ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Religious injury, injustice and the legal life of rancour in Pakistan


Blom Amelie - Sciences Po Lyon, 69007, Lyon, France


04- Pathways from Injury: Legal Narratives of Prejudice and the Politics of Hate in South Asia


 The Pakistani penal code provides a wide yet highly ambiguous legal net to protect citizens of all faiths from “insults intended to outrage [their] religious feelings”. Framed by the colonial state and hardened by the postcolonial state with the alleged intent of dissuading (religious) identity-based violence, the so-called blasphemy laws have in fact had an opposite iatrogenic effect (Adcock 2016). The elusive nature of a criminal offence that can never be evidenced but is only sensed facilitates the (mis)use of the law for supremacist objectives and interpersonal disputes, exacerbates state violence and empowers outlaw vigilantes. If marginalized religious minorities have borne the brunt (ICJ 2015, Hussain 2022), accusations of blasphemy also target members of the majority Sunni group suspected of being “unbelievers”, an undocumented aspect of communal violence in Pakistan. Looking at two legal cases that resulted in the arrest of allegedly religious sceptics in the mid-2000s, and based on court verdicts and ethnographic materials, this ongoing research explores the sociopolitical dynamics of the ‘blasphemy device’ (Blom 2008) and the claims and counter-claims of the accusing and defendant parties. The main argument is that both intriguingly converge in their mode of political subjectivation: rancour. However, this moral sentiment splits into two distinctive nuances, resentment and ressentiment (Fassin 2013), depending on whether it responds to an injury or to an injustice.