On 4 January 2010, a fanatic elite force guard betrayed the very duty he was entrusted with and shot Governor Salmaan Taseer in broad daylight in the country’s capital city. As his fellow guards looked on, the murderer emptied twenty-six bullets into the governor’s back. The mad frenzy that ensued was a horrifying indication of how far Pakistani society had sunk into moral degradation – a twisted situation where an assassin could be openly celebrated and a victim was demonized for standing up for the rights of oppressed segments of our society.
Salmaan Taseer was not the first man to be murdered in such a brutal fashion in Pakistan; there is a long list of people who have been victims of the brewing intolerance in our society. In 1997, a Lahore High Court Judge, Justice Arif Iqbal Bhatti, was gunned down in his chambers for acquitting two blasphemy-accused Christians two years prior. Extra-judicial lynching of ordinary citizens and the misuse of laws to settle personal scores have become a frequent occurrence. Weeks after Taseer fell, another high-ranking official, Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, was assassinated in a drive-by shooting. No justice has been served in either case, and it seems no lessons have been learned.
What’s truly astounding is that Salmaan Taseer was murdered for a crime he did not commit; he never endorsed blasphemous speech, but rather spoke out against the misuse of man-made laws which led to the persecution of marginalized communities in our society. The terrible incident and the subsequent praise showered on the murderer have been a shocking reminder to us all; the dangers of distorting religion and using indiscriminate violence can no longer be swept under the carpet.
Taseer stands out as a symbol of courage and truth in the face of bullying. His was a stand for human dignity, equality and freedom. He pointed out the ills of our society that are leading us towards certain decline. He tried to counter the currents of intolerance and irrationality and himself became a victim of what he was fighting against.
Although Taseer has been laid to rest, the idea for which he stood lives on: that all human beings are equal and must be treated as such. There is no reason for us to lose hope and let the oppressed religious and ethnic minorities of this land suffer. Emulating his example and standing for the rights of others is the only way that we can rightfully pay tribute to his courage and sacrifice. Though it may seem that the forces of tolerance and openness were dealt a great blow with his death, the battle for a better Pakistan must go on.