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The first of August

Published Jun 03, 2013 03:25pm


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enter image description hereThe track from Sar Shameer meets the road from Samundri at Gojra. The city is famous for many reasons but all of them are tainted with remorse.

Before partition, a large eye hospital functioned at Gojra. India, in those days, had three ophthalmologists. The other two practiced in relatively large cities but Dr Harbhajan Singh stayed at Gojra and treated his patients, some of whom traversed almost entire India to visit him. In 1947, the doctor decided to leave. The locals tried to convince him but the new found land was far more promising than the one which had nurtured him for decades. Many eyes were lost due to tears while others went dark due to absence of treatment, but the city had an answer to blind eyes.

When Amir Ali, a 2nd year student from Gojra lost his eyesight, he did not lose his hope. Graduating from Lincoln’s Inn, he went on to become the first blind person to secure a Doctorate in Legal studies from Canada. The spirit which illuminated Dr Amir Ali Amjad’s ambition now furnishes his dream to build a large eye complex in Gojra for low income patients.

Field hockey is another feature of the city. Gojra rose to prominence as a nursery town of Hockey players, when Pakistan championed the game. As the public and private interest faded, the game also divorced itself from the city. Few kids, however, can still be spotted chasing the torn ball with improvised hockey sticks. The last reference to the city is from the first of August, 2009. The day was painted black due to carnage that resulted in eight deaths including three women and a child. Along with the sun, the hopes and the sense of security also went down. The Christians of Gojra realised that though the city had an answer to the blind eye, it could not do anything for the blind heart.

Few miles away from Gojra is the village of Korian, home to many Christians. It all started from a Christian wedding on July 29, 2009, when a Muslim guest was shown out due to his bad behaviour. After few hours, a mob started building up in front of the wedding house. The rejected guest was leading the crowd with an allegation of blasphemy. The mob insisted that Talib Maseeh and his fellows had desecrated Quran. Before Korian residents could come out bare-footed with the Bible raised above their head to plead not guilty, a church and few houses were set on fire.

—Courtesy Samson Simon Sharaf
—Courtesy Samson Simon Sharaf

Two days later, the Imams of Gojra mosques demanded the federal government to force Christians out of the city. Rallies were called and Muslims worldwide were appealed to save the religion. The appeal was instantly answered by students of seminaries in Jhang. When the crowd swelled, a political leader further instigated the crowd and directed them towards the Christian colony. The leader, who was interested in a housing scheme next to Christian colony, was recently sworn in the parliament. Militants from Jhang drove their twin cabin vehicles to Gojra, brandishing their weapons. While all this happened, police chose to look the other way. More so, when the violence picked up, they fled the scene telling the Christians to run for their lives. By then, all the escape routes had been blocked.

The mob initially chanted the slogans and then pelted stones at Christian houses. With every passing minute, the slogans picked up in tone and rage. A little later, someone shouted Allah o Akbar and torched a house. When the neighboring residences caught fire, people started running for their lives, devastated by the dilemma of what to take and what to leave. The flickering flames burnt houses, securities, pledges and safeguards leaving debris that told miserable stories. In one of the vandalised quarter, a portrait of Jesus Christ had crashed on floor. The Biblical injunction could be read through scratched frame. "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse."(Romans 12:14)

Minhas Hameed, the sole survivor of his family which lost seven lives, clearly recalls that his father was shot in the forehead. He rushed to the hospital without any idea that this was the last he would see of his house and family. After he left, the violence picked up and his scared family gathered in one room to save their lives. When the house caught fire, they could not leave the room. Around 60 houses were burnt that day. These men took instructions from mobile phones and torched houses, which were built by the meager earnings of one generation or even two.

