The Christian minority in Pakistan is being targeted once again!

Pakistani Christian

Hundreds of Muslims in a Pakistani city set fire (BBC, 17 August) to at least four churches and vandalised the homes of Christians over claims that two men had desecrated the Quran. It is ironic that amidst the ongoing political and economic turmoil Pakistan is witnessing ethnic cleansing by armed mobs in Jaranwala town in Punjab Province. Videos on social media showed hundreds of people armed with batons and sticks attacking the Salvation Army Church and the Saint Paul Catholic Church, setting them ablaze, while another mob attacked private homes, torching them and breaking windows.

Pakistan’s Blasphemy law provided the attackers the excuse to target the Christian community. The controversy erupted after torn pages of the Quran, the holy book for Muslims, were discovered near the Christian colony with alleged blasphemous content written on them.

A local religious leader then reportedly urged Muslims to protest and demand that the culprits be arrested.

In a way there is nothing new in the occurrence and repetition of such incidents would not be surprising as Pakistan is Pakistan! Ironically, Punjab Police filed a report against two local Christian residents under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws for allegedly desecrating the Quran.

Law and order has seemingly collapsed in Pakistan. Akmal Bhatti, Chairman of Minorities Alliance Pakistan, condemned the incident and said the angry mob used the blasphemy laws to justify torching the private homes of innocent people. BBC Urdu reported that authorities had received calls about protests and fires after reports of the two men allegedly desecrating the Quran, the holy book of Islam, circulated on social media. Local authorities said torn pages of the Quran with blasphemous content allegedly scribbled in red marker ink, were found near the residential area of the Christian community. Once these reports circulated around the city and on social media, it sparked outrage among the Muslim community.

The violence that ensued saw mobs attacking and looting private homes belonging to Christians. Of concern is the pre-meditated and dangerous assault not only on the churches but on dozen buildings connected to churches in Jaranwala, in eastern Punjab, which were resultantly also damaged. Police have detained more than 100 protestors and launched an investigation into the violence. Bhatti, a lawyer, said more than 150 families residing in the Christian colony near the Salvation Army Church were evacuated.

He told Al Jazeera that families had left Jaranwala for nearby villages or the city of Faisalabad as they were worried for their safety. As can be seen from the latest incident, blasphemy is a sensitive issue in Pakistan as mere accusations can lead to widespread violence.

Earlier this year, a teacher was killed in Turbat, Baluchistan after being accused of blasphemy. In February 2023, an angry mob snatched a suspect from his prison cell in Nankana and lynched him for allegedly desecrating the Quran. Rights groups say that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have often been misused for personal reasons. Even though Pakistan has yet to sentence anyone to death for blasphemy, a mere accusation can result in widespread
riots, causing lynchings and killings. Two years ago, a Sri Lankan man accused of blasphemy was killed by an enraged mob and had his body set on fire.

In 2009, a mob burned down about 60 homes and killed six people in the Gorja district in Punjab, after accusing them of insulting Islam. Data compiled by the Centre for Social Justice, shows more than 2,000 people have been accused of blasphemy since 1987, and at least 88 people have been killed on these allegations.

The original law in Pakistan punishing blasphemy, was instituted by the British, in the 19th century. In the 1980s, the government introduced stricter punishments for breaking the law, including a death sentence for anyone who insulted Islam. Around 96 per cent of Pakistan's population is Muslim. Other countries, including Iran, Brunei, and Mauritania also impose capital punishment for insulting religion. Religion-fuelled violence in Pakistan has risen since the country made blasphemy punishable by death. The emergence of extremist and vigilante factions within Pakistan, have added fuel to the fire. Pakistani society has thus become increasingly fragmented, driven by widening economic disparities, leading to an upsurge in violence directed at minority religious groups.

Amir Mir, Information Minister for Punjab province, condemned the alleged blasphemy and said in a statement that thousands of police had been sent to the area, with dozens of people detained. Reuters reports that the mob was mostly made up of people from an Islamist political party called Tehreek-eLabbaik Pakistan (TLP). The TLP has denied any involvement. Caretaker PM Anwar ul-Haq Kakar called for swift action against those responsible for the
violence. Pakistani bishop Azad Marshall, in the neighbouring city of Lahore, said on X (formerly Twitter) that the Christian community was "deeply pained and distressed" by the events.

"We cry out for justice and action from law enforcement and those who dispense justice, and the safety of all citizens to intervene immediately and assure us that our lives are valuable in our own homeland," he posted online.

In a statement, Akmal Bhatti, Minorities Alliance Pakistan Chairman said that the government and local administration had failed to protect the lives and property of Christian residents and alleged that announcements were made in mosques to attack the Christian colony and people were incited. He added that despite this, police officers could not deploy the necessary security for the protection of the colony and the property in time. The Alliance claimed that victims were left at the mercy of the mob and extremist organisations were given a free hand to attack the homes of poor people belonging to the Christian community.

The Alliance demanded the caretaker chief minister and the caretaker prime minister visit the area and provide morale as well as financial support to the victims.

As stated in the beginning, Jaranwala is not the first such incident. As The News editorially (17 August 2023) laments, “it may be cynical but true that it will not be the last if we continue as is, if the state forgets that Jaranwala ever happened -- just like it forgot Gojra or Joseph Colony or the Peshawar church attack or the Easter bombing in Lahore”.

The Pakistani state has become apathetic to the trauma its minority communities have suffered over the years. It is both ironic and tragic that this violence comes a few days after a
film banned in Pakistan was forced to be placed on YouTube just because Pakistan authorities decided that its subject was taboo. The subject: religion being weaponized. The term ‘terror’ in the context of Pakistan thus needs to be redefined. What the Christian community in Jaranwala has undergone recently, is nothing short of an act of terror. When the Pakistani state demonstrates publicly that not every group is afforded the same rights, it creates space for the hateful rhetoric of militant groups.

This is the reality of minorities in Pakistan today.

Copyright Greekcitytimes 2024