Have Muslims failed Islam in dealing the caste discrimination issue?

asia bibi

Pakistan is on the turmoil at the moment. In a historic judgment Pakistan Supreme Court acquitted Asia Bibi, a Dalit Christian woman who was sentenced to death by the lower courts for the charges of blasphemy. The court judgment has created an unprecedented crisis in Pakistan as the Mullahs and other Islamic fanatics have taken to the street and asking the government to pressurize the court to rescind the judgment.  Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan initially showed some spine but now surrendered to the fanatic elements who are threatening to Asia Bi and her family for alleged blasphemous act committed nearly a decade ago.

Pakistan’s long serving Dictator General Zia ulHaq damaged the institutions there and brought new changes in the constitution. The old Indian Penal code used to protect attempt to ‘hurt’ religious sentiments but now Zia has added specific under Section 298A  which stated “Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representations, or by any imputation, innuendo or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of any wife [UmmulMumineen], or members of the family [Ahle-bait], of the Holy Prophet [Peace be upon him] or any of the righteous Caliphs [Khulafa-e-Raashideen] or companions [Sahaaba] of the Holy Prophet [Peace be upon him] shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine or with both.”

This became the biggest instrument in the hands of Muslim fanatics to use against ‘Christians’ and Ahmedis. It was easier because people have to just complain against a non-Muslims saying that he heard him ‘abusing’ or defiling or writing, speaking things against Prophet and soon the entire shouting brigade would join baying for the blood of the accused. According a research report in Pakistan’s prestigious newspaper Dawn, over 75 persons which include 39 Muslims, 23 Christians, 9 Ahmedis and 2 Hindus have been killed extra-judicially on the charges of blasphemy.

Ahmedis are not even considered Muslims and are the most tortured communities in Pakistan. The Christian community which is being targeted massively are original Churas and Bhangis who continue to live in fear and face discrimination at all level. Internationally, whenever blasphemy cases comes from Pakistan, international media speak about Christians but the fact is this is a big lie. The people in Pakistan face blasphemy charges not because they are Christians but because they are Bhangis and Churas.

It is also shocking that Pakistan’s human rights organisations as well as Dalit organisations have rarely spoken about the issue. The whole case of untouchability and caste discrimination is often missed in the entire debate of blasphemy. We must not forget that Pakistan’s elite leadership wanted the Bhangis and Churas to remain in Pakistan else who would clean their sewage lines and toilets. Secondly, most of them had been converting to Christianity from Lahore to Delhi and one factor was the high caste Muslims never wanted to even sit with them or have any relation with them therefore most of the Churas or Bhangis actually embraced Christianity though their occupation remain the same. It has to be understood that Christians in Pakistan are not the white or high caste Christians but hailing from the Bhangi and Chura communities who continue to face caste based discrimination. Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission has been speaking about violence and oppression of the minorities particularly the Christian but I don’t know why their caste factor is not discussed.

One of Pakistan’s leading organization Sir Ganga Ram Heritage Foundation has been inviting lectures on DrAmbedkar every year and invite many Indian scholars and activists. If we go by their website, we only find stories about Dalits in India. There is not a single mention about Dalits in Pakistan or what need to be done. In the success stories, one PPP Member of National Assembly is portrayed. Pakistan’s Dalit movement in Sind Province under Dalit SujagTehreek is doing wonderful work but the Chura and Bhangi question too is left may be they are engaged in their own struggles and the issues of the sweeper community is mostly in Punjab. I have not come across a single case where Sir Ganga Ram Heritage Foundation is fighting for the rights of the Dalits in Pakistan. Sadly, not a single statement about the Churas and Bhangis are being treated in such humiliating way. Just being a propaganda material of the state would not work. It can give them some brownie point but at the end Pakistan must be made accountable on the Dalit question and international human rights group must start focusing on Dalit and tribal issues outside India also.

The fire spitting fanatics in the streets of Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi want to punish Asia Bibi, mother of five children. Her husband AshiqMaseeh has already appealed to international community to help them. Their lawyer, who defended them in the Supreme Court has already left Pakistan, fearing attack and has taken shelter in The Netherlands. Imran Khan’s government did not do a great favor by saying that it won’t allow Asia Bibi to go abroad. This is disgraceful given the nature of threats. She seems to be secure in the Jail and not now when she is out. There is a risk to her life and that of her family.