Though the miscreants had masked their faces but the victims also deflected identities. When I looked through caskets, the faces appeared strangely familiar. The burnt corpse of 50-year-old Hameed Maseeh bore striking resemblance with Lal Din Sharaf Sargodhavi, a Christian freedom fighter who had penned an anthem and blocked Jinnah’s entourage at Mission Hospital Quetta to secure guarantees for Pakistani minorities. Forty-year-old Ikhlas Maseeh looked a lot like Sepoy Murad Maseeh, who was martyred on May 17, 2013, while fighting miscreants in Mitni, Peshawar. The 20-year-old charred body was not Asia bibi but probably Sister Martha who never forgot to wish us on Eid and never expected our greetings on Christmas. The scorched remains of 22-year-old Imamia bibi reminded me of Safia, our Christian maid and a part of my childhood memories. While I always ridiculed her dark complexion and called her names, she wore a patient smile and did not leave until I had taken my meal.

Every mourning woman of Gojra looked so familiar. I had seen them moving in our houses every morning, placing their religion and their crockery, besides the electric meter boxes (normally out of the houses) and taking care of our faith that commanded cleanliness. The displaced men looked so much like A R Cornelius and the wounded resembled Cecil Choudhary. Sitting with the coffins, these dark men had managed our schools, ran our offices, maintained our libraries and trimmed our lawns. They were partners to every refinement and accomplishment in our lives.

When the world got the word after two days, police started with raids and arrests. An inquiry commission was ordered which awaits its report to-date. The initial investigations have ruled out any incident of defiling of Quran. The men who set ablaze the church and Christian houses are hinted from Sipah-e-Sahaba (the military of companions of Prophet (PBUH)). Little did they know that one of the companions appointed by the Prophet himself was Warqa Ibn Naufil, a Christian who had endorsed prophet-hood before many of the faithful.


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Muhammad Hassan Miraj is a federal government employee.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (22) Closed

Ali Sahi Jun 03, 2013 05:21pm

What a pity that we, the followers of Rehmat al Aalimeen displayed such unforgiving and stern attitude towards a minority that has been serving us and country with utmost dedication. Its ironic that a town with a legendary history has stained its name with innocent blood of its own countrymen.

babu Jun 03, 2013 07:13pm

miraj for youngster like,your depth into history,is mind boggling-----but soon Pakistan will have a Arab hue with no hint of the subcontinent multi faith history.

INDIAN Jun 03, 2013 08:33pm

..I can not find any difference between GOJRA & GODHRA..but, fellow muslim brothers think GOJRA is acceptable,GODHRA not..if you spread love, you will get loev..if you spread hatred you will get the same

SBB Jun 04, 2013 12:55am

God Bless you Mr. Miraj... you write these gut wrenching stories. I think if you read this to the stones of Gojra, even they would be ashamed that stood still during the events you described. I really believe that. I don't know if its the food you eat or the water your drink, but your writing forces us all to look inside us. Thank you.

Dhanus Menon Jun 04, 2013 10:00am

When someone attacks a person or burns down a house chanting allahu akbar, then it has everything to do with Islam. Muslims should introspect the behavior of the so called prophet.

shomik Jun 04, 2013 10:18am


Azam Gill Jun 04, 2013 11:08am

Thank you Miraj Sahib, You are a fine gentleman and a Man of Honour. Your knowledge, research and penmanship are also admirable. May the Lord bless you and keep you in His care. Azam Gill

kamljit Singh Jun 04, 2013 11:56am

One time more Miraj sahib has spoken for the meek minority. Hats off for the courage . Dr Harbhajan Singh settled in Hoshiarpur to start his practice . he was famous as Gojrey wala doctor., Huge crowds could be seen in front of his hospital , He charged very nominal fee. In remote village if some body has sore eyes in summer , every body would recommend him/ her : ' Bhai Gojray walian de jaa.'

FARHAN Jun 04, 2013 12:29pm

Illiteratcy and minimal religious tolerance triggers these kind of tragic events. Education is the only key to promote religious tolerance and the only way to bridge the gap. It is even mention on the preface of our constitution that minotities should not be discriminated in any way but the poor governance has not only put the minorities but also the majority in a very vulnerable situation.

Rajiv Kaushal Jun 04, 2013 02:45pm

"he locals tried to convince him but the new found land was far more promising than the one which had nurtured him for decades." Totally unfair statement... First india was not new found land... it exists for thousands of year, pakistan was new founded but comparision is not an issue.. issue is that you are trying to show as if Mr. singh left the place cause he wanted to move to more promising place.. come on dont you know what was happening to hindus and sikhs in 1947 or to muslims on india side.. how could you expect this man to stay in this place... be fair... he could have moved to bigger city much before that if he wanted money... so show some respect...

