The Gojra case: Between sanity and madness

Published: June 20, 2011
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How is legal justice to be dispensed if the court itself is weak, ineffective and realistically, redundant?

Toba Tek Singh, a city in Punjab was immortalised by Saadat Hasan Manto’s short story of the same name. The story, based a few years after Partition, chronicles the lives of a bunch of lunatics living in an asylum, unable to fathom whether they are in Pakistan or India. The story itself is a gripping indictment of the senseless events that occurred during Partition as the characters remain deluded somewhere between sanity and madness. In many ways, this enduring legacy of Partition still remains as a black spot on Pakistan’s identity.

In 2009, riots broke out in the outlying districts of Toba Tek Singh in a town called Gojra. Reports of desecration of the Holy Quran during a wedding ceremony sparked riots which resulted in over 40 houses and a church being set on fire. The total dead included eight Christians who were burnt alive while 18 sustained injuries. In the aftermath of the attack, over 200 suspects were initially identified of which 17 were nominated to face charges.

Almost two years later, and just like the aftermath of any tragedy in Pakistan, there is no follow up. There are no answers, no explanations; like goldfish in a bowl, our short attention spans release us from the misery around us. A travesty of Justice has taken place where all the 70 accused have been released on bail due to a no-show of witnesses. According to sources, many witnesses have left the country compelling the Anti-Terrorism Court in Faisalabad to defer criminal proceedings for a year until there are sufficient eyewitnesses with substantial evidence as well as the presence of the actual suspects themselves. It seems that the most necessary legal institution in the country can’t even guarantee protection of its witnesses.

Somewhere between sanity and madness

The attack on Christians represents a growing and troubling trend within Pakistan where those speaking for the rights of the disenfranchised are silenced. After the Gojra riots, President Asif Ali Zardari expressed grave concern and directed his federal minister for Minority Affairs, the late Shahbaz Bhatti to remain in Gojra and oversee the normalisation of relations. Bhatti identified the Sipah-e-Sahaba as the group responsible for carrying out the attacks against the Christian community. As we now know, Bhatti is dead for speaking out against the country’s controversial blasphemy law which frequently cites religious rectitude as a justification to settle old scores between rivals.

Attacks against minorities in Pakistan are now becoming more and more commonplace as communities that have long lived in harmony for centuries in this land are becoming xenophobic, paranoid and extreme, endangering numerous minority groups that now live in fear, daily.

The most shocking aspect about this incident is not the fact that it occurred, but the fact that the Anti-Terrorism Court failed to make headway.  Deferring a case for an entire year is no small matter. It is one thing where a commission is created to probe an event after it occurs, which by the way is becoming more and more common now; it’s another, more insidious matter altogether if a court defers a case for an entire year.

How much longer will the people of Pakistan be made subservient slaves to their own institutions?

The government’s responsibility to protect minorities has been exposed as ineffective. The court’s responsibility to protect witnesses to ensure the smooth progression of legal justice now totters precariously. The 18th Amendment bars the president of Pakistan of strengthening the court through ordinances.

So the question remains:

How is legal justice to be dispensed if the court itself is weak, ineffective and realistically, redundant?

Manto’s story echoes the paradigm of today. Like the characters in the story, we hang lurched in a balance somewhere between madness and sanity – the forces of justice, good will, cooperation and harmony stand in confronted by the specter of hatred, intolerance, extremism fuelled by apathy, a lack of political will and ineffective institutions. And we, like the lunatics in Manto’s asylum, know not where we stand.

hamza.usman

Hamza Usman

A writer with a Bachelor's in Political Science & History and a Master's in Global Communications. He tweets at @hamzausman.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • faraz

    Sectarian and extremists organizations like SSP and JUD are considered legitimate mainstream groups; they openly participate in rallies and dharnas. They have thousands of armed members in each and every city of the country.

    I seriously believe that minorities and minor sects should try to get better education so they can leave this country. Rich members of these minorities should create a fund to give bhatta to militant groups to secure safety of the poor members of their community.

