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Caste & Untouchability: Root of the Blasphemy project in Pakistan

Caste & Untouchability: Root of the Blasphemy project in Pakistan

auwn gurmani


Auwn Gurmani

auwn gurmaniBabasaheb Ambedkar in his book Annihilation of Caste says: “I have no hesitation in saying that if the Mahomedan has been cruel, the Hindu has been mean; and meanness is worse than cruelty”.

I’d add, the context may be different today, but, nonetheless, there is a cruelty amongst Mahomedans that cannot be justified. In Pakistan which is a majority Muslim country, we have Hindus, Christians, and other minorities as well who are (on paper) deemed equal citizens. But when their lives are explored, one can easily conclude they are not equal citizens. They are wretched beings. For them, it’s nearly impossible to disassociate themselves from their fabricated lives, their lives that are not of their own choice but enforced structurally by the socially privileged majority of the country.

Almost a decade back, a young Christian woman named Asia Bibi was charged with Blasphemy by her fellow villagers. It wasn’t an ordinary tiff and one can say, especially after the Supreme Court of Pakistan had acquitted her, she didn’t commit any blasphemy. Rather, she tried to be kind to two Muslim women by offering them water and this very act became the sole reason for her being in hot water. One wonders how come someone offering water becomes this big a problem?

For people of Pakistan, it can be a little difficult to understand the scenario because there’s no debate on the caste based oppression that exists in Pakistan, but for an Ambedkarite this is the situation he/she can relate to because the whole thing is based on the very fallacious notions of purity and impurity: Asia Bibi offering those women water was an attempt to taint their water. How she, a Christian, a woman from the lowest caste dared to touch their water and pollute it thereby? Asia going beyond caste based social structure led her to languish in the jail for a decade while leaving her infant daughters to live in torment and pain, separated from their mother.

Untouchability is the most savage manifestation of the caste hierarchy. A sitting governor of mainland Pakistan, Punjab, was assassinated by his security guard for defending a hapless lowest caste woman. Right after Salman Taseer’s killing, there emerged a fringe group called Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah led by all upper caste men, the most prominent amongst their leaders was Khadim Hussain Rizvi – his surname says everything about the entire Blasphemy project.

Supposedly, it’s a self enforced prerogative of Syed Muslims to defend the honor of Prophet (PBUH) no matter what it takes, because you see Syeds are the Prophet’s kinsfolk. As I see it, the entire project of blasphemy, in essence, has been very casteist since the beginning. If one spares a few minutes searching Khadim Rizvi on YouTube one can find him, the leader of TLYR, hurling all caste slurs–for instance, Choorha, Dalla, Kanjar and Mirasi etc–on everyone trying to communicate his/her disagreement with Rizvi’s campaign, be it the Chief justice or the Chief of Pakistan Army, he doesn’t discriminate while dispensing titles.

Recently when Asia, after being in jail for many years, was acquitted by the Supreme judges, Blasphemy fetishizers took to the streets and brought all major cities of Pakistan to a grinding halt as soon as the result was announced – that’s how influential and powerful these people are. Despite being acquitted by the court, Asia Bibi hasn’t been set free as yet because these religious zealots have been inciting people to kill her throughout their entire campaign and you never know what happens to her once she’s out.

This is not just Asia, there are countless other examples that one could cite. For instance, in November 2014, a Christian couple was accused of burning the pages of the Noble Book Quran and were thrown it into a brick kiln by a mob. Shama and Shehzad before being burnt alive were paraded naked by the lynch mob. And Shama, one shudders, was pregnant when she died and the couple had left three children behind. One can not imagine the ordeal the little kids have been through all these years. Five people who were involved in the killing of this couple were sentenced to death but again, the question remains: have we abolished the structure that enabled these monsters to kill the innocents? The answer is a big No.

A couple of days back, I came across a news report that the Swabi district council of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan was demanding that only Christians be hired as sweepers and Muslims working on such posts should be transferred to other departments. Babasaheb wrote “Annihilation of Caste” in 1936 but whatever he wrote back then still rings true so far as the case of Pakistan is concerned. Untouchability is practised in Pakistan and with each passing day, it is taking a more violent form. People coming from the lowest caste background don’t deserve to be on good posts in any sector, they are reserved for all dirty jobs.

If we look at only the surface, maybe in the minds of many people, it might seem a mere tiff over some lowest caste woman offering water. Religious zealots rampaging through cities if someone is acquitted on Blasphemy charges and a resolution that restricts poor lower caste beings to dirty jobs–all these might not seem to suggest they want domination over the lower castes, yet caste based order is maintained as a consequential effect of whatever is pervasive in our society. In Ambedkar’s language, ours is a society in which an ascending sense of reverence and a descending sense of contempt has not dissolved into the creation of a compassionate society and it won’t happen as long as people are in denial and don’t recognize the effect of caste based oppression.



Auwn Gurmani is studying accountancy and is an anti-caste activist in Pakistan. He is a Lahore based researcher and tweets at @auwn_