Riots break out in Ghotki over alleged blasphemy by school principal

Updated September 15, 2019

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Screengrab of a video of protesters vandalising school where the alleged incident took place. — Photo courtesy Twitter
Screengrab of a video of protesters vandalising school where the alleged incident took place. — Photo courtesy Twitter

Law and order of Ghotki and surrounding areas deteriorated on Sunday as people in large numbers took to the streets to protest against an alleged incident of blasphemy.

The protests began on Saturday after a first information report of (FIR) was filed against a principal — who is from the Hindu community — of Sindh Public School on the complaint of Abdul Aziz Rajput, a student's father who claimed that the former had committed blasphemy. The FIR was lodged under Article 295(c) — that pertains to "derogatory remarks in respect of the Holy Prophet (PBUH)" — of the Pakistan Penal Code.

Residents of the area demanded that the police arrest the principal, issued a call for a shutter-down strike, and took to the streets in protest. Videos of stick-wielding protesters were shared on social media on Sunday, in which they were seen vandalising a Hindu temple and damaging the school where the alleged incident took place.

Ghotki Senior Superintendent of Police Farrukh Lanjar, while talking to local reporters, said that police were controlling the law and order situation in the area.

Advocate Veerji Kolhi, special assistant to Chief Minister Sindh on Human Rights, told Dawn: "The situation is being handled properly to avoid further damage or riots."

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) MNA Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, who is also the head of the Pakistan Hindu Council, told Dawn that the case has been handed over to Hyderabad Deputy Inspector General Naeem Shaikh who will further investigate the matter. He added that the principal was at an undisclosed location for safety reasons and will be handed over to Shaikh.

"I have talked to Sindh Inspector General of Police Kaleem Imam who has assured me the police will fully protect the accused, therefore, I am going to hand [the principal] over to police either in Karachi or in Hyderabad today," he said.

The MNA said that the protesters had vandalised three temples, a private school and multiple houses belonging to the Hindu community and added that he had asked police to register an FIR against people involved in the riots.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan also shared a video of protesters breaking the infrastructure of the school and expressed concern over the situation.

"Alarming reports of accusations of blasphemy in Ghotki and the outbreak of mob violence," the rights organisation said in a tweet.

Users on Twitter, who shared videos and images of the protests in Ghotki, asked the PPP administration as well as AIG Ahmed to control the situation. In response to one such tweet, Ahmed said: "Yes we are trying to deal with a serious situation in a cool, calculated, impartial and professional manner. Moderate and educated sections of society must fully support our earnest efforts to do justice and maintain peace in Ghotki, please."

Protests were also held in surrounding towns, including Mirpur Mathelo and Adilpur, where demonstrators blocked roads and demanded that the police arrest the school principal.

According to rights activist Sattar Zangejo, the Hindu community of the area was forced to remain indoors due to the riots.