Mobs in Pakistan? That’s Blasphemy!

Blasphemy laws have been implemented in many parts of the Muslim world. One of the countries that the World Watch Monitor (an organization “that reports the story of Christians around the world under pressure for their faith”) considers “the world’s most determined anti-blasphemy state” is Pakistan. There have been multiple accusations of blasphemy made and the number of cases have only risen since the laws were implemented, growing with the rising religious tensions, especially in recent years.

Major Blasphemy Cases

These laws had a basis in 1860 when India was ruled by the British for offenses relating to religion. The laws they implemented “made it a crime to disturb a religious assembly, trespass on burial grounds, insult religious beliefs or intentionally destroy or defile a place or an object of worship.” This was, according to The Economist, “to stop religious offence giving rise to rioting between Hindus and Muslims.” These laws were “Islamicised” under the military government of General Zia-ul-Haq with the criminalization of “making derogatory remarks against Islamic personages was made an offence,” “life imprisonment for “wilful” desecration of the Koran,” and “blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad.” The last one is punishable by death.

These laws, despite the majority of prosecutions being Muslim (633 Muslims, 494 Ahmedis, 187 Christians and 21 Hindus have been accused under various clauses of the blasphemy law since 1987 according to National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP)), have tended to target minority groups in Pakistan. One such case was Rimsha Masih, a young Christian girl who was accused of burning pages of the Qur’an in 2012. She was acquitted and yet, despite her acquittal, there was an upheaval that forced her, her family, and her entire Christian community to flee their homes. There was also a young Christian couple in 2014, Shama and Shahzad Masih, that was burned to death in a kiln due to a rumor that stated that when Shama disposed of her her late father-in-law’s belongings by burning them (due to lack of sanitation facilities in her area meaning that this was the main way of disposing waste in her village), she burned pages of the Qur’an. This was amplified by clerics at nearby village mosques and led to them being killed by the crowds.

Shama and Shezahd
Shama (L) and Shehzad (R) Masih

These minorities also encompass the people who are critical of the blasphemy laws, such as politicians Salman Taseer, the then-governor of Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, the Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs, both were assassinated in 2011 for being publicly critical of the Blasphemy laws.

Salman Taseer
Salman Taseer

It is clear from these interactions that just an accusal of blasphemy can result in the death of the person by a mob. According to a study conducted by Pew, Pakistan had the highest amount of social hostilities relating to religion, yet was ranked 13 regarding governmental restrictions on religion.

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It is for this reason that the government is wary about amending these laws for, while secular political parties have had the amendment of these blasphemy laws on their agenda, they do not wish to antagonise the religious parties out of risk of death.
This demonstrates one of the fundamental problems of Pakistan, which is that it’s almost as if dissenting opinions (especially in relation to the Qur’an) will result in death most likely by the mob rather than the law. It is for this reason that they need to reform their laws, in spite of the religious parties currently in power, in order to at the very least help decrease conflicts in the area.

Minority Protests

The Issue of Everest

 

  1. The Mountain

With a summit height of 29,035 feet, Mount Everest is the tallest mountain in the world. It sits along Nepal’s northern border with China, as part of the towering Himalayan Range that divides that part of the world. The mountain is so tall that the average climber will not reach the summit until about two months from the date of their arrival at Base Camp. This is due to the extreme lack of air pressure at this altitude, which requires any climber to acclimatize for weeks before heading further up the mountain. As climbers ascend higher, the air gets thinner and it becomes harder to breathe and even make rational decisions. Once a climber passes the 8,000 meter mark in altitude, they have entered the “Death Zone” which is named for the lack of oxygen to sustain life. Too much time above 8,000 meters will kill without question. That is why many climbers choose to use supplemental oxygen.

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  1. Distribution of Deaths

Looking at the distribution of known deaths on Everest, it becomes apparent that there are two problem areas that are especially good at killing climbers. These are the Khumbu Icefall and the space between Camp IV and the summit. The Khumbu Icefall is notorious for being erratic and extremely dangerous. It is home to large chunks of shifting ice that can weigh millions of pounds. To mitigate the threat of being wiped out by a block of ice, climbers often navigate this portion very early in the morning, before the sun has a chance to shine on the ice and loosen things up. The space between Camp IV and the summit is dangerous for different reasons. Its position in the “Death Zone” means that there is literally not enough oxygen up there to keep you alive, but it is also very cold, windy, and the site of some of the more technical points of the climb, so falls are a common cause of death here.

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  1. Sherpa Strikes

In 2014 and 2015, Everest experienced back to back avalanches that each killed about 20 people. The 2014 disaster was a result of the failure of a serac above the Khumbu Icefall, which sent millions of pounds of ice and snow tumbling down into a group of Nepalese guides, known as Sherpas, killing 16. In 2015, the magnitude 7.8 earthquake that struck Nepal caused avalanches that killed 22 people, including at least 10 more Sherpas. Below is an image of the Everest Sherpas organizing at Base Camp to go on strike and demand more rights and better protections in the event of another disaster.

