April thirteenth marks the sixth death anniversary of Mashal Khan. The 23 year old young lad was an aspiring journalist and civil servant. An ardent student who got admission in Moscow University but due to financial hurdles he returned back to his country. A brave man who was enthusiastic about learning and looking at things critically. In search of meaning and trying to amend things, he took the path of revolutionaries. He practised dissent and learnt how a downtrodden society accepted such an opposition.
Imagine a lake covered with layers of fungus with no flow in water nor any life. Mashal tore that layer up but the leviathan inside engulfed him. Such was Mashal Iqbal Khan, born in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, one of the persecuted provinces in Pakistan. Here, Mashal rose with an aim to challenge the authority. He was a student of journalism in Abdul Wali Khan University.
So the events unfolded like this. Mashal was an ardent student who was involved in student politics. He questioned his university administration and held them accountable for corruption.
As Dawn reported, Mashal gave an interview to a local TV channel in which he exposed the University administration. He criticised the vice chancellor and said that he was absent from university and expressed serious concern over whether the students will receive their degrees. Students were also exploited in regards to their tuition fees. Mashal was enlightened in his view towards religion, life and society. He spoke vehemently about social issues. Such a progressive mind is always a threat to regressive and corrupt societies, so was Mashal Khan. Eventually, people began to sideline him, and then threaten him for his life.
Conspiracies began against him and what can be a more vicious conspiracy than using religion. Mashal was charged with blasphemy along with his two other friends. On 13 April, 2017 the university registrar posted a notice mentioning the names of these three students. Mashal and his friends were “accused” of “suspected” blasphemy. This exhibition was overtly meant to create huge trouble for Mashal and it did the job.
A mob of nearly 61 students approached his hostel room. They beat him, shot him three times and then threw him off the second floor. Then again, they continued to beat his lifeless body. Videos were made and slogans were chanted but none came to his help. It was of no use as nothing works before religious zealots.. University had around 200 policemen at its disposal but that too went in vain.
After his death, a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) was formed. Mashal was found to be innocent but what could be done now. Imran Ali was charged with the death penalty as he was convicted of shooting the bullets. Five were awarded lifetime sentences and twenty five with 4 year jail sentences. While the rest were acquitted due to lack of evidence.
Father of Mashal Khan, Iqbal Jan was a simple layman. He was a poet and had little means to support his family. After the case proceedings he gave his message that “In every house, there is a Mashal (torch) of education. We have to protect them.” Funeral prayers of Mashal were also a task as religious hardliners made it difficult to perform them. Mashal’s mother expressed her agony by saying: “I kissed his hand but his fingers were broken.”
Aside from this grievance which is highly condemnable, Mashal is not the only one who is the victim of blasphemy charges. Religion has always been a tool to accuse opponents and make their life a living hell. Especially in countries like Pakistan where religion is a sensitive issue and monopoly of violence is the rule of law. No matter how much power one holds, accuse someone of blasphemy and he or she is sure to die in the hands of mob lynchers. Be it Salman Taseer who was a sitting governor who was brutally killed. Or Ahsan Iqbal, a former minister who was shot but was safe. How ironic that his mother Nisar Fatima was the forerunner in tabling Blasphemy law in Zia-ua-Haq’s era.
Religious intolerance must be dealt with strictly as this imbues hatred. But it is still a taboo topic. Only the “certified clerics” can talk about religion or to rightly say, present the most distorted form of religious scriptures. Just a few days back in a Ramzan Transmission, Faysal Qureshi, a well known TV actor was spewing hatred for religious minorities. He jumped in the ludicrous talk of “ulemas” who raged on the “blasphemous content” spread all around. There was strong condemnation to this act but these extremists are still roaming around in large numbers. The resistance like that of Mashal, is still in small numbers to be able to tackle them effectively.
Another matter is student unions. Two students were members of the Pashtun Student Federation and Employee Union. The whole university management along with these two were involved in corruption. This led to an outright murder plan against Mashal. Student Unions have been banned since the rule of Generla Zia ul Haq. Instead, Islami Jamiat Taleba (IJT) was formed to assault progressive student union as the Afghan War was at the borders. This created a regression in student politics and filled their heads with state sponsored propaganda. Instead of undertaking healthy debates and talks about enlightened ideas, there is hatred. This “islamization” has created a chasm and ethnic and religious divide between young students.
Besides all this grotesque situation, the mashal (torch) continues to live on. It can’t be blown off by the stormy winds of oppression. There will be a flame, minuscule it may be. The mashal is now in our hands to carry on what Mashal Khan envisioned. It is our responsibility to take charge and never submit before injustice. Mashal’s murder was not in vain. The flame will become a roaring fire which will engulf all oppression. There will be an equal resistance to fight such injustice. There shall be no more blood of progressives, and the extremists will cause their own downfall. Our vengeance is not blood shed rather a war of ideologies and enlightenment. This would be enough as one of Mashal’s favourite philosopher Fredrick Nietzsche aid:
'Every deep thinker is more afraid of being understood than of being misunderstood' Edited By: Ritaja Kaur
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