Institutions of education, inching closer to a violent wave of extremism, is an ill omen for a country as culturally, ethnically, and religiously diverse as Pakistan.
Classrooms are a cradle for learning and university corridors often considered the safe space conducive to informal dialogue and debate. However, in a tragic irony, two young boys were attacked, sent to the police station, and expelled from their institutes over allegations of “hurting religious sentiments” of fellow students.
An accusation that sends Raza* from school to jail
“My son aspired to serve in the Pakistan army but the event has pushed him behind the bars – and unjustly so”, Hussain* sobs as he shares the story of shattered dreams while speaking about his 16-year old son, Raza.
Raza was a student of Intermediate (2nd Year) at Islamabad Model College for Boys IMCB F-11/3. A few weeks ago, during a class of Pakistan Studies, students noticed a derogatory symbol scribbled next to the name of the Holy Prophet’s companion. The hell broke loose on Raza as his classmates started roughly beating him.
Later, in the court proceedings, Raza mentioned that it was a prank played on him. “I went to the restroom, and came out to discover that someone else had written it on my notebook”.
The violence on this young boy was only interrupted when the college administration intervened. They called the Shalimar police station and handed them over the bruised boy so they could sort the case out. An FIR was registered against him on blasphemy accusations and he was arrested.
Where in the world does police solve a misapprehension created in a classroom? This event is a first of its kind, and sets not only a very dangerous precedent for students but establishes an invisible threat to the life and career of students belonging to religious minorities.
A banned terror group Sipah e Sahaba (SSP), responsible for the Shia genocide in Pakistan, was contacted. Abdur Rehman Muaviya is also the General Secretary for Sunni Raabta Council, a cover name of SSP. Abdur Rehman Muaviya reached the Shalimar Police Station shortly after Raza was transferred there. He lodged the FIR against the minor boy. The complainant of an incident that occurred in a college in F-11 was a representative of SSP (which was active under the name of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat) residing in G-7.
In the court hearing, Raza denied writing any such derogatory remarks against the name of a certain companion of the Prophet (PBUH). However, his career was ruined and his family thrown into an abyss of despair.
Neither the teacher nor the Principal played a neutral role to probe and settle the case that precipitated in a classroom.
“Everyone was an accomplice”, complains Raza’s father, Hussain.
Ali* was a student in the seventh semester, almost completing his Computer Science degree (BSCS) at Kohat University of Science and Technology. It is located in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (KPK) which is known for a conservative social character.
Ali shared a post on Facebook which was perceived and projected as blasphemous in nature and disrespectful towards companions of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). He belonged to a Shia family, the community that makes up almost 20 percent of the population in the country, and their beliefs about a few companions of the prophet are slightly different compared to those held by members of the majority Sunni sect.
The religious heat generated around this post had intensified to an extent that the matter made it to the police station. According to some sources, an FIR was registered against him, and as per some, he was only issued a warning to caution.
Ali stayed away from his campus for a few weeks. On 4th November 2020, he decided to go back to university in order to catch up on the missed classes. Meanwhile, the students were insistent that the university administration bars him from coming to the campus.
As the news went around that Ali was present in the university, a few of the boys ganged up and started beating him. The unanticipated brutality had put him in a bad shape, but what followed was even worse. The mob tried burning him alive.
As a student of the seventh semester, I can relate to Ali on a personal level and can only imagine the distress of being attacked by a mob on campus premises, a place I call my second home.
The Vice-Chancellor (VC) Dr. Tasleem Hussain narrowly managed to save Ali who was profusely injured and transferred him to a safe location. Anti-riot police were immediately called to handle the aggravated situation as the students had initiated a protest outside the VC office.
The angry students demanded immediate suspension notification of the student from the university. Otherwise, they threatened to kill Ali on their own.
All the entry and exit gates of the university were closed by the students as a show of anger. Dr. Hussain and the administration succumbed to the pressure and released the suspension letter for Ali, after which the gates of the university were opened. In a video, Ali narrates the sequence of events and speaks about his fear of being killed by any of the boys who are still after him. “Even if I go someplace as far as Gwadar they will find me and kill me”, he says in the video.
The homeland turns homicidal
The religious minorities suffer the worst due to this ongoing wave of inciting violence on those who have been allegedly involved in an act of blasphemy – something which is too subjective and sensitive to be identified by an angry mob. The blasphemy accusations are employed as a tool to settle personal scores as well. Unfortunately, the murderers are glorified, not condemned. Earlier in November, a security guard killed the bank manager on blasphemy accusations in Khushab and was presented as a hero for protecting the ‘sanctity of the Holy Prophet’.
It is alarming to note how this homicidal culture has moved from the streets to the educational institutes. The future of a country, where students are lynched in the educational institutes on mere accusations, does not look so promising.
In fact, the fire of extremism has not even spared the teachers. In Bhawalpur, a professor was stabbed to death by a third year student on alleged ‘anti-Islam’ remarks.
Evils of the new national curriculum, way forward?
The government can act as a guarantor of peace in this brewing sectarian hate and violence against the Shias and other religious minorities. Instead, it brought a single national curriculum, one that has no space for the religious minorities and further shrinks space for them. The national single curriculum has been designed in a way that all students, irrespective of their sect or faith, have been compelled to study the religious studies of the dominant Muslim sect in Pakistan. Even the language textbooks are religious and ideological – not reflective of the societal diversity in Pakistan. The dynamics of imposition can only go so far. The curriculum should ideally accommodate all religions for a tolerant and progressive generation.
Moreover, the teachers must be trained to tackle such matters and not emerge as silent spectators while students run to kill others who hold views different than their own. These two incidents could serve as a wake-up call for our academicians and other stakeholders.
Three years back, Pakistan lost Mashal Khan to extremism. He was a bright student and an aspiring journalist but was brutally beaten with sticks and bricks before being shot dead by his university mates on blasphemy accusations. Later, the accusations proved to be false in the court but twenty-five students arrested in the case were acquitted. With such intolerant and violent tendencies running unchecked in the educational institutes, it is feared that if timely measures are not installed in place we might lose countless lives in this chaos.
*The real names have not been used to protect identities
This blog has been published in the Daily Times.