Kot Radha Kishan: ‘There was nothing left to bury’

Updated November 16, 2014

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The wooden slippers that bonded labourers wear while working lie near the spot where Shahzad and Shama Masih were burnt alive in Rosa Tibba village, Kot Radha Kishan.—Photo by writer
The wooden slippers that bonded labourers wear while working lie near the spot where Shahzad and Shama Masih were burnt alive in Rosa Tibba village, Kot Radha Kishan.—Photo by writer

Six days have passed since the murder of Sajjad, also known as Shahzad, and Shama Masih, but the Rosa Tibba village of Kot Radha Kishan in Kasur has not yet recovered.

There is a marketplace at the main Pattoki-Chunian Road leading to the village. A week ago, it was thriving. Today, the shops are closed. Not even a stray dog wanders by.

The village has a few tiny, single-room houses, though there are some larger houses too. The village has a large Muslim population and a couple of mosques are visible from the main road.

Read| Christian couple beaten to death for 'desecrating Quran': police

A mix of landowners and farmers live here, lifestyles marked by the size of their houses. Hundreds of bricks, some red, some grey, strewn about the village, some in organised piles, others appearing carelessly dumped. Deeper in, tall, blackened chimneys rise from raised platforms: the brick kilns.

A sharp turn to the left and another chimney can be seen. This one is not coughing out thick black smoke; it stands silent, a memorial of doom.

Not a soul can be seen anywhere in Chak 59. The kiln dominates the area; opposite, in a kind of morbid reverence, are the tiny homes of its bonded workers. These too, like the kiln itself, are made of simple red clay bricks. But now these homes are empty. Somewhere inside the colony a small cross modestly marks a church. It, too, has been abandoned.

Chak 59 has become a ghost town. The doors of these houses are not bolted. The families have taken away most of their belongings, but some things have been left behind — blackened pots and pans, a child’s toy.

Shama and Sajjad’s door is the only one locked but there is a separate entrance from their neighbour’s house, who was Sajjad’s brother Iqbal, married to Shama’s sister Yasmeen. Sajjad’s blue steel door is marked with a tiny white cross made out of two strips of electric tape.

The remnants of their life are strewn all over. Their clothes are dumped on the bed, cupboards have been ransacked.

Also read: A chilling episode of mob violence

Crumpled papers and a splintered mirror are lying on the floor. There are no windows and even during daylight there is darkness inside the room. There is a single bare bulb for illumination. In the only other room the children’s bicycles are stacked on top of each other.

Shama was cooking when she was dragged outside. The spinach is still in the pot, moulding. Insects are buzzing around it, but the food still seems to be waiting to be doled out.

The brick kiln has been sealed, its owner Yousaf Gujjar arrested, and the fires underneath killed. But smoke and heat continue to curl up from the tiny mounds on top of the kiln, vents for excess underground heat. The chimney has been scribbled with tributes to Shama and Sajjad. “Shama, there will be a revolution with your blood,” says one. “A salute to your martyrdom,” says another.

Also read: 50 villagers held over burning of Christian couple to death

The hard, uncomfortable wooden slippers that the bonded labourers wear while working lie scattered near the spot where the couple were burnt alive.

There are pits in the kiln which go as deep as eight or nine feet. Tunnels run inside these blazing holes. A brick kiln worker explains that there is a wall deeper inside the tunnels, behind which the fire burns.

But Shama and Sajjad were not pushed into the holes.

“They were dragged to the hottest part of the fire, and when the lid was removed, blue flame leapt out,” says Samuel Payara, director of Disaster Management and Human Rights in the Voice of Christians International. “Then they were pushed into that flame.”

Suddenly, the heat here is unbearable.

Samuel stares at the ground, squatting. He runs a finger through the red sand and points out the splinters of bones still lying here. “There was nothing left to bury,” he says. “Except for some burnt pieces, everything had just turned to black ash.”

The only five Christian families working at the kiln, including the victims’ relatives, fled at once to nearby Clarkabad — the first Christian village in Punjab, and now famous for producing paramedical staff.

While eyewitnesses say that the police were overwhelmed by so many people, Nabeela Ghazanfar, spokesperson for the Punjab police, says that the police acted speedily in arresting the main perpetrators, including the accountant and the owner of the kiln. “Six hundred people were booked for the case and 52 have been arrested,” she says. “The case is progressing quite fast and in a couple of days more facts are expected to surface. It is condemnable how the imam of the mosque took the law in his own hands and incited a mob.”

Some say Shama had had a fight with another worker, who threatened revenge. “He had objected to them ‘encroaching into his space’ while working,” says a worker. “Fights of such nature often arise at the bhatta, where working conditions are tough and tempers flare easily. He later accused Shama of blasphemy although they were both illiterate.”

“I was in the resting room when they brought my sister-in-law and brother to the kiln. My wife’s hands still hurt from trying to stop them,” relates Iqbal. “Over 1,500 of them tore Shama’s clothes and paraded them naked around the kiln twice. They were beaten so badly they were bathed in blood. But when they set them alight, I fainted.”

Relative Javed Shahbaz, who has given Iqbal refuge in his house in Clarkabad, says when he came to help them, the cleric urged the mob to “get together because the ‘Christians’ had begun to collect”. Javed fled before he, too, was attacked.

Iqbal begins to weep. “They killed my little brother and my bharjai,” his voice wavers. “That fire can melt iron … what are you and I in front of it?” A tear rolls off his cheek. “I don’t care for any compensation; I only want justice.”

Published in Dawn, November 16th, 2014