Part 3: Escape of Pastor Arthur: Ramification of Pakistan Blasphemy Laws. By Dr. Stephen Gill


Continued from Part2: The PEN reading was dedicated to those prisoners who had been behind the bars the world over for expressing their personal opinions. Due to the pressure from the national offices of the Pen, several prisoners had been released by their governments.  A stream of constant pressure from abroad   works because national governments of   the third world countries are sensitive to any criticism that appears about them in the Western media.  PEN Canada is the national body of International PEN founded in 1921 in England. The organization is committed to defending freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and enshrined in Section 2 (b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms of Canada.

As soon as my  Hamilton reading was approved by the Writers Union of Canada,  I began to select my  poems  and  the telephone  numbers of my  friends I wanted to see. I left Cornwall on November 14. The next evening,  I presented a  poem  on  democracy at the gathering of  PEN Canada   before an  audience that represented  the multicultural nature  of Canada. Every street, shopping plaza and high rise apartment  buildings  would confirm that these cities of Toronto and Mississauga are multicultural in every aspect. One can see women hiding their faces behind their scarfs, men in their ethnic dresses, and people of all colours and languages  mingling  and laughing in the same crowd. This area can boast of publishing multi lingual weaklies, including the Arabic, Spanish, Chinese, Urdu, Panjabi, Hindi, Italian and other languages.  Tolerance for  faiths and cultures of minorities  is the key  to  the climate of peace in Canada. A day after my arrival  in  Mississauga, it had started snowing.  From Mississauga I had to head to Hamilton for my next poetry reading at a  gathering that was being organized by Rev. Arthur.   I hate to drive on highways on such  days. One can be careful, but not all drivers are.   A minor slip on the highway, where cars  sped at  more than  one hundred  kilometres  per hour and  traffic  is  high  and  everyone seems to be in a rush, may land cars  in the territory of undeserved destiny.    It   was  a  drive of about  forty minutes  from  Mississauga  to Hamilton.  Due  to the heavy  traffic it takes an hour and even more. In   bad weathers, it   takes  longer  for a person like me  because I do not drive  fast. At the same time I was  anxious  to reach much earlier  to be able to feel relaxed to enjoy  the event and to have more time  with Rev.  Arthur, the person who was arranging that event. I was anxious to have more time with his congregation.        It was the same address in Hamilton where I had given a talk two years before. This time it was the presentation of my  poetry  in Urdu,  national language of Pakistan that  is understood widely in India.  According  to  the printed program there were twenty-nine artists to participate. There were eight poets, including  Ayub  Din, Anil Dass, James Malik, Dr. Rashid Gill, Swapna Shail, Isaac Wilbert, Dr. Dannis Isaac, and Stephen Gill. The rest of  them were singers and musicians, including Neeraj Prem, Albert Kamran, Reuben Arthur, Sam Arthur, Newton Peter, Edward Nelson, Solomon Gill, Samuel Inyat, Parkash and Olive Masih, William Masih, Vishal Renga, Ropi Romero, James Luke, Sanjay Lal, Javed Jamil, Ch: Iqbal Mujahid, Austin Raj Rattan, and Yousaf Murad. 

Out of the town participants included  Swapna  Shail , a  prominent  Hindi poet   born in India. She read Gumshuda (lost) that  was a  sensitive  rendering of a raped girl.  Swapna is an eye-opener in this poem  as she is in most of her poetry. She openly lashes at   hypocracies.   Swapna    sang  also  one  of  her  own  compositions. She was  from Ottawa, the capital of Canada.  I  went  there  from Cornwall, a city close to  the capital. People know Cornwall  also because of  its nearness   to  Montreal, a  prominent  city  of the province of Quebec.  Poets  who  went  there  from  the  surrounding   area  of  Hamilton,  included Dr. Rashid Gill and Dr. Dannis Isaac.  Dr. Isaac is a  respectable  playwright  from  Pakistan. Other poets included James Luke,  Isaac Wilbert, and Anil Dass.

