What is the government up to with Ramazan bill & PTA: Protecting sanctity or breeding intolerance?

Ramazan
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With Ramadan approaching in a few weeks’ time, Pakistanis are making the necessary preparations. The legislators are also at work to ‘uphold the sanctity’ of the holy month.

The bill entails punishment for people who are found eating and drinking openly during the venerated month. The penalty is set at a fine of Rs500 and 3 months of incarceration.

Under the spirit of “protecting the holiness”, the Senate Standing Committee on Religious Affairs on Wednesday unanimously approved the Ehtram-e-Ramazan (Amendment) Bill, 2017 under which the fine for the hotel owners – violating the Ehtram-e-Ramazan Ordinance, 1981 – has been increased from Rs500 to Rs25,000.

The bill entails punishment for people who are found eating and drinking openly during the venerated month. The penalty is set at a fine of Rs500 and 3 months of incarceration. The architect of the bill, Senator Tanveer Khan called for strict action against those found guilty of violations. Furthermore, TV Channels and Cinema which flout the clauses will be fined a hefty amount in excess of half a million. Committee members gave options to maintain the purity of the month, which ranged from partial to full closure of cinema houses across the country.

Read more: We need a tolerant Pakistan if we intend to make it as a nation

It is not clear are TV and cinemas perceived to be ‘haram’ in which case why are they open otherwise throughout the year? In addition, whilst the Prophet (PBUH) worshipped and generally went about his daily tasks in this month as per usual. Majority of Pakistanis take the opportunity to work half days and create special rules for food availability and other behaviour during this one month.

The efforts of the Senators seem to be part of an overall fear – this past year- that Islam needs protection in Pakistan and they are somehow acting preserving the sacredness of Islam. In this, they are being ably supported by other state organizations.

Recently, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) started its “text message“ campaign. The messages being sent to people are aimed at discouraging them from sharing blasphemous content. The message further implores the public to alert the PTA if and when any disrespectful content is shared. Sending text messages to 120 million people? Why to warn off the 2-3 in any given year that might do that? But what are the actual consequences of such a text. It encourages the people – especially the ignorant and the personally motivated – to do exactly what the text says. Increasing numbers of people we have been seeing over the past couple of years who have taken the law into their own hands and deliver vigilante justice. Does the government want to encourage people people to conduct mob justice?

pta textRead more: Pakistan, India amongst top countries of the world in religious restrictions

State’s religious insecurities and its effects on violence in society

The state has to understand that the respect for the holy month is well and truly in the hearts of the majority; it will not be lessened or increased by imposing punitive measures.

Islam is the religion of a sweepingly majority of Pakistani citizens. Not only emotions are attached, but reverence, gusto, and fervor in the observance of religious rituals are there for all to see. Peaceful Islam has been practiced in this nation for centuries – Why does the state want to disturb a hornet of bees by mishandling matters of religion.

The messages en masse by the PTA sets the stage for the misuse of Blasphemy Laws. If the state wants to put an end to grotesque incidents like the Mashal Khan lynching case, such provocative measures must be far-off the policy toolkit.

Ramzan calls upon us to show tolerance and acceptability. Yet, the forceful commitment on part of the upper house of the parliament to “implement “ the Ehtram e Ramazan bill if anything is contrary to the spirit of Ramazan. The state has to understand that the respect for the holy month is well and truly in the hearts of the majority; it will not be lessened or increased by imposing punitive measures. The current issue Pakistan is facing is extremism and intolerance and neither of these actions by the government is lessening it – rather they are providing a fodder for those very extremists.

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