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Asia Bibi’s Blasphemy Case Highlights The Dismal State Of Minority Communities In Pakistan

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The international community has been demanding Pakistan to grant refuge to Aasiya Noreen, popularly known as Asia Bibi, in the west. While Pakistan’s Supreme Court has acquitted Asia, who spent nine years in jail, of the blasphemy charges after nine years in prison, the government is preventing her from leaving the country until the review petition is heard. Asia Bibi has expressed her desire to visit Germany. But will it happen?

On October 31, Pakistan’s apex court acquitted Asia in the blasphemy case where she was charged for insulting the prophet Muhammad. Post court’s decision, the court slipped into protests called by radical Islamist groups.

Asia Bibi has now been released from jail. There are speculations that Bibi and her family have been sent out of the country, but Pakistan’s foreign ministry has denied these reports. Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal has said that the news of leaving the country was misreported.

The European Parliament president Antonio Tajani confirmed the release of Aisi Bibi and said that he hopes to meet her in Europe soon. He wrote on Twitter, “Aasiya Bibi is being released from jail and sent to a safer place. I expect Bibi and his family to meet in the European Parliament soon.”

On November 11, Asia Bibi’s attorney Saif-ul-Mulook said in a conversation with the German newspaper, ” Bild am Sonntag, “Bibi wants to come to Germany with his family. On October 31, the Supreme Court of Pakistan had ruled in possession of Asia Bibi and acquitted her of the charge of blasphemy.” Fearing life threat from the radical elements in the country, Mulook left for the Netherlands a day after the verdict.

The cases of blasphemy in Pakistan are not new, but the case of Asia Bibi has made headlines around the world. In 2015, Bibi’s daughter met Pope Francis, who later prayed for Bibi in the Vatican City. Many European countries are ready to keep Bibi and her family, but it is not clear when she will be allowed to leave Pakistan.

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government wants to fulfil every possible legal requirement before Bibi leaves the country. Pakistan’s government has now provided security to Bibi and kept it in a safe place.

In fact, a reconsideration petition was filed on the next day of the Supreme Court’s decision. The court will hear it in the coming days and before that Asia Bibi cannot get out of the country. The fundamentalists hope that the court will not reject this petition, but instead send it to a bigger bench for hearing.

With the protests in the country getting intense, Imran Khan’s government agreed with the fundamentalists to prevent the bloodshed. There was also a lot of criticism for Khan’s government. Recently, Imran Khan has assured the media that as far as law and order are concerned, there will be no relaxation. He said, “I want to make it clear that the government supports the court’s decision and we will not have any kind of agreement.”

In the past few years, many Christian and other minorities in Pakistan have been killed over the charges of blasphemy.

In 1980, the military dictator General Jia-ul-Haq introduced the blasphemy laws in Pakistan. However, human rights activists allege that Christians, Hindus, and Ahmadi Muslims are often targetted under the guise of blasphemy. This law is also misused in cases of petty disputes or mutual intimacy.

On January 4, 2011, the Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer was assassinated at the Kohsar Market in Islamabad by his bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri, who disagreed with Taseer’s opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy law. Salman was demanding reform in the Blasphemy law and invited the wrath of fundamentalists.

After this incident, many lawyers refused to fight the case of Asia Bibi. In 2014, the Lahore High Court upheld the lower court verdict. Consequently, the family appealed to the Supreme Court. The hearing on this case in the Supreme Court was to start in 2016, but just before the trial, a judge refused to be part of the bench.

In August 2012, a child with Down syndrome was accused of tearing the pages of the Quran. The child was immediately taken into custody and was released after several months of protest. After this incident, violence against Christians in the surrounding area also erupted. In 2013, the child’s family left the country and went to Canada.

Similarly, in 2014 a Christian couple were burnt alive over the charges of insulting the Quran. In September 2017, a Christian man was sentenced to death because he was allegedly spreading a blasphemous message on Whatsapp. There is no end to such cases in Pakistan.

According to the American Center for Law and Justice, in Pakistan, at least 40 people were sentenced to death or life imprisonment under the law of blasphemy in 2016 alone. Islamist groups have seen an increased influence over recent years and in many high profile Blasphemy cases.

Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, and Ahmadi are part of the minority community in Pakistan. The community complains of legal and social discrimination in Pakistan. In the last few years, murders of many Christians and Hindus took place due to just the charges of blasphemy.

Pakistan’s fundamentalist Islamic forces have already threatened that there should not be any kind of softness on Asia Bibi’s case. Tehreek-e-Labek’s attitude is quite threatening. The Christian community of Pakistan thinks that if Asia Bibi’s sentence is changed, then the radical violence will come down.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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