 Among singers,  Yousaf Murad  went  from New York, and Austin Raj Rattan from Mississauga, Ontario.   Reuben, a son of Rev. Arthur who was also tortured in Pakistan with his father and who is  an accomplished  young  artist, played  tabla  with  several  singers.  The event was attended by around three  hundred persons  in spite of the unfriendly weather. They  were entertained with South East Asian snacks. Poets and singers  were recognized with plaques handed  by  Rev. A.G. Van Eek. There was also a group photo. I presented a long poem about the situation of human rights in Pakistan.  I was cheered  with frequent clapping that  made  me  feel  that my poetry was  being  appreciated.

 Encouraged  with  unusual success, Rev.  Arthur  has  decided to repeat this event every year.   At the social hour, several admirers expressed  their  hope  for similar  other  groups  to provide  platforms along the same line to encourage  artists from the region of  South East  Asia. For the social hour,  I set up a table in the hall where tea  was  served to  display  some of my books and  the cassettes  of  my  Urdu/Hindi poems that were sung by  Khaled Saleem.  I was happy  to  meet  the persons  who came to talk to me.  I could see the whole family of Rev. Arthur involved with their whole being in one thing or the other. Rev. Arthur was everywhere welcoming his guests and to oversee the arrangements.  He looked relaxed enjoying every minute of his work.  I was however  getting nervous when I looked out of  the  window during the social hour. It was still snowing, covering the ground  with  a thick layer.  Obviously it was not safe  to drive on the highway.  At  night, it is not easy to see if the roads  were  ploughed or still covered with snow.  If  wipers fail  for any  reason, it is not  easy to pull  the car   to a safer spot  when there is  a maddening traffic  to the right and  to  the  left.  The  problem  is compounded  if  the driver is  new to the area and it is  night and  the rush hours. The signs are partly covered with snow that  make  a driver  more  nervous.  Under these conditions, one wrong turn  becomes extremely  annoying. While I was in that frame of mind,  something  happened. A person approached to shake hands.  He told me  enthusiastically  that he was reading about me and my articles with interest. He also told me that his wife was anxious to see me. Soon he left and returned with his  wife who looked like Chinese or Vietnamese.  While chatting,  he asked  if I was going back.  I said  the weather was bad and I did not know what I was going to do. He took his wife aside to  consult for a while, and then   turned  to  me and said    they would be pleased to host me that night, although they had  a few  guests. It was a prayer answered.  They suggested me  to follow their car.  I wanted more time  to meet  people.  After all that is  one reason  to be in  social atmospheres. Gatherings provide opportunities to meet people personally. Writing is a lonely profession. Social evenings provide diversions that writers and poets  need like anyone else.  Moreover, cultivation of public relations is also important for success. That  is  a  way for writers to  make more contacts.  On top of all, this evening was the ideal time to meet Pakistani Christians as well as from other nations. 

I accepted  their  invitation with thanks, asking them to allow me another hour or so. I would  take the directions over the phone if  that  would  not  be  late for  them. They did not mind.  That person was Emanuel Gill from Pakistan and his  wife Larence   from Phillipine. When the Arthurs and others  began to mop the floor and  put the chairs in order and women began to pack utensils,  I asked Rev.  Arthur  to give me directions to go to the house of  Mr and Mrs. Emanuel Gill. He phoned  them on my behalf that we were on our way.   The meticulously clean  house of Mr. and  Mrs. Emanuel Gill was palatial. So was their  heart.  They were  humble. Larence Gill was a  hostess beyond comparison.  The food  was  appetizing. They  introduced me to their guests Mr. Qamar Khan,  his wife Sarala, and Vincent Nadeem. The Gills were retired nurses. Mr. Qamar Khan was  a registered  nurse and a  diabetes  educator in Toronto. He was a delightful conversationalist  with  a  mine of knowledge about human rights situations in Pakistan. (Continued for Final Part 4)

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