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  1. The Environmental Impact

Since climbing Everest is such a physical challenge, and infrastructure for transport in and out of the region is virtually non-existent (trek in – trek out), much of the trash that is produced by the thousands of climbers and guides every year is left on the mountain. Items range from empty cooking and fuel materials to spent oxygen tanks from the upper portions of the climb. Many agencies have called attention to this issue and made expeditions to haul trash off the mountain in an attempt to preserve the international landmark that is Everest.

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The Challenges of Meeting Food Demand in India

Imagine you are walking down the streets of New York City during rush hour, having to squeeze in between people just to walk a couple of steps. No room to have your own personal space. You look around and you see cars backed up for a couple of blocks with traffic lights switching from green to red every couple of seconds. You think this is chaotic and cramped? New York City’s population is only about 8.4 million while a city like New Delhi has a population of about 21.75 million. Imagine walking down the streets of New Delhi around rush hour!

The world’s population has been steadily increasing and now has reached a population of 7.5 billion people. Countries that have a problem of overpopulation, have more demand for food and land. As India reaches a population of 1.3 billion, they have developed issues of food security, having more demand than supply. Obviously, the more people living in India the more food the country needs to provide. From 1950, the production of foodgrains has increased to satisfy the civilians of India.

This image shows the population and food output of India from 1950 to 2010
This image shows the population and food output of India from 1950 to 2010

However, it has started to become extremely difficult to have successful agriculture as a result of climate change due to the fluctuation of the patterns of monsoons that occur in India. Sometimes the monsoons can arrive early, causing many days of rain that result in deadly floods.

A flood that occurred in India, destroying farms
A flood that occurred in India, destroying farms

These floods result in loss of crops and damage most of the agricultural land. When Indian summers have to deal with a lot of floods, it is extremely difficult to meet the demand for food production to satisfy the Indian population.

Sometimes the monsoons can arrive late, not having a lot of rainfall resulting in drought and drought-plagued lands. Droughts have started to become more prominent every summer and affect a lot of the country.

The amount of drought that occurred in different areas of India during a certain year
The amount of drought that occurred in different areas of India during a certain year

When it rains, the water is stored in the ground nourishing the soil, making the land yield more crops. However, when droughts occur, no groundwater is stored drying the soil and killing the nutrients in the soil.

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Without groundwater, India’s crops will not grow successfully and meet demand. Most of the land affected by the droughts are areas that have a lot of farmland that produce a lot of grains which are in high demand as the Indian population increases.

Indian map showing areas of farmland where different crops grow
Indian map showing areas of farmland where different crops grow

Monsoons are the main tool for farmers in India to have a successful agricultural year, but the rain patterns need to fluctuate correctly. India’s population will continue to increase, and it would be difficult to try and stop the increase from occurring, but farmers will have to work even harder to produce more food because the demand will be greater than the supply.

India's projected food supply and demand of grains in 2026
India’s projected food supply and demand of grains in 2026

India faces a challenge farming under the extreme conditions in the summer, but the farmers have to keep meeting the demand for food because of India’s 1.3 billion population. The change in patterns of monsoons have not been helping the situation instead causing many deaths. New York City has a population of 8.4 million, but the United States import many different foods while India relies mostly on their own agricultural production. In the future, India must adapt to the changes in weather that are occurring and meet their demand for food.

 

Child Brides in Bangladesh

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In today’s world, over 700 million women who are still alive were married as children. Child marriage is something that is deeply embedded in cultural and religious beliefs. In the developing world, some of the factors driving child marriage forward are the beliefs that there’s no value in sending women to school, keeping women healthy, and relieving their poverty.

South Asia accounts for almost half of the global child marriages. Bangladesh is the fifth highest country plagued by this growing issue, with 52% of children married under the age of 18. The country is also the second highest absolute numbers of child marriage with a number of 3,931,000.  These numbers vary on settlement areas because of the separation in wealth. In rural areas, child marriage is more prevalent, 71%  of the children being married before the age of 18. In urban areas it’s at 54%, due to the wealthier classes and job opportunities.

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Life in Bangladesh is hard with frequent flooding and river erosion, causing families to live under a constant threat of insecurity and poverty which affects the decision of parents on the subject of schooling and marriage for their young daughters.  The parents also desire to secure stable economic and social security for their daughters and protect their daughters from harm, including sexual harassment. Many families rely on the financial pressure of a dowry to survive, making it more likely for girls from poorer families to be child brides.

