‘Kill him, he is an infidel’, said one out of many long bearded men. ‘Hang him, lash him, stone him, cut his throat’ were some of the other suggestions coming from a violent angry mob. ‘Send him to prison according to Law’ said another. Bleeding from the nose, shoulder being dislocated, bruises all over the face and chest along with lacerations on the back… the only words mumbled out of the blood-stained lips of Joseph vanished in the air just like a vapour. ‘Something to eat, for God’s sake, have mercy on me’ – Joseph pleaded in agony but the ferociously noisy crowd was getting more and more aggressive with each passing minute. As the mob was about to reach a long debated consensus of how to execute the ‘infidel’ in the name of God but according to their own law, Joseph encountered a fatal fit and passed away, saved the crowd from doing the honours.
Joseph Masih was the eldest son of late Jacob Masih – an army sepoy who lost his life defending the borders of Sialkot in the 1965 war with India, a country from where he migrated along with his father and rest of his family after the partition in 1947, leaving behind the city of Goa where his ancestors thrived after the era of Portuguese a few centuries ago….leaving behind the ancestral heritage and migrating to a country which was made in the name of Islam, but promised to give equal rights to the minorities (as represented by the white portion in the national flag), leaving behind the identity of Indian Subcontinent Christians in wake of a new identity as Pakistani Christians.
Joseph grew up in Sialkot – a town in Punjab, near the Indo-Pak border. He learned Urdu – the national language, in school. He memorized the national anthem which was in Persian language. He used to wear Shalwar Kamiz – the national dress while celebrating the Independence day on 14th August every year. He used to study Pakistan Studies just like his fellow Muslim classmates, although he got exemption from studying Islamic Studies. He took part in referendum for Ayub Khan, Voted for democracy in elections, celebrated Pakistan becoming World Champion in Hockey, and celebrated national days with pride, Joseph Masih was as much a Pakistani as any Muhammad Yousuf.
Joseph ambition was to join army and serve the country just like his father, but he failed the medical test at PMA as he was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus – an autoimmune disorder of sugar metabolism. After the struggle of finding a suitable job being an ethnic minority, he started a small business of his own by running a stall,; selling Pakistan flags and other patriotism displaying accessories like badges and stickers, every year before the Independence day. The income was barely enough to buy a dose of insulin for a few weeks.
It was a hot day towards the end of July , 1981, the month of Ramadhan. Pakistan was under the era of Islamization by Zia-ul-Huq. The Ehtram-e-Ramadhan bill (Respect of Ramadhan) was passed a few days ago, according to which any person who was found eating at a public place during the fasting hours was to be jailed for 3 months. This meant that those, who did not have an obligation of fasting, also required to follow the newly passed law.
Joseph took the lunch at home and took his regular Insulin dose, slightly more than usual, and went towards the market at the site of his stall in the evening. The signs of hypoglycemia inevitably showed up. A feeling of impending doom took over. Similar episode happened once he was at home and a sugar rich food was advised to be taken in any future event by the doctor. Sweating profusely and shaking vigorously along with hunger cramps, he remembered the advice and moved towards a nearby food stall to grab an orange circular and spiral shaped sweet displayed in front. As the first bite was about to be taken, a man snatched the sweet from his hand, threw it away, and started beating him. One followed by another, people gathered around Joseph and punished him in their own version of non abiding of Ehtram-e-Ramadhan bill. Another person found his identity card mentioning his name, giving him a title of Infidel. The ‘blasphemy’ had to be dealt with, the Islamization of Zia had to be displayed, in the hour of rage and fanaticism, Joseph encountered a hypoglycemic fit due to low blood sugar level and passed away, his last thoughts might be a representation of many Joseph Masih’s living today in Pakistan…. How to survive in this country while standing on a fine line between Religion and Nationalism?