Was it ignorance, oversight or bigotry? This is the question doing the rounds on the Internet as young Pakistanis come to terms with the coffin of Premchand – one of the 152 passengers killed in last week’s plane crash in Islamabad – being labelled as `kafir’ (non-believer).
A bit of everything seems to be the answer from the discussion triggered on various websites. The reactions range from remorse and disgust at denying the youngster respect in death to anger at why an issue is being made of what may have just been a clerical error.
Premchand, a social worker from Sanghar in Sindh, was among the six members of the Youth Parliament killed in the plane crash. What made his death stand out was what happened later. Summing it up, the first post on the online discussion forum `pakistaniat.com’ said: "His death – like the death of everyone on that flight – was a matter of national tragedy; the treatment of his dead body a matter of national disgrace.’’
Friends who identified Premchand’s body were quoted by news reports as saying that the coffin came marked `kafir’. The word literally means 'infidel' or 'non-believer’, but it is seen as an insult in these parts. “It was shocking. He could have been marked as Hindu or non-Muslim, but using the word `kafir’ is the worst example of intolerance.’’ Muneeb Afzal, a member of the Youth Parliament (MYP) said; recalling that the night before the crash he had received greetings from Premchand to mark the 15th of Shabaan.
Pouring out the angst felt by his friends, the post on pakistaniat.com adds: “Literally labelling someone’s coffin as `kafir’ and not even giving them the respect to list their religion by its proper name is a shameful and disgusting way to disrespect the last remains of anyone. All the more so the last remains of a patriotic Pakistani who was on that plane solely to represent Pakistan and to seek to be a better Pakistani – he was on his way to the `session’ of the Youth Parliament!’’.
To spare his relatives from the added pain of seeing Premchand termed as 'kafir’ in death, his friends did their best to cover it up by writing over the marking on the coffin "We love you – from the Youth Parliament’’. Still, word got out as one of the MYPs decided to speak up during a condolence meeting covered by the media. Though he came in for criticism for bringing this into public domain and adding to the family’s grief, the subsequent discussion on the Internet reflects the feeling that silence on such matters is seen as complicity and bigotry feeds on this.