Dr Jogindar Singh Josan Jun 04, 2013 03:37pm

I read your article with great interest as I was a student in grade 10 at the then MB High School, Gojra. Dr Harbhajan Singh was known to my family very well. As a matter of fact one of his nephew is an Oncologist in our local hospital. I always keep in touch with political developments in Pakistan with great interest. My inner feelings for Pakistan cannot be described in words. I had enjoyed my two visits to Pakistan in 1987 and 1997. I still remember very fondly my interaction with people at large during my visits.

Dr Jogindar Singh Josan Jun 04, 2013 03:38pm

I read your article with great interest as I was a student in grade 10 at the then MB High School, Gojra. Dr Harbhajan Singh was known to my family very well. As a matter of fact one of his nephew is an Oncologist in our local hospital. I always keep in touch with political developments in Pakistan with great interest. My inner feelings for Pakistan cannot be described in words. I had enjoyed my two visits to Pakistan in 1987 and 1997. I still remember very fondly my interaction with people at large during my visits.

imran Jun 05, 2013 03:42am

As a Muslim whenever I read about such atrocities I blame it on lack of education or some other factor which passes the buck. If I was not a Muslim and I had to choose one Muslim country to live in as a ethnic minority I would choose none. There is not even a single muslim country which would make me feel secure. We Muslims cry for equal rights and manage to secure ourselves great future in Christians countries. But we are dangerous people when we become majority. May God save Islam from Muslims. After reading the above I am truly ashamed.

B.Ally Jun 05, 2013 11:30am

Hate Mongers are enemies of all religions. There is no justification for killing even in the name of God. Yes we have lost multi cultural diverse society long time ago. We are a rudderless society now desperate for an identity. We are neither middle eastern nor sub continental because we dumped all the heritage to which we belong from time immemorial. For us now every port is a port of call. Pity on us.

S C Khan Jun 05, 2013 07:51pm

Some say the past can come back to haunt you; so it might be for Pakistan. The history the country has made in terms of treatment of its minorities will be very sad and embarrassing for the coming generations. The article reminds us of one of the most tragic incidents in the history of the Pakistani christian community. It reminds us of the persisting religious intolerance in Pakistan. Many readers think that education is the solution to these problems. I disagree. I believe most of those who seek "education" and even "higher education" in Pakistan do it for the purpose of improving their employment opportunities and paychecks. To increase standard of living and earnings. Of course there is a handful of those who do it for truly enlightening and opening up their minds to the world at large. There are more colleges/universities in urban areas than ever before: more MBA's, doctors, engineers, teachers, nurses, software engineers, artists and architects; more people with "foreign" degrees and "foreign" training than ever existed in the country. So the question remains, how has all this education contributed in making things better for the minorities that continue to render all sorts of services to the community at large? If there is any genuine desire to increasing religious tolerance and decreasing religious narcissism it will not start until actually preached repeatedly from the mosques and until the children's qari sahib makes it a point to do so. Until it becomes a subject of household importance and dinner table conversations we cannot expect any change in the way our children evolve in their beliefs and ideas. If mothers and fathers can impart to their children, the importance of getting along with christian, shia, hindu and sikh classmates and colleagues, and extending the same respect to a them in all avenues of life and not think them inferior in any way, there is some hope of evolving society. Its that basic and that is where the Pakistan stands right now.

kdp Jun 05, 2013 09:05pm

@FARHAN: I agree with you if Education means teaching tolerance and respect for other religions. Otherwise Hate mongers have nothing to do with education or lack of it. There are millions of "Educated" and "Highly Educated" people who are intolerant hate mongers. Millions of poor people are too busy earning living to spread hate. Most participants or should I say killers in Gujarat were Educated Hindus. Poor Hindus and Poor Muslims living in slums did not kill each other.