Government is pressurizing the courts like the political parties. The blood thirsty hate mongers are just waiting to hand her to death with no shame left in them. Let us first hear about the case and how the media including international media and Pakistan establishment just converted the story into a blasphemous one rather than seeking justice for Asia Bibi, who became victim of the caste apartheid.

I am quoting the story from an Australian new-site news.com :

Aasiya Noreen “Asia” Bibi is a mother-of-five from IttanWali, a small rural village in central Pakistan.

In her biography, Blasphemy: A Memoir, Bibi describes the moment that would radically alter her life forever.

On June 14, 2009, she set out to the fields near her house to take part in a berry-picking harvest, for which she would be paid 250 Pakistani rupees for a day’s work — the equivalent of just under $A3.

She described a climate of open hostility towards her from the women she worked with, because she was part of the country’s Christian minority, which makes up less than 2 per cent of Pakistan.

Around midday, dehydrated and sweltering in the sun, Bibi walked to the nearby well to have a drink of water.

But after she refilled the bucket a second time, a woman screamed: “Don’t drink that water,  it’s haram!”

According to Bibi’s account, the shouter then turned to the dozen other women working in the fields and said: “Listen, all of you, this Christian has dirtied the water in the well by drinking from our cup and dipping it back several times. Now the water is unclean and we can’t drink it! Because of her!”

The argument intensified, with the women calling on Bibi to convert and “redeem herself”.

It was one sentence she fired back with that would seal her fate: “What did your Prophet Mohammed ever do to save mankind?”

After this, Bibi said the women started screaming, spitting at her and physically assaulting her. She ran home in a fright.

Less than a week later, she went fruit-picking in another field when she was confronted by a rioting crowd, led by the woman who had initially shouted at her.

The crowd surrounded her, beat her and took her to the village, screaming: “Death! Death to the Christian!”

The village imam said: “I’ve been told you’ve insulted our Prophet. You know what happens to anyone who attacks the holy Prophet Mohammed. You can redeem yourself only by conversion or death.”

She protested: “I haven’t done anything. Please, I beg you, I’ve done nothing wrong.”


It is clear that Asia Bibi was victim of the untouchability when the women who saw her drinking water told others that the water has become ‘haram’.  Any self-respecting person would respond the way Asia Bibi did but the Islamic zealots actually converted it into a blasphemous act. You speak so much that Islam treateveryone equal and there is no untouchability and now you want to oppress and suppress people’s voices because you fear getting exposed. In India Asia Biwi would have got protection under SC-ST act even when we know that the implementation part is worst.

I am not writing this article to deride Muslims or Pakistan as I believe in every one’s fundamental right. As a nation, Pakistan has every right to exist as any other country in the world but I wonder whether this Pakistan really belong to that of Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s dream but one similarity that I found in Pakistan and Jinnah with Nehru was his secularism and democratic approach but both Nehru and Jinnah did neither have the understanding of the caste discrimination and untouchability issues nor did they make any effective effort to eradicate that. They wanted to be secular but not radical change makers.

Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly chief was JoginderNathMondal who became the first law and labour minister there, very much like Baba SahebAmbedkar here. Baba SahebAmbedkar got fed up with Nehru government which did not give him the Ministry he would have loved like Planning and finance. JogindernathMondal became fed up with Pakistani leadership with in the two years of the state coming into existence as the East Pakistan which was the Bengali dominated area was being severely discriminated and the condition of minorities was horrible. The resignation letters of Baba SahebAmbedkar from Nehru cabinet and JogindernathMondal from Pakistani cabinet needs to be explained to the people to understand the conditions of Dalitsand minorities in our respective countries.

