For whom the bell tolls
The 16th day of April in 1853 is special in the Indian history. The day was a public holiday. At 3:30 pm, as the 21 guns roared together, the first train carrying Lady Falkland, wife of Governor of Bombay, along with 400 special invitees, steamed off from Bombay to Thane.
Ever since the engine rolled off the tracks, there have been new dimensions to the distances, relations and emotions. Abaseen Express, Khyber Mail and Calcutta Mail were not just the names of the trains but the experiences of hearts and souls. Now that we live in the days of burnt and non functional trains, I still have a few pleasant memories associated with train travels. These memoirs are the dialogues I had with myself while sitting by the windows or standing at the door as the train moved on. In the era of Cloud and Wi-Fi communications, I hope you will like them.
Meanwhile two developments changed Jhang, forever. Firstly, the influence of Shia landlords started to recede. The inherited land was divided and distributed generation by generation. This curtailed the feudal clout and eventually, forced most of small scale farmers to migrate to neighbouring cities.
Secondly, the Gulf countries opened their gates to Pakistani labour. The deteriorating economic conditions at home and the promise of prosperity abroad did not pose a difficult question, hence many residents headed to greener pastures. After few years, the expats returned with the ideological baggage. With the expensive Rado watches, they wore the puritan faith. And along with the longing for their country, they brought home, the hatred for non-Arabs.
This was the time when democracy was discarded from Pakistan and revolution enthralled Iran. While Zia upheld the Hanafi School in all spheres of life here, Khumaini implemented the Shia School in Iran. The revolution, besides scaring Arab monarchs, stirred the political awakening in the Pakistani Shias. An organisation named Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Fiqah-e-Jafriya was founded in 1979 and slowly started picking up tone. When the state introduced the Ushr and Zakat Ordinance on the basis of the Hanafi School, the Shias coerced the government, in a three day siege of the parliament, to decide Shia religious affairs in accordance with the Shia School. Soon, scholars from Qum and Najaf flooded seminaries and baptised the belief, so “corrupted” by the secular sub-continent tradition. Pakistani Muslims were first reformed by Arabs and subsequently, Iranians. This also showed up in every day greetings when the country shifted from Khuda hafiz to Allah hafiz.
With the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war, every expression was let loose. The prejudices and hatred, mostly imported, declared all traditions of peaceful co-existence that had illuminated Jhang for centuries, as a form of heresy.
In the year of 1985, Haq Nawaz Jhangvi founded Anjuman Sipah-e-Sahaba in a local mosque at Jhang. Famous as Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan today, the organisation had, five out of eight, founding principles aimed at declaring Shias as “non-muslims”. Formed to defend the honour of Sahaba, the group promoted a typical non-tolerant mindset and anyone who locked horns with them was first exterminated from religion and then from life. The mono-directional political thinking in the country, expanding network of madressahs, interlock of religion and business and the ethnic make-up of Jhang catalysed the growth of Sipah-e-Sahaba. Their financers came from the Promised Land and the sympathisers rose from Deoband. The mushrooming madressahs polluted young minds with sectarian prejudices. These students then graduated to Taliban-run seminaries in Afghanistan, where they fell in love with their own truth and lost the ability to see through the other side. No religious and political leader had the moral courage to keep the children away from it. For many years, within the country, the state treated them as their strategic assets and outside the country, the Islamic monarchs supported them.
Part scarred by the revolution and part bound by the Jihad next door, the network called the establishment watched Sipah-e-Sahaba grow. The sectarian undertone of the slogan for the enforcement of Sharia was loud and clear but none had the audacity to listen to these voices.
When one after another, Ehsan Elahi Zaheer, Arif Hussaini and Haq Nawaz Jhangvi were killed, Jhang saw the worst of the violence. In 1993, Sipah-e-Muhammad was formed and soon after Lashkar-e-Jhangvi saw the light of day. The Jhang of Sultan and Chander Bhan was now a battle scene. The streets which once buzzed with Heer now resounded with war cry. All the while, Quranic verses proclaimed that a single murder amounted to the murder of the entire humanity. Around Makkah, the home of the Saudi princes who visited Pakistan for game and donated hefty amounts to madressahs, the last sermon of the prophet reverberated.
"Just as you regard this month, this day, this city as sacred, so regard the life and property of every Muslim as a sacred trust". However, the passion for religion was too captivating for the sermon or the verses.
While sectarianism instigated this bloodshed, it also influenced the politics. Be it the Peoples Party with socialist and leftist leaning or the Q league with enlightened moderation, no party in the country could make it to the Parliament House without shaking hands with religious politicians.
In 2002, Azam Tariq, a Taliban idealist and Sipah-e-Sahaba candidate from Jhang, contested elections from inside a prison. He would have been disqualified and stayed in prison, had he not been the crucial one vote that won majority for Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali. Soon after he moved to Parliament, he made his “phenomenal” speech where he pledged to transform the 28 selected cities in line with the Taliban’s Afghanistan, banning TV, radio and music.
Like every election, this year too, flags of proscribed organisations dotted the city’s skyline. Though the candidate could not make it to Parliament, the vote count indicated that 70,000 residents of the city believed in this cause.
In this battle of belief, mostly the ordinary faithful fell from the both side. Besides being Shias and Sunnis, the deceased were doctors, engineers, lawyers and teachers. Other than target killing, firing and bomb blasts also claimed lives and did not discriminate between the mosque and the Imam Bargah. The TV at home and the billboards on the roads indicated the increased influence of religion in our lives while the blast-ripped tickers and blood-soaked newspaper pointed out that man is yet to find everlasting peace.
When Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claims the responsibility of a blast on Alamdar Road and the killing in Chilas, the sane beings in Jhang shy away from each other. But as soon as the conspiracy theories come to life and all fingers point towards neighbouring countries, they nudge their conscience back to indifference. About Heer, Sultan, Chandar Bhan and Salam, even if they existed in today’s Jhang, Lashkar would have taken care of them.
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