    Being a part of the major sect, I know how they feel about the Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis or Shias. I couldnt find a single colleague who had sympathies which Christians of Gojra! Recommend

  • http://lonepkliberal.wordpress.com LoneLiberal PK

    Excellent article..
    All the more reason why this country needs the light to secularism..Recommend

  • atts

    @faraz:
    i dont agree with u regarding leaving the country, why is it that whenever there is danger we advice to exercise one of two options…. either flight or peacock style…… why not fight. This is their country, they have every right to be here or remove the white from ur flag! They had a hand in building this country, they have spent 60 odd years & built their little house & established their business….. why should they just up and leave…. we should learn tolerance and we should also speak out for them-doesnt islam teach that? why do we follow only selective teachings of islam whatever it suits usRecommend

  • faraz

    @atts

    Well i agree with what should be done. But i don’t think that will ever happen. The path of extremism chosen by the state has support from the majority. It will only worsen with time. I see no hope. I admit the failure of the majority in protecting the rights of the minority. Tell me, how many of your friends expressed grief over the death of Shahbaz Bhatti? How many people you know who admire Shahbaz Bhatti for his courage?Recommend

  • http://India Feroz

    Unless the mindset is changed events like Gojra will continue. Laws that discriminate against minorities like the Blasphemy Bill must be repealed. If witnesses get intimidated a witness protection program must be formulated and implemented. To inspire confidence among the minorities diligent officers from among them must be promoted in all Government Institutions. Lastly any lacunae in Laws must be quickly filled.Recommend

  • khawar kazmi

    the incident of Gojra between religious communities was engineered by Sipah-e-Sahabah.the animalistic barbarism on christians was not a spontaneous reaction to allegations of blasphemy but planned in advance.announcements were made from the mosques and police contingent deployed nearby was not ordered to stop the mob which included masked men.The lunatics carried inflammable substances and torched more than 40 houses of Christian families in less than half an hour, with many houses looted before being set on.It is as if people are always ready to burn, loot, destroy property and kill. All they need is an precipitating factor, and they are ready to raise hell. No body has the courage to point out that killing other people is the worst way to desecrate principals of Islam.i agree with FARAZ , there is no place for minorities in this country.lastly , judiciary must sublimate itself before pointing to the corruption in political manoeuverings.Recommend

  • Awais Khan

    The growing extremism in our society is a problem, which is the mother of all evils. Without eradication of extremism, we cannot move forward.Recommend

  • Atts

    @faraz:

    “Tell me, how many of your friends expressed grief over the death of Shahbaz Bhatti? How many people you know who admire Shahbaz Bhatti for his courage?”
    its not how many of my “friends” expressed grief /admiration but whether “I expressed it (strongly)” that counts….not privately but publicly …. the problem is that most of ‘us” are not vocal about this issue, all the ‘noise’ comes from the extremists…. with due apologies i feel that most ppl have adopted a defeatist attitude

    “marnay ke darr se meray dil, jeena na tu chorr dena

    ronay ke darr se jehan mein, hasna na tu chorr dena”

    I Wanted To Change The World
    Submitted by: Cage – Author: Unknown Monk 1100 A.D.
    When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world.
    I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation.
    When I found I couldn’t change the nation, I began to focus on my town. I couldn’t change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family.
    Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town. Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world.
    Recommend

  • Mehwish

    I’m sorry, but it’s not the courts’ fault that most accused are set free. If you have to blame someone/something, blame the investigation capacities our police have, blame the system where witnesses can’t speak up. The same thing happened with Mukhtara Mai. If there is a lack of evidence, courts cannot sentence anyone, that is a travesty of justice on its own. Recommend

  • Pakistanimuslim

    First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out —
    Because I was not a Socialist.

    Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out —
    Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
    Because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me. Recommend

  • Pakistanimuslim

    Privitization of police is the answer.Recommend