Tuesday, November 13, 2012

[Update]: School in Lahore blasphemy mess back in owner's control...

by Salman Hameed

[This is related to the blasphemy mess of Farooqi Girls High School. Please see these earlier posts herehereherehereherehere and here.You can also sign the petition here]. 

Couple of things to update here. It seems that the city of Lahore has decided to give the control of Farooqi Girls High School - which was burnt by a mob - back to its owner, Asim Farooqi. This decision seems to be motivated by two reasons (at least from reading the news). First, a delegation of local clerics met 77-year old Asim Farooqi in jail and declared in a fatwa that he is indeed a true "lover of the Prophet". It is quite telling that in the current legal system, there is an attitude of "guilty until proven innocent" (he was denied bail last week!), and even then, one has to get a nod of approval from the local clerics.

Second, the city also discovered that it cannot run a school of this calibre. I did not realize that there were 9000 students in the school and about 300 teachers. The city realized that it cannot provide the same level of salaries as were being provided by Umair Asim and his family. In the mean time, the students of school have been sitting in for lessons outside the burnt-out school. There is now hope that the school will reopen at some point under the same administration. Of course, first we have to wait for the release of Umair's father and then to see how they cope with this unimaginable trauma and tragedy.

Here is the news story in Urdu that talks about the control of the school:

Another development in the case is that the police have arrested four robbers who stole money from the school while it was being attacked by the mob. And the money was recovered. Okay - that is good. But  lets make sure that people don't think that this arrest makes the blasphemy-related burning seem okay:

The episode of ‘blasphemous’ school attack took a twist on Monday as the City police revealed that the mob had also pillaged the Karim Park Farooqi Girls High School of more than Rs26.1 million in its assault on Oct 31. 
“The police have recovered Rs26.1 million from the burglars who, disguised as protesters, had stormed the school and torched the building after stealing the cash from one of the school’s cupboard,” Lahore Operations Police Chief Muhammad Tahir Rai told reporters on Monday. 
An angry mob went on a rampage and set alight the girls’ school in the Karim Park area to protest against the administration for allegedly distributing blasphemous pamphlets among the students a couple of weeks ago. 
The police claimed that four robbers, Muhammad Heera, Babar Ali, Mubashir Ali and Muhammad Rafique, alias Bao, also said to be local residents, had taken away Rs26,172,900 cash by smashing the cupboard in one of the rooms. It could not be verified independently why the school administration had stashed such a heavy amount in the cupboard rather than depositing it in its bank accounts. 
Responding to a question, DIG Tahir Rai said that initial investigations indicated that the blasphemy was not a planned act rather it happened because of a technical error. “We are investigating into the incident. Once the investigations are completed, everything will be clear,” the police officer said. To another question, Rai said that the government had reopened the school after taking the local clerics into confidence.
According to the police, the Shafiqabad police had registered a case (under section 395/353, 186/148/149/436 of the PPC) against unidentified people on the complaint of the principal. The complainant, Farooqi, had informed the police that unidentified robbers forced their entry into his school and got away with Rs26.17 million from the cupboard. 
More interestingly, the police had registered two separate cases on the same day – one against the bandits on the principal’s complaint and another against the principal and a lady teacher for blasphemy on the complaint of a local cleric. The police had also booked a lady teacher, Arfa Iftikhar, who was forced into hiding after a furious mob stormed the school over a piece of homework reportedly she had written. The whereabouts of the lady teacher are not clear yet while the school principal is in jail since his bail petition had been rejected by a local court. On the complaint of a local cleric, the police had registered a case (FIR No 1470/12) against the principal and lady teacher under section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code.
Read the full story here.

And here is an excellent article from the Independent, that provides a context of the whole blasphemy mess:

The incident, which caused an estimated £60,000 of damage, happened as the children were preparing to break for the Eid holiday. Officials said that homework given to a class of 11-year-olds by Arfa Iftikhar, 21, contained a line that insulted the prophet Mohammed. Scholars from a nearby religious school complained and Asim Farooqi, the principal of the girls' school, confronted the young teacher, who said she had made a terrible error while copying exercises. 
It transpired that while copying exercises from the Pakistan Secondary School Grammar and Composition textbook, Ms Iftikhar had started with a piece on page 360 about the Koran and the prophet Mohammed. But rather than continuing to page 361 and completing the excerpt, she had skipped to page 362 and an exercise entitled "The Street Beggar", which claimed such people were "cheats". 
The implied meaning of the two half-paragraphs was so painful that Inspector Azeem Manais, the police officer investigating the case, declined to read them out loud. He said police were trying to find out whether page 361 was missing from the teacher's copy of the book. Asked if he believed the teacher had made a genuine mistake, Mr Manais said: "Because she is in hiding it is too premature to say." 
For several days, it appeared the issue would be peacefully resolved. Mr Farooqi spoke with the religious leaders and obtained a statement from Ms Iftikhar before firing her. The handwritten letter said: "I also pray to God that he should forgive me for this great sin of mine." 
But then it appears someone translated the offending piece of homework into Urdu and distributed photocopies. On 30 October, a large crowd gathered outside the school and threatened staff. Mr Farooqi and other school officials, barricaded inside, were only able to escape the following morning, when police intervened. Later a crowd returned, broke in and ransacked the building and started fires. 
Whether the protests were spontaneous remains unclear. Teachers suggested rival establishments were envious of the school and may have seized on the incident, though they offered no evidence. 
The individual whose name appears as a complainant on the blasphemy charge filed with the police against the principal is Abdullah Saqib, who heads a mosque in Bilal Gunj, a different neighbourhood. He said by phone: "Now there is an investigation underway I will not be able to talk about this for a day or two."
By the way, does anyone have information about Bilal Gunj mosque? I thought there was another madrassa involved in this as well. Let me know if you have more information on this.

And I'm glad that the Independent article also mentioned a bit about the accused teacher. I hope she is okay and survives this ordeal:

The pupils of Farooqi Girls School said they were keen to get back in their building. "It's very sad. They destroyed our school," said Kanwal Tehseen, 11, who was in Ms Iftikhar's English class. Of her teacher, she added: "We liked her. We respected her." 
Some girls were already thinking about careers as computer scientists or doctors. "It's easier for boys to go to school. Parents think that the boys are going to be responsible for supporting the family," said 15-year-old Fareeha Zaheer. "Basically our religion teaches that it is important for us to get educated. The mother is the first educator in the household."
Read the full article here.

Updated (Nov 13th): Here is a letter to the editor from a former Farooqi Girls High School student on this particular case:


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