The trait that everyone is perceived to hold in the 21st century is tolerance. If it was ever easier in history to speak up against certain rules or leadership, to advocate for equality and human rights, this is the time for it. While these perceptions are rising what also goes parallel with this is the aggressive rise of fundamentalism.
Fundamentalism and tolerance are increasing at the same rate despite the striking contrast between the two. To elaborate on the rise of fundamentalism, the case of Asia Bibi, who was accused of blasphemy and given a death sentence on account of Pakistan’s stringent blasphemy laws that underwent a makeover post the Islamisation period of General Zia-ul Haq, post which more than 1000 cases of blasphemy have been reported. Sources claim that the blasphemy laws in Pakistan are widely used to settle personal grudges against the minorities in Pakistan. Asia Bibi simply had a quarrel with fellow villagers on the pretext of drawing water from the village well which lead to a heated exchange and her being accused of blasphemy. Lahore high court even upheld the verdict on her hanging and the opposition to this was met with aggression. The then Minister for Minority Affairs of Pakistan Shahbaz Bhatti and Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer were assassinated for advocating on her behalf and opposing the blasphemy laws.
In October of 2018 the Supreme Court of Pakistan acquitted Asia Bibi on grounds of insufficient evidence and she was allowed to walk free. This started a wave of protest from fundamentalist and orthodox Islamic groups in Pakistan and people took to the streets. As county being governed by the elites and religious ideologies in the past, it was refreshing to see that the government upheld the decision and did not cave into the demands of the protests which were in fact so violent and extreme that there were calls to kill the Supreme Court judges who acquitted Asia Bibi and head of the army.
Today we live in a space where one is highly vocal about dislike of authority and the unwillingness to accept its decisions. So the people protesting the Supreme Court’s verdict was not surprising owing to it dissent being vital for democracy in its true sense but the manner in which the protests were carried out and the basis for the protests is what that took the world by shock. When we analyse the nature of the protests and their foundations we realise that it is connected with fundamentalism. If the countries of India and Pakistan were both created by a similar process then how the citizens of one country have been so cocooned by one set of ideology. The problem starts with the nomenclature of the two. While India chose to not align itself with any one religion and declared itself to be secular in the preamble itself, Pakistan despite being home to minorities of the subcontinent chose to an Islamic state; The Islamic Republic of Pakistan. This very name is what has become the root cause for fundamentalism in our neighborhoods. While there is no denying that the leaders and politicians within our very own country play this card for their gains, religion has evolved into being the primary if not the sole governing principle in Pakistan.
Despite the government’s strong stance in face of heavy protests and their success in helping Asia Bibi move to Canada where she safely landed a week ago, it hasn’t completely changed the perception of a majority of people in Pakistan and the blasphemy laws remain in full action. Even if there was a bill to revise these laws or amend them, the Federal Sharia Court of Pakistan exists to keep the governments in check. Asia Bibi is now safe in Canada but her prison cell has a new resident; another Christian woman condemned to death over blasphemy charges, Kausar. If Pakistan is to talk about human right violations and equality it’s time for it to start by revising its own orthodox, staunch and fundamentalist laws.