PAKISTAN: Teachers are taking over the responsibilities of the mullahs and turning educational institutions into seminaries 

The misuse of blasphemy laws are no longer the prerogative of religious bigots or fundamentalists. It is now being used in every section of society, particularly members of the teaching staff who are eager to contribute in pushing the country towards a religious intolerant state. Indeed, the enthusiasm of the educational staff in this instance was so high that they accused a student of a minority community of blasphemy without following the basic concepts of the ethics of imparting education.

These ethics are being violated when the secrecy of examination papers are dishonoured. When an examiner asks a question of a student if he or she is not satisfied with the student’s answer the examiner has the right to fail that student. However, the examiner does not have the right to disclose the student’s answer which is the personal opinion held by that student. The attitude of the teaching staff now is to gain points from the religious leaders by pointing out those students who they believe to have made blasphemous comments mistakenly or otherwise.

In a recent case a ten-year-old Christian girl, Ms. Faryal Bhatti, misplaced a full stop in her Urdu examination paper on September 22, 2011, which has made hers and her mother’s life unbearable. Faryal was a student in Sir Syed Girls High School, Pakistan Ordinance Factory Colony, Havelian. They have been accused of hatching a conspiracy against Islam and its Last Prophet (PBUH).

When completing her paper the girl, who has not studied Islam and is therefore unfamiliar with the terminology of the religion, inadvertently placed a dot incorrectly in the word, Naat, meaning a poem in praise of the Last Prophet which changed it into the word, Lanaat which means the opposite: a curse.

The teacher, Mrs. Fareeda sternly rebuked Faryal in front of the class and took the matter to the headmaster, even though the child defender herself by saying that it was a mistake. The news of her alleged transgression spread outside the school into the community and she was labeled a blasphemer. The mosque loud speakers helped to spread the news and rallies were arranged in protest against the mother and daughter. In response to these protests the administrators of the Pakistan Ordinance Factory Colony immediately transferred the mother who was serving as a nurse at the colony’s hospital. They were asked to leave the colony immediately. Despite the mother’s abject apology and explanation that it was the simple error of a young girl who was in a hurry to complete the paper because of the time limit, no understanding was shown by the teaching staff who were more interested in gaining the favour of the uneducated and illiterate mullahs.

This is not the first case of this type. Earlier this year a 17-year-old student, Syed Samiullah, an intermediate student and resident of Mujtaba Colony Malir Halt was charged with writing derogatory remarks against the Last Prophet (PBUH) in his Urdu, Islamiat and Physics papers. The incident was reported to the police by the Controller of Examinations of the Intermediate Board of Education, Karachi, who attached copies of Samiullah’s answers sheets as evidence of his alleged blasphemy. He was arrested on January 28, 2011.

Syed apologised at every level from the board of education to the police and the magistrate but the educational officers, as in the case of Faryal, wanted to become more mullah-like than the mullahs and filed an FIR against him.

Syed and his family were pressurised by the educational authorities to the point where he had to confess to having committed blasphemy. The situation was exacerbated by the murder of the governor of Punjab province for his stand against the amendments to the blasphemy laws and the glorification of his assassin. No doubt Syed and his family saw a similar fate in store for him.

There are enough people in Pakistan today spreading religious hatred and intolerance and there is no need for the educationalists to swell their ranks. Teachers have the duty to teach and nothing more. While each and every person has the right to his or her own religious beliefs those beliefs should not colour their thinking when practising their professions. Contrary to the religious teachers educationalists are supposed to teach tolerance and enlightenment. The educational system must at all times remain unbiased and free from hatred. However, judging from the number of minority students and teachers themselves who are harassed because of their religious beliefs this is obviously not the case in Pakistan.

The degeneration of the teaching staff has reached the point where they are turning schools and colleges into Islamic madressas (seminaries) which are run by the very antithesis of a teacher, illiterate and uneducated mullahs. While they are receiving all the benefits, salaries and perks as required by the government grading system they are, in fact, doing the work of the mullahs. If this is not stopped now it will be harder for the government ministers and generals to reign them in at any time in the future.

The innocent error of a young girl has ruined her life and that of her mother. The government must put a stop to this biased and misguided use of the blasphemy laws. The appeasement policy of the government with regard to religious fundamentalists and their treatment of the minorities, the Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus and others, will only make it more difficult for them to act when it becomes necessary.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-130-2011
Countries : Pakistan,
Campaigns : Blasphemy Law in Pakistan
Issues : Right to education,