Monday, April 24, 2017

Pakistan - The #Mashal we put out

Days after the murder of Mashal Khan’s lynching, the Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan (AWKUM) spread over 2000-kanal with big built structures looks deserted. A dozen armed guards were at the university gate and another dozen were guarding the administration block. One could only be let in amid the tight security after making calls and requesting permission.
Bloodstains in his room, on the stairs and entrance of the hostel where he was shot linger even after a week. Broken flowerpots, shattered doors and smashed furniture tell the story of his tragic end.
The campus is a little more than a kilometre from the main city, which itself is calm and appears unaffected by the violence in the university. There were a few, however, who were concerned by the event and demanded justice for the killing. Mardan is one of the bigger cities in KP, along with Peshawar and has a high literacy rate.
Police, journalism department teachers and many students categorically denied finding or hearing about any blasphemy, in writing or verbal, committed by Mashal Khan. Most of them claimed he was victimised using the pretext of blasphemy – a trend in society to misuse the issue to settle personal scores or take revenge or for vested interests. They said the campaign and plan to attack Mashal was systemically hatched and organised, inciting the students and urging them to kill the student in the name of religion.
Mashal was born and raised in a family with a very humble background in a village Zaida in Swabi. He was an exceptionally bright student with an extraordinary educational trajectory: he had studied civil engineering in Belgorod Shukhov State Technology University in Russia. Unsatisfied with this field, and interested in exploring himself and changing the society for the better, Mashal diverted his attention to journalism, thinking it a more relevant career for himself.
“He wanted to think, write and explore. That is why he told us that he wanted to study and pursue journalism as a career,” Iqbal Shair, Mashal’s father, tells TNS in his village home. “He was very bright and intelligent. We were supporting his studies despite our limited means.”
Activism was in Mashal’s blood as his father has been writing poetry of resistance since his childhood. Mashal was exposed to revolutionary ideas in Russia. Later by joining the Paktunkhwa Students Federation – a student faction of left-leaning Awami National Party in KP – his belief in socialism became stronger and his voice became louder, even on campus.
Hundreds of people from different areas and segments of society are thronging the narrow streets of Zaida, the underdeveloped hometown of Mashal in Swabi, to condole with his father and condemn the barbaric act of the violent mob. Villagers are shocked.
“He was blunt, and a believer in equality, justice, rights and free education,” says Shiraz Paracha, chairman of the Journalism Department at AWKUM, who had interacted with Mashal many times. “Sometimes, he used to come to my office and start a debate, asking for the abolition of the fee structure and demanding free education as mandatory by the state. Recently, when we enforced punctuality in classes, once a teacher did not come to the classroom in time. Later, he went into the office of that teacher and held her accountable for being late. The teacher complained about his rudeness. However, we never received any complaint of blasphemous remarks by any student in the campus.”
One of Mashal’s teachers, who wished to remain anonymous, said that at one point, the department barred some students from sitting in the internal examination for not having paid their dues. This made Mashal quite angry. He protested before the chairman of the department saying that the students should be allowed to sit in the exam because free education is their right and if they do not continue education they may develop extreme views and even turn to terrorism.
A few days before his tragic lynching, Mashal gave a comment in a news-package on a Puhsto TV channel, criticising the university administration. He said that the university had been without a vice chancellor for many months and indicated negligence and then pointed out that some teachers were holding dual posts.
A few days later, some students entered the department, alleging that Mashal and two other students had committed blasphemy by uttering remarks against Islam and the Prophet (PBUH). According to the police investigation, university and security officials from within the university were part of the group that incited the blasphemy accusations against Mashal.
His Facebook account has been preserved as “Remembering Mashal Khan”. The page says “We hope people who love Mashal will find comfort in visiting his profile to remember and celebrate his life.”
Once Mashal wrote: “If you think ‘My life will be upside down’ don’t worry. How do you know down is not better than upside?” At that moment, he may not have thought that his downside will turn into a defining moment against extremism and misuse of blasphemy laws.
Hundreds of people from different areas and segments of society are thronging the narrow streets of Zaida, the underdeveloped hometown of Mashal in Swabi, to condole with his father and condemn the barbaric act of the violent mob. Villagers are shocked and worried about the allegations placed on Mashal. There are, of course, a few exceptions, such as the cleric who refused to lead the young student’s funeral prayers.
“It is a defining moment and all segments of society will have to stand up for this collective cause. It is only the first step towards justice and there is a long journey ahead. We need to change this mindset. Otherwise the society will be in immense loss,” said Shair. He said the boy who was killed was his son but hundreds of Pakistanis, even those living abroad are calling him and sharing his grief. “I believe this is not my loss. This is our loss. And we have to stand up together and turn this grief into our strength.”

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