By Irfan Aslam
Only five bullets were needed to silence Multan’s bravest son, Rashid Rehman. Those who mourned his death were many: the weak and the destitute, single women without family support, landless peasants, bonded labourers working in brick kilns and farms, and of course, Junaid Hafeez and his family.
Languishing in a Sahiwal prison for more than a year, Junaid Hafeez had arrived at the Bahauddin Zakariya University with big dreams and a set of moral and ethical values he wanted to impart to his students..
As Hafeez looks out of the jail cell today, one thing is clear: a lecturer teaching students to push the envelope and think critically can no longer find legal representation. No longer does Rehman live, no longer can the students be taught that the ethics of the land have been skewed to restrict thought and inquiry. There were only five bullets, but there were countless victims.
Rashid Rehman: the Rashid Rehman, an advocate and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s (HRCP) Multan taskforce coordinator, was not just another lawyer and rights activist. Rehman was a beacon of hope for the many who could not afford or obtain counsel for one reason or the other.
“Across Multan Katchery, it was known that Rashid Saheb would take up a case even if a litigant did not have a penny with him or her. Even other lawyers used to send such cases to Rashid Saheb,” said a close aide to Rashid Rehman, who worked along him for many years but wanted to remain anonymous. He said Rashid used to remain in office until late night, something his close friends would warn him against, especially after he received threats. But he was a workaholic and truly dedicated to his cause and so he ignored any such advice.
“Rashid Saheb was on the forefront of the struggle to ensure rights for peasants and bonded labourers. Last year, his book was published on the rights of land tenants, titled Zamino Ki Bandar Baant (Unjust Distribution of Land), and it describes the situation of tenants and the injustice meted out to them,” he says, adding that Rashid Saheb remained active with Anjuman Mazareen in Multan, Sahiwal, Okara and the whole of south Punjab throughout his career. It was this spirit that made him take up the case of Junaid Hafeez who had been accused of blasphemy.
“His opposing lawyers said to him right in front of the judge during the proceedings of the case that he won’t live to appear at the next hearing. Rashid Saheb complained to the judge, who did not take notice of the threat. His killing is a big loss to the poor and the downtrodden of the region,” Rehman’s close aide said.
Ghulam Fatima, secretary general of Bonded Labour Liberation Front (BLLF-Pakistan), says Rehman remained involved in working for bonded labour for decades. “Whenever we had any issue in southern Punjab, we always sought help from Rashid Saheb, and he was always available without taking any fee,” says Fatima. More