Long back, many of the leaders felt that Islam was a liberator force for the marginalized particularly Dalits and many of them converted into the faith. M N Roy’s book : Historical Role of Islam is an important document of the role played by Islam in liberating the Dalits and the marginalized in India but today when we see the conditions of the Dalit Muslims, we realize that Muslim elite have failed Islam and continued with the traditions of their brahmanical ancestors in continuously following the caste system and untouchability. I am amazed as why the issue of Chuars and Bhangis have not been linked in Pakistan when the question of blasphemy comes. Our Sanghi nationalists are doing the same. You raise a question about the Dalits and they talk about Ram Mandir and cow protection. The entire cow protection movement in India is actually our blasphemy law and victim of Indian blasphemy of cows are Muslims or Dalits.

Nearly a year and half ago, a Pakistani journalist who happened to be a Dalit complained that in his newsroom, he faced untouchability. I contacted him through friends but after the first mail of linking, he refused to answer my questions. A number of other Dalit activists are unable to speak up openly as they feel threatened and spied by the state agencies. While many of the Pakistan’s top Generals use the Dalit card against India, the fact is their own track record is horrible and perhaps much worse than India. Hindus have legitimized caste system but India’s Dalit movement is an example to be emulated. There is no other movement in the subcontinent which can be compared to it in terms of liberation of people.

It is not that Indian Muslim do not have castes. HalalKhors, Hellas, Kalandars, Nats, and many other communities are there but the Indian state as well as the upper caste Muslim leadership rarely speak about them. In Kashmir, there is so much talk of IsmlamicJehad and other things but non ever raised the issues of Wattals, who are the manual scavengers in Kashmir, belonging to Islam. They are treated as untouchables and most of them are absolutely landless and homeless. When the entire country want to be open defecation free, Kashmir and some of its districts have a high level open toilets and Wattals clean them and are humiliated regularly.

The question is that caste system was divinely sanctioned by the brahmanical system but why are the Muslims and Christians following it. It is in this context, we feel that the upper caste leadership of Muslims in both India and Pakistan kept the issue under the wrap and enjoyed the farzi fight. No Jehadi organization in Pakistan has come out in support of Pakistan’s Dalits. When the Indian Muslims are now making alliance with the Dalits why is that Pakistan government and its leadership continues to follow caste system and untouchability.

Pakistan’s religious leadership would have would have gained a lot if they had supported Supreme Court judgment but the way these fanatics blood suckers are crying against Asia Biwi proves that they have contempt and hatred towards Dalits. Who will clean their toilets and sewage system if the Dalits deny it. International media and Pakistan media must understand that it is not merely the issue of Christian minority getting targeted. The main targets are Dalits because they too want to progress and leave their occupation imposed upon them. The fundamentalists want them to continue with this work and therefore most of the  are trapped under the allegation of blasphemy. Pakistan leadership must be made accountable for the violence against Dalits and media must change the narrative now. People are being persecuted not because they are Christian but because they are Dalits as their leaving their occupation and standing with their head high is a direct threat to casteist Mullahs and fanatics who want to suppress their voices in the name of Islam.

We hope that Pakistan Supreme Court as well as the government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan will not succumb to the pressure from the fanatics on this issue and allow the justice to be done. Pakistan Dalit facing untouchability and caste discrimination is the case of much bigger blasphemy which need to be done away with it and all of them must get a respectable life and opportunity to participate in the socio-political-cultural life of their country. Country practicing caste system and untouchability must come under international radar as fight against racism. It is time caste discrimination become part of international agenda and all religions as well as their practiced are monitored under it. No law of God of any nation should be allowed to justify violence against the Dalits. International community must recognize that violence against certain communities in Pakistan   is not because they are minorities but because they happen to be Dalits. Once they understand the issue of caste discrimination, all countries will have to make laws to protect Dalits and eradicate untouchability and caste discrimination. That way, action must be taken against those racists who humiliated Asia Bibi when she drank water from the pot. Will the Pakistani government has the courage to do so. No, it wont but let it protect Asia Bibi or allow her to leave Pakistan to leave in any other country which guarantee her safety and security.

 Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social and human rights activist. He blogs at www.manukhsi.blogspot.com twitter @freetohumanity Email: [email protected]

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Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social and human rights activist. He blogs at www.manukhsi.blogspot.com twitter @freetohumanity Email: [email protected]

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