Show of solidarity

Published August 23, 2023

IT is some solace that the government has demonstrated more empathy with victims of communal violence in Jaranwala than it is usually seen to do in instances like these. More often than not, nothing more than platitudes about ‘tolerance’ and ‘rights of minorities’ emerge from officialdom. In some recent instances of religious persecution, even that effort was not expended; in its place, a deafening silence. After the mayhem wreaked on churches and homes of Christians in Jaranwala, however, government functionaries went beyond mere words. Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar visited the locality along with caretaker Punjab Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi to express solidarity with the victims and distribute compensation cheques among families whose homes and belongings had been torched. The district administration has moved swiftly to assess the damage sustained by the community so reparations can be quickly processed. On Sunday, the Punjab caretaker cabinet led by Mr Naqvi attended Sunday services in the area, sitting amongst the rubble of a ransacked church. This public show of solidarity must have been a balm on the suffering of the Christian community, a message that they were not alone in their grief, that the state of Pakistan has their back.

But, unless the root causes that give rise to such extremist violence are addressed on a thorough and sustained basis, nothing will change. Our minority communities will continue to live on a knife-edge, not knowing when a misspoken word, a festering resentment or some manufactured pretext will be used against them to bring a murderous mob to their doorstep. The first order of business must be to track down the perpetrators of the Jaranwala outrage and punish them to the fullest extent of the law. No one must harbour delusions about there being any mitigating factors whatsoever behind faith-based violence, no exceptions to the rule. All minorities deserve the protection of the law; every Pakistani has the right to freedom of religion. But this is the ‘easier’ part of what is required if there are to be no more Jaranwalas. Changing society’s triumphalist mindset — the outcome of decades of state-sanctioned indulgence of ultra-right pressure groups to achieve political ends — is a more arduous, multifaceted task. Only the state is in a position to undo the grievous harm its tunnel vision has caused. But, one must ask, will it?

Published in Dawn, August 23rd, 2023

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