FOR some time now, the pluralistic Sufi ethos of Sindh has been under threat from the forces of bigotry. The recent disturbances in the district of Ghotki appear to be part of this ugly trend. On Wednesday, two teenagers belonging to the Hindu community were shot while at a tea shop in the district; one of the victims, Sheetan Kumar, died on the spot. Tensions in the area had been high as earlier reports had emerged about the alleged desecration of the Quran. Local police officials say the suspect involved in the alleged desecration, and who had apparently embraced Islam, was mentally unstable. As is the case whenever matters of such a sensitive nature occur, the reported desecration and the murder sparked communal tension in Ghotki, with protest demonstrations and closures of markets.

When cases of this nature transpire, it is essential that the state and community members immediately act to calm the situation and not let extremists exploit sentiments. Otherwise, tragic consequences can ensue, as in this incident with the senseless murder of the teenager. The case needs to be pursed and the killers of Sheetan Kumar must be brought to justice. But in the longer term, there is a pressing need to address the overall issue of extremism in Sindh. While some groups did hold demonstrations to condemn the communal violence, which should be appreciated, more sustained efforts are required in this regard. The Hindu community in Sindh has been targeted before, with temples and other buildings belonging to the faith group being desecrated and attacked. The forcible conversion of Hindu women is another issue that has fuelled communal divisions. Amongst the factors that have led to this situation over the years is the fact that militant and sectarian groups have made inroads in many of Sindh’s districts. This, along with the growth of madressahs — with some seminaries affiliated with hard-line groups — has contributed to the changed social and religious ethos of Sindh. It is important that members of the community — intellectuals, ulema, elders — reinforce the traditionally tolerant nature of society in Sindh. However, the state can perhaps make the most difference in stemming the extremist tide in two major ways. First, it must punish those involved in the murder, harassment and intimidation of minority citizens. Second, the authorities must clamp down on the activities of banned groups across the province before they do even more damage to Sindh’s fabric.

Published in Dawn, July 31st, 2016

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