Amongst the 152 who died in last Wednesday’s tragic crash of Air Blue flight were six members of the Youth Parliament. All death in this tragedy were sad. The death of these talented youth with aspirations of building a better Pakistan was no exception. Maybe it was tragedy compounded. But the story of one of them is sadder even than the others – and because of what happened to him after he died!
This is the story of Prem Chand, a bright young social worker from Sanghar (Sindh), one of the members of Youth Parliament, and one of those who died on the ill-fated AirBlue flight 202. 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.
According to news reports in The News and The Express Tribune young Prem Chand’s coffin was marked “Kafir” – a word that literally means ‘infidel’ or ‘non-believer’ but is mostly used as a serious slur in Pakistan. Literally labeling 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!
According to The News:
The members of Youth parliament [on the day following the crash] protested against the marking of the coffin of one of their colleague Prem Chand as ‘Kafir.’ “It was shocking. He could have been marked as Hindu or non-Muslim, but using the word ‘Kafir’ is the worst example of intolerance,” said MYP Muneeb Afzal.
The Express Tribune writes:
Ehsan Naveed Irfan is a member of the youth parliament and he is the one who identified Prem Chand’s body. He told me that his coffin was marked as “Kafir” first with black and then outlined with red to make it more prominent. He told me that he and his friends removed it with a marker and wrote “We love you – from the youth parliament” instead.
A friend of Prem Chand made this comment on Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi’s blog:
I am Muneeb Afzal, a Member of Youth parliament of Pakistan and a Colleague and Friend of Late Prem Chand. An extremely hard-working person he was a symbol of tolerance. My last communication with him was on night before the Air Crash, he gave his greetings to me on occasion of 15th of Shabaan.
At PIMS fortunately another friend of ours was there when Prem’s Cousin Nanik Das came to search for his body, he quickly hid the tag ‘kafir’ by putting marker lines on it, so that Prem’s family which is already suffering from great grief does not have to bear more hurt. Although later at a memorial session where media was present I criticized the inhumanity and intolerance of those who did this shameful act. I felt this was my duty to my late friend Prem Chand that I make it clear to the world that we condemn this act of intolerance and narrow mindedness. But a lot of my other colleagues have since objected to my speaking out, believing that my saying this and this news spreading in media would add to hurt of Prem’s family, and in a way they are right too. I would like you all to also keep this in mind as well…
This was probably not an official act or some state sponsored standard procedure. It is much more likely that this was an act of some sick minded individual. But it is still important for the authorities to investigate and punish those responsible, and set an example for future. Intolerance must not be tolerated. To tolerate it, or justify it, is to accept it. The authorities need to take responsibility for this incident and why it happened at all; no matter who did it. After all, it is the state of Pakistan – and we as a society – which creates the conditions in which the persecution of minorities thrives at various levels, directly and indirectly; and that is what gives individuals license to go even further – including such shameful acts.
Author’s Note: My deepest apologies to friends and family members of Prem Chand and my fellow Pakistanis from others faiths (Pakistani Hindus in particular), specially those who may not have heard of this yet and for whom this incident will no doubt be deeply painful. But we must raise our voice and condemn such acts. The one lesson that Pakistan’s history teaches us is that discrimination and intolerance must never be tolerated.