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Over the years, the government of Bangladesh has worked with The United Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to decrease child marriage rates in the country. Before this collaboration, Bangladesh was moving backwards, expanding child marriage, when in September 2014 the government approved a law that would allow young girls to marry at the minimum age of 16 instead of 18, causing an international outcry. Though in July of that year Bangladesh, at a Girl Summit promised to work towards ending child marriage. Their course of action was to create a National Plan of Action by the end of 2014, ending the marriages of girls and boys under the age of 15, and reduce the namer of girls marrying between the ages of 15 to 18 one third by 2021. The law that was passed by the government works against these commitments and angered those who knew about the promises the country had made to stop child marriage.

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The most recent move made by the government to end child marriage was in February of this year. Parliament adopted the Child Marriage Restraint Act which caused widespread concern over the special provision that would allow child marriage in “special cases.” However, the act doesn’t define what those “special cases” are, and many believe this provision will legitimize statutory rape and encourage child marriage. The bill was signed into law March 11, 2017.

Due to the conflict in 2014 between commitment to reducing child marriage and the law Bangladesh had passed encouraging it, the government is currently working towards a goal of ridding the country of child marriage. The Ministry of Women and Child Affairs are currently working with the government of Bangladesh to eliminate child marriage from 2015-2021, despite facing backlash from regressive legal proposals. The country is also a member of the South Asia Initiative to End Violence Against Children (SAIEVAC) that adopted a regional plan to end child marriage and is supposed to be enacted between 2015-2018.

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Though Bangladesh is one of the countries with the greatest number of child marriages, the movement towards ending child marriage doesn’t come from one country alone. Every little move towards a positive future helps, but it’ll take time, money, commitment, and the participation of countries to make the end of child marriage a reality.

Holy Cow: How this Sacred Animal Creates Beef in India

On Sunday April 29th, two Indian Muslim teenagers accused of trying to steal cows were beaten to death by a mob using sticks and rocks. They had no criminal record and were guilty of stealing the cows. On April 1st, a Muslim cattle trader named Pehlu Khan was lynched by a mob while transporting cattle. He was taking them from the fair where he had purchased them back to his home state. He died two days later from his injuries. In July 2016, a vigilante mob stripped four men and tied them to a car. They proceeded to beat them with sticks and belts over suspicions of cow slaughter. Over the last two years, similar attacks against Muslims have occurred. Since May 2015, at least 10 Muslims, including a 12-year-old boy, have been killed in seven separate incidents of mob violence over the protection of cows .

Faizul Islam hold his son Abu Hanif’s ID card. His son was one of the teenagers beaten to death by a mob.
Faizul Islam hold his son Abu Hanif’s ID card. His son was one of the teenagers beaten to death by a mob.

Hindus make up 80% of India’s population of 1.3 billion people. For Hindus, cows are sacred. In their religion, cows symbolizes all other creatures. Cows also represent the Earth and life. Hindus admire cows because they believe they take so little and contribute so much to the earth. They believe that cows have spiritual knowledge. Cows are often decorated and given special meals for Indian festivals. In Hindu spiritual texts, the cow is often mentioned.

Most attacks against Muslims involved with cows are done by Hindus. Local radical groups form and protect local cows. These “cow protection” groups often accuse Muslims of killing cows. These self-appointed, vigilante justice groups take the initiative to protect cows in their area, using violent means.

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In a Hindu majority country, cows are sacred and highly valued. Various regulations prohibiting cow sale or slaughter are present in 24 out of the 29 Indian states. Some states have no ban. Others have a caveat, or warning against certain activities regarding cows. There are also distinctions between cows, which are adult females, and bullocks, which are adult males. Males are often bred for meat, whereas females are for breeding or milk. The transport of cows is also restricted. The Gurjat government made cow slaughter punishable by life in prison just this past March.

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Even though India is a Hindu majority country, there are around 172 million Muslims living in India, or about 14.2% of the population. There is an overlap between states where there are both Muslims and laws prohibiting cow slaughter.

In more recent years, the Muslim killings over cows have increased. Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government took office and the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party formed India’s federal government in 2014, attacks against Muslims have risen over sold, bought or killed cows. The rise of cow-related lynchings and beatings began right after the BJP was voted to power. The BJP try and portray Hindus as victims in the issue. Senior BJP leaders have instigated hate crimes. Modi repeatedly called for the protection of cows. The BJP chief minister in Chhattisgarh reportedly said, “We will hang those who kill cows.” The BJP is taking advantage of India’s strong nationalistic culture and identity in the sacredness of cows.

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Despite the efforts by Hindus to protect their scared animals, India produces a lot of beef for human consumption. In 2015, they produced the most beef out of any country in the world. Out of their meat exports, bovine comes in at number one. It is important to note that water buffalo qualifies as beef and bovine in the statistics, not just cows. Bovine refers to buffaloes, bisons and other animals in the “cattle” family.150803032619-india-beef-exports-780x439220315-pg-15a-new

India is experiencing an upsurge of nationalism. The cow is the symbol of that nationalism. Vigilante justice groups, often associated with the BJP, have taken the matter of protecting cows into their own hands. They take advantage of the nationalistic culture and using the importance of protecting cows to justify their violent acts.