Islamabad : The coffin of a promising young Pakistani Hindu social worker, killed in the recent airliner crash here, has been marked as "kaafir" or infidel, causing anguish and revulsion among his friends and netizens.
Prem Chand, 25, a bright spark from the minority Hindu community, was a member of the National Youth Parliament and was heading to Islamabad from Karachi to attend the organisation's last session when the Airblue flight crashed into the Margalla Hills on July 28, killing all 152 people on board.
Ehsan Naveed Irfan, a youth parliamentarian who identified Prem Chand's body, said the coffin was first marked in black with the word "kaafir" and this was then highlighted in red. After identifying Prem Chand's body, his friends covered this by writing: "We love you from the youth parliament".
Since the day after the crash members of youth parliament have been protesting against the marking on his coffin. Muneeb Afzal, another member of the Youth Parliament, said a mutual friend had covered the word "kaafir" on Prem Chand's coffin at the state-run Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences before his cousin Nanak Das could see it.
"It was shocking. He could have been marked as Hindu or non-Muslim, but using the word 'kaafir' is the worst example of intolerance," Afzal said.
Afzal said he was aware that the marking of Prem Chand's coffin was not an "an official act" or "some state sponsored standard procedure", yet it was "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," he said. "He (Prem Chand) called himself a social worker. No person has the right to decide who goes to heaven or hell," said another youth parliamentarian at a condolence meeting held for the six members who died in the crash.
Badeel Khan Janjua, who designed the T-shirt with the message 'I am Premchand, Label me kaafir', suggested that a "kaafir day" be celebrated in Pakistan. Janjua said in an internet posting that it was "time that such acts of religious bigotry are stopped once and for all".
Prem Chand, hailed from Sanghar in Sindh province. He was married and had two children. A self-made man, Prem Chand was the only educated member in his poor family.
Friends and associates have described him as "a true patriot", a "symbol of tolerance" and a "social worker who spent his life trying to uplift the condition of his fellow countrymen".
A "Remembering Premchand" page on Facebook has over 500 followers so far. "As if the grief of a young son dying was not enough for Prem's parents, his coffin was marked as 'kaafir'. We stand in solidarity with his family and friends. We're all humans!" reads the note on the social networking website.
Premchand himself was active on Facebook and his last status update seems chilling in the wake of his death.
"Comments can make a person and comments can break a person. So be careful and ethical while giving comments for someone," he posted.
Adil Najam at pakistaniat.com, a popular e-zine, described Prem Chand's death as a national tragedy and the marking of "kaafir" on his coffin "a national disgrace". PTI