SUKKUR: As a semblance of normality returned to Ghotki with police and Rangers guarding Hindu temples and patrolling the town and the National Highway, at least seven suspects were arrested and 188 others were booked in cases pertaining to the Sunday unrest after a school owner had been accused of committing blasphemy.

Police authorities, however, were unwilling to disclose the identity of the seven suspects, explaining that they were under interrogation that could help the police investigators find clues to other culprits.

Thirty two suspects were booked for attacking temples and vandalising property belonging to the Hindu community; another 12 were booked for their deliberate and malicious acts to outrage religious feelings by insulting religion or religious beliefs; and another case was registered against 21 attackers who looted shops, broke into homes of Hindus and beat up the residents.

Man accused of committing blasphemy shifted to Hyderabad

The cases were registered against 65 suspects on behalf of the state under Sections 147, 149 and 295-A of the Pakistan Penal Code, Additional IG Police Dr Jamil Ahmed told Dawn. Besides, he added, an FIR had been registered against 123 persons for blocking traffic on both sides of the National Highway under Sections 341, 147 and 149 of the PPC.

Properties worth millions of rupees were attacked and several shops belonging to the Hindu community looted on Sunday by an enraged mob in Ghotki town after the owner of a school was accused of committing blasphemy. According to reports from the area, people belonging to various sects took to the streets after learning that the school owner had allegedly made blasphemous remarks about Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) on Saturday.

Additional IG Ahmed said that police were examining CCTV footage to arrest suspects. He added that seven persons who had been identified were arrested and being grilled. He declined to disclose their names at the moment, explaining that the information extracted from them would be helpful in apprehending other suspects.

About the school owner, the senior police officer said he was in the custody of the Hyderabad DIG. He said the police had assured the Ghotki residents belonging to different schools of thought that an inquiry into the blasphemy allegation would be fair and transparent.

He said law and order situation had already been brought under control in Ghotki town, with bazaars and trade centres being open and people doing their business as usual.

To express solidarity with the Hindu community, leaders of different political parties dashed to Ghotki and condemned the incidents. Prominent among them were Dr Qadir Magsi, Riaz Chandio, Sanan Qureshi, PPP minister Jam Ikramullah Dharejo, MPA Ali Nawaz aka Raja Mahar, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Dr Darshan Lal and Ramesh Lal.

Talking to the media, Dr Qadir Magsi, chief of his own faction of Jeay Sindh (Sindh Taraqi Pasand Party), demanded a judicial inquiry into the unrest. He said he had come to assess the situation and give assurance to the Hindu community that his party shared their grief and support them.

Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies have set up temporary posts at the temples providing security to the worshippers coming for prayers. Security has also been beefed up at temples in Sanghar district.

Demanding free and fair probe into the Ghotki incidents, a number of people, mainly from Bheel community, gathered outside the Jhol Press Club and raised slogans against what they called acts of vandalism, intimidation and burning of religious places and properties of Hindus.

Earlier, the Hindu community members along with those belonging to other religions staged a rally in Jhol town, calling for religious harmony and protection of religious minorities in Ghotki.

Housh Muhammad Mangi from Sanghar also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, September 17th, 2019