Swabi: Ali Shah (pseudonym) and a dozen of other men offered funeral prayers for Mashal Khan, a university student lynched to death by a vigilante mob on accusation of blasphemy, defying the decree by a religious leader who barred people from attending Mashal’s burial rituals.
Earlier this year in April, Mashal Khan 23 and a student of Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan (AWKUM) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was killed and another wounded by a mob for allegedly “publishing blasphemous content online”, police had said.
When approached for comments on the entire saga right from Mashal’s lynching to the cleric announcement barring people not to attend his burial ceremony and to offering funeral prayers by some villagers, defying cleric’s edict, Shahid Ijaz, head of psychology department at Islamabad Model College (IMC), told Truth Tracker: “Behavioral change is direly needed through education at the grassroots level.”
Earlier, Dr. Main Saeed, a District Police Officer (DPO) in Mardan, had said at least 45 people had been arrested in connection of Mashal’s lynching.
However, Mohammad Alam Shinwari, Mardan’s Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of police, had told media the deceased student was blamed for running Facebook pages “which allegedly published blasphemous content”.
Television footages showed Mashal is lying on the floor in a pool of blood and surrounded by the group, having severe torture marks on his body. A number of students are seen kicking his dead body and beating him with wooden batons.
In his brief chat with Truth Tracker, Shah 45 who is a social worker in Swabi district recalled it was really a tense situation for him and his compatriots to bury Mashal “in an honorable way.”
The first thing, Ijaz said is that Mashal’s lynching was an act of mob and their psychology is different from individuals. He said there are two things in human nature such as emotion and ideology.
“As a society, our emotional level is uncontrolled with abysmally deeper level of intolerance,” Ijaz remarked. Now the question is how the society can overcome emotions, he suggested emotions are compensated through aggressive behavior.
Hailing from Swabi district, a dusty hamlet in the northwestern province, Shah along with his colleagues marched to Mashal’s village soon after he was told that a local religious leader barred people from either offering funeral prayers or condolences for the deceased.
“Funeral prayers could not be held for blasphemer,” the cleric had told villagers on loudspeakers.
Muhammad Junaid, another citizen of the town, said Shah and his colleagues’ act inspired villagers to offer funeral prayers, prompting political leaders and human rights activists to pour in to Mashal’s village to condole his death amid chants “Mashal is innocent and Mashal is martyr.”
Shah had though taken a bold step but it was really tragic why law of the land and law enforcement agencies could not surge into motion to deal with the “special nature of case.”
According to a report by Amnesty International (AI), The Impact of Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan, it is difficult to establish precise information on the number of blasphemy cases, as there is limited available data.
However, data provided by human rights groups the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) shows a large increase of cases since the 1980s.
For example, according to NCJP, a total of 633 Muslims, 494 Ahmadis, 187 Christians and 21 Hindus have been accused under various provisions on offences related to religion since 1987.
A question arises whether the government, religious scholars and civil society activists can dare lobbying for amendments to the controversial blasphemy laws, Shah questioned.
He recalled people of Mashal village stayed indoors because a religious leader of the neighborhood had already made announcements that those who attend funeral prayers would commit Kufr (sin).
Shah recalled he got a phone call regarding the cold-blooded death of Mashal; he then went straight to his village to perform his burial ceremony.
“Burying Mashal Khan was a challenging job for us but we took the risk avoiding any mishap in the village,” Shah added.
Commenting on the lynching of Mashal, he said that individuals should not dub a person as a blasphemer because state institutions should deal with issues of serious nature.
Junaid said that Shah’s move infused renewed zeal to shoulder beleaguered and frightened Mashal’s family. “We changed the entire scenario after burying Mashal honourably and our act paved way for politicians and civil society activists to come and openly denounce his killing,” he noted.
Ijaz observed that the society’s intellectual level is overwhelmed by its ideological level.
Shah noted that accusation of blasphemy is often used as a pretext to settle personal scores by the rival people. He recalled a number of villagers told him that the boy (Mashal) was an intelligent student and the university administration was acting like a mafia group. “The charge of the blasphemy was totally wrong,” he said while quoting relatives of Mashal.
Again how the mob had popped up, Ijaz is of the opinion that the mob was stirred into action on emotional level with their polluted ideologies. To mend society’s brains, he said hectic work is needed on mega level because the problem is not there in individual capacity rather dynamics of the entire society are similar.
“There is need of educational transformation or emotional health transformation at the grassroots level,” he added. Ijaz pointed out there is deficiency in the country’s education system because highly educated people from leading educational institutions are not emotionally balanced.
He said the tragedy is that the students are being taught how to be intelligent but never taught how to manage or deal with brimming emotions. “We are not being taught at home, by parents and in educational institutions as how to deal with emotions and aggression,” he observed.
The country, he said direly needs to introduce emotional health related subjects in its curriculum, which would help contain the vicious cycle of tragic nature of mishaps. “There is need to introduce some curriculum from early school stage to know about minorities’ and women rights and to stimulate emotional tolerance,” Ijaz noted.
“It was not an issue between two states rather it was an issue of humanity to offer condolences and bury Mashal with dignity,” Shah concluded.