December issue 2010
Prisoner of Prejudice
Forty-five-year old Aasiya Bibi is the 38th woman who has been charged under the Blasphemy Law in Pakistan. A resident of Ittanwali village in district Nankana Sahib, the illiterate mother of two daughters — Esha, 12, and Mishah, 10 — Aasiya is the second wife of Ashiq Masih. Her elder daughter Esha is disabled and Aasiya was her primary caretaker until her arrest over one year ago. “Esha misses her mother a lot,” says her husband Ashiq Masih. “She is pining for her.”
The Masih family is one of only three Christian families in a village of more than 1,000 families. Like many of the local women, Aasiya Bibi also used to work on the farm of Muslim landowner Muhammad Idrees. On June 14, 2009, she had an argument with two of her co-workers, Mafia and Asma, on the issue of drinking water. The two women reportedly refused to drink water given to them by Aasiya in a mug she had used because they claimed it had been defiled by her religious and caste credentials. Six days later the women informed the imam of the local mosque that Aasiya had uttered blasphemous words against Islam and Prophet Muhammed (PBUH). “Subsequently, on June 19,” Ashiq Masih relates, “my wife was forcibly dragged out of our house by an angry Muslim mob who shouted that she had committed blasphemy. They forced her to plead guilty and to seek pardon.”
Following this, later in the day, Aasiya was arrested by the local police on charges of blasphemy.
Although she has languished in jail for over a year, Aasiya’s story only came under the media spotlight on November 9, 2010. However, that exacerbated her family’s suffering. Since the saga became public, her family and the other Christian families in the village have been on the run as they are facing threats from zealots. Only a few people know where Aasiya’s husband and children are currently living. “We met him last night, he was terrified for his children’s lives,” said a friend. Masih reportedly told him, “I can’t even go to jail to see my wife because of security threats to my family.”
And as the Aasiya Bibi saga unfolds, her family — and indeed, Pakistan’s Christian community — continue to live in abject uncertainly.