal, but even two and a half decades after his death, our representatives could not find it in themselves to repeal the murderous law – or to amend it. They, and we, have all paid the price for it. They less, and we more. And the minorities more than anyone else, reference the recent initiative of the Punjab government which has not picked a single case of religious minorities accused of ‘blaspheming’ against the majority’s religion.

It was not very long ago that the Punjab government repealed its brilliant initiative to de-radicalize the provincial school curriculum at the behest of one jihadi: Ansar Abbasi. Then, the government banned study of comparative religion in private schools in Punjab at the behest of another charlatan: Mubashir Luqman. Clearly, the Sharif government knew then, and it knows even more clearly now: these characters are intent on destroying whatever it takes to be power brokers, appealing to the basest instincts to consecrate their ‘power’.

However, the larger question of blasphemy remains unaddressed. This unfortunate country makes a nebulous idea a crime. Even the sections of law dealing with blasphemy remain deliberately vague. How did this reasonably intelligent nation put up with a ‘sin’ being designated as a crime? Repeal of this law must become the foundation stone of the National Action Plan, though the plan makes no mention of it. But this law is one of the most important factors behind religious extremism in Pakistan, that all and sundry (except Imran Khan and Jamaat e Islami of course) now agree to want to defeat.

The ‘crime’ of blasphemy is indeed a ‘thought crime’. It is persecution of ‘criminals’ of conscience. People and governments must now reckon with what they didn’t wish to confront earlier: that we must separate crimes from sins. Mixing them laid the lethal foundations of what we are reaping today: anyone deeming anyone’s else’s thoughts, speech or philosophy of life could successfully prosecute, or lynch with impunity, at the very least their chosen target. That must stop. Lying is a sin. And so is backbiting. And so is not praying or fasting or blaspheming… the list is endless, per the Quran. But how did we pick certain ‘sins’ to be ‘crimes’ per the law of this land?

Dear government, may we enter the age of rationality? May we get on with the business of life? As you get on with the life of business?