Khan of Kalabagh Jun 06, 2013 03:19am

I feel ashamed that we the so called followers of Rehmat allil aalameain SAW have never gave a damn to the actual preaching of His SAW. what is so disgusting and criminal is that we have been using the name of Our Great Prophet P.B.U.H to farther their petty political gains and advance their pathetic nefarious design despite the fact that He SAW was given a religion which is PEACE, i hope , wish and Pray that we would be able to teach ourself TOLERANCE AND PEACE in entirety and would be able to guide and groom our future generation to be TOLERANT towards every HUMAN BEING and would respect him/her to live a peaceful life.

we owe a lot to Our Minorities and we surely are in debt to them, may Allah keep them safe and secure and grant them Happiness , Joy and Independence to live, worship without fear and persecution, aameen

AC Jun 06, 2013 05:18am

@B.Ally: Yes you oeople moved away from your heritage and embarrassed the middle eastern culture. That started the down fall of a Decent Respected Pakistan. You have include humanity and its values in the curriculum and hopefully someday the younger one start living a peaceful life.

KSD Jun 06, 2013 08:15am

So very unfortunate to see the long-term effects of political expediency in the form of inflaming the latent mob mentality that each of us possesses to varying extents and which acquires a diabolical dimension in some of us at the slightest of provocations. Happens on your side of he border and happens eastward as well. Sikhs were the targets in Delhi in 1984 and Muslims in Godhra in 2002. Nearly thirty years on, the key players of the Delhi riots still freely roam the streets. Don't hold your breath to see the guilty being held accountable anytime soon for the Gorjra tragedy.

Guest Jun 06, 2013 09:15am

An amazing article. Here are 2 stories from India, from newspaper. At a station a muslim family arrived to aprticipate in function. the kids were playing un attended on tracks. A small kid got under the tracks of a goods train coming on high speed. Soon there were hundereds of muslims who attacked the station, killing one employee and breaking lot of public property. Had this been US the parents would have got arrested for negiligence and killing there kid. No enquiry was done in India no one arrested for all Arson and loot.

The second story is from a town (i think Dhule) where a person did not pay for an Omlet at a shop and both started fighting. They went to police and police showed them the door for such a petty dispute. One of them was muslim. soon hudreds of muslim gathered at police chowki and started attacking with bricks and guns. Police retailited killing 6. After that police raided and burned muslim shops. Minority commission got involved it was shown as attrocity on muslims.

In both incidences without the rresponse of people was beyond the need and community unity was misused. Following ones religion does not need 1000 people fighting with everyone, it just needsyou and God.

Guest Jun 06, 2013 09:22am

@INDIAN: There is a big difference. Godhara started with burning of a bogey full of people burned with gates locked. In turn that was caused by these people breaking a Holy Masjid. That was caused because that masjid was built by a king who had broken a temple where Lord Rama was born (faith basis). I really dont wish it, but tomorrow is a king breaks Mecca/Medina and makes a temple - i would never support that temple and return to Muslim brothers. Muslims really need to come out of the images of past kings who were ambitious and killed many. Dont live too much in past.

Gojra is pathetic, just fighting beacuse someone was asked to get out of marraige. It is pure ego and use of religion for ego.

KK Jun 06, 2013 01:35pm

Dear Miraj Sahib,

Your reference to Dr Harbhajan Singh "decided to leave" is correct. It is a sad part of our history when brothers became mortal enemies. His decision to leave was forced upon him due to the circumstances prevailing at the time. So it was for millions of others, else he too would have become just another statistic of 'killed during the partition'

I have a special interest in this story as I am descended from Korian village (JB 362 - Arjunpura, but called Korian as the settlers had originally come from Korian village near Burki (Lahore Distt).

My father was born in Korian, went to school in Gojra and knew Dr Harbhajan Singh. All these surrounding areas were cleansed of 'Kafirs' at the time. There was no way he could have stayed there either. People don't just leave all their possessions, lands, homes on a whim. The same thing happened to Muslims in East Punjab. Everyone had to flee for their lives, those who couldn't were slaughtered, no one 'migrated'. We should never forget that fact, only then can we ensure that history is not repeated.