LAHORE: A group of suspected land grabbers has been behind the Mandi Bahauddin village unrest, claimed a local landlord, Amanullah.

“Some five to seven men are spreading baseless rumours against the Christian community, which has been living here for around a century. There has been complete harmony among the local Muslims and Christians till recently,” Amanullah told Dawn by phone on Monday.

The landlord elaborated that the ‘miscreants’ first tried to acquire land inhabited by the Christian community at throwaway prices, failing that, they launched a hate campaign to acquire the prime location.

Tension reportedly surfaced in Chak-44 of Mandi Bahauddin when some individuals started spreading rumours around a month ago that a sweeper employed with a health facility in the town had committed blasphemy.

In April, Imran Masih, a sweeper employed at a rural health centre in Mandi Bahauddin was reported to have played a YouTube video of a Christian leader criticising Muslims in his speech.

Masih’s colleagues also reported the incident to the village prayer leader, Maulvi Imran, who started instigating locals attending his sermons. The situation forced Masih to flee the village.

“Some miscreants were also members of the local mosque committee, and wanted to grab the land from the minority community,” added the landlord.

The matter was reported to the District Police Officer (DPO) Raja Basharat. The DPO constituted a six member committee consisting of three leaders each from Muslim and Christian communities to resolve the issue through dialogue, added Amanullah.

“The terms of reference drafted by the DPO were agreed by both sites.”

After the committee’s formation, some of its members started inciting the public over the issue, said the landlord.

“As the situation deteriorated, around 15 families left the village and moved to an undisclosed location. Later, 10 families came back to the village on the assurances of the police.”

The landlord added that between 60 and 70 policemen were also deployed in the village to prevent any untoward incident.

Punjab Inspector General of Police (IGP) Mushtaq Sukhera took notice of the unrest in the village and sought a report.

The DPO in his report available with Dawn stated that supervisor of Bosal rural health center, computer operator Mohsin Ali and dispenser Bilal Ahmed claimed to have watched a video on Masih’s phone which contained some blasphemous material.

The matter was eventually brought to the knowledge of elders of Chak-44 during Friday prayers, the elders started discussing the issue suggested that it should be reported to police or Muslim Ulema.

During the discussion at the mosque, a local man, who was a Christian convert to Islam asked for reasoning behind inciting hate against the local Christian community. He was asked to leave the premises.

The local man than approached the Christian community and started propagating that Muslims were gathering to attack them over the issue. The individual was arrested by the Police, and later sought forgiveness and apologised for his act.

“The situation in the area is under control and some people were involved in inciting public over the issue on social media,” said DPO Basharat.

He said the peace committee ensured the police and district administration that no one would take law into their hands.

Answering a query about the land grabbers he said that some people were involved in levelling baseless allegations.