By Sankar Ray
More than 300 writers, poets, intellectuals, human rights activists, lawyers, journalists, teachers, students and other people from different walks of life are up on their feet in defence of 84-year old Sindh writer and human rights campaigner Amir Jalil for the hate speech against the letter from Sunni Tehrik and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and the new Barelvi power show.
Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) who are baying for Jalil’s blood have threatened legal action and public mobilisation. The most disturbing thing is a video by a cleric, Pir Sarhandi, based in Umerkot in Sindh, advocating violence in presence of a charged crowd. The multi-lingual writer was recently been accused of blasphemy with some critics demanding the registration of an FIR against the elderly literary figure. A man from Umerkot district, Pir Sarhandi, even announced head money of Rs5 million on Jalil.
Earlier, a delegation comprising human rights activists, journalists and intellectuals called on the Pakistan People’s Party Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, voicing concerns over the rising incidents of extremism and intolerance, urging action against those hurling threats to the writer.
A thought- provoking, staunch ambassador of syncretic values and humanism in the Indian Subcontinent, Jalil is, based in Karachi. He writes in several languages including English and Sindhi. He had been vociferous against “extrajudicial enforced disappearances” and blatant violations of human rights through his short stories and columns in the newspapers. His humanistic stance and viewpoint made him an eyesore of the extreme right- wing and obscurant mullas backed by the establishment. His column, ‘Mystic Notes, in The Dawn, was once very popular among intelligentsia that had been yearning for open democracy.
The initiative for the 675-word statement is from the All Pakistan Progressive Writers Association which demanded that action against the provocateurs “be taken before it is too late. All institutions of Pakistan should fulfill their responsibilities to protect life, liberty and freedoms of all citizens”. The intellectual community which has taken up cudgels against the bigotry against the Sindh writer has asked the government to provide security to the writer and take stringent action against those instigating violence against him.
The writers include Noorul Huda Shah, Anis Haroon, Jami Chandio, Arfana Mallah, Amar Sindhu, Ahmed Shah, Fazil Jamili and Dr Ayoub Shaikh. The statement called upon the provincial and federal governments to clamp an anti-terrorism case against the groups in Umerkot for announcing head money for the writer. Needless to state this is tantamount to an attempt to instigate terror and divide the society.
“We see the recent hate speech against Amir Jalil in the context of efforts to instigate violence, cause lawlessness and social unrest in Pakistan, especially in Sindh, which is against the spirit of a tolerant and plural Pakistan. It seems to be a conspiracy to open new fronts of terror in the country,” the statement said. The hate speech against the writer is a message that rule of law doesn’t prevail and that a small group of people can restrain freedom of speech and expression through violent means. We see this as an attempt to intimidate and harass sane voices of society”, they observed.
The statement put forward immediate demands and actions from Government of Pakistan, Government of Sindh, Supreme Court of Pakistan, Sindh High Court, Federal and Provincial Ministries of Law, Ministry of Religious Affairs, Ministry of Human Rights and all relevant institutions specially NACTA (National Counter Terrorism Authority).
The APPWA stated, “ Recognising the fundamental role that Sindh played in creation of Pakistan, we are hoping and demanding that conspiracy to punish people of Sindh through these conspiracies will be immediately stopped and terror instigating groups will not be protected or encouraged in any form. People of Pakistan, all institutions of State and elected houses are not only well aware but appreciate the historical character of Sindh as tolerant and plural in nature and that very fact is identity of Pakistan and Sindh across Asia and the world. However, it has been noticed lately that small number of people and groups instigating violence in the name of religion have been encouraged and protected to give a message to civil society that not only sane voices can’t live in this country but doors of law and justice are also closed for them.”
It drew attention of the federal government and judiciary to Article 9,11,14 and 19 of the constitution of Pakistan and pointed out that ‘the State is responsible for protection of life, liberty, dignity and integrity of all citizens therefore life and repute of Amar Jalil should be protected. More importantly, all hate speeches and threats against him on social media and on all other platforms should be removed and stopped immediately. All measures should be taken by the State to ensure protection of his life and liberty’.
Defend.ing the octogenarian writer, the Pak forum for radical writers, described Jalil as one who “always stood against the powers that be and never minced his words to tell truth about religious, political and social bigotry and oppression. We see hate speech against him as a message that rule of law doesn’t prevail and that a small group of people can control the freedom of speech and expression through violent means. We see this as an attempt to intimidate and harass sane voices of society”.
On Wednesday, in a joint meeting held on Whatsapp group by Progressive Writers Association Punjab in support of Amar Jalil. Originally, he read his symbolic, syncretic and free thinking short story in Sindhi language. That symbolic short story depicted the plight of “extrajudicial & enforced disappearances” of many political dissidents in a subtle spiritual manner. But the ultra right wings vigilantes have framed it as blasphemy against the God almighty.
Jalil once wrote succinctly, ‘Our society is neither conservative nor liberal. It’s a confused one. Faith is a multi-meaning word. It is not restricted to a person’s faith in religion alone. It is a diverse word employing more than one definition. It indicates a person’s faith in dispensation of justice in his own country”. (IPA Service)