Attacking minorities

Published May 28, 2024

WHILE Pakistan has watched many perish in the cauldron of sacrilege, the state has done little to turn down the flames of hatred. Yet another appalling incident was witnessed on Saturday in Sargodha’s Mujahid colony. A Christian man was accused of desecrating religious scriptures and subjected to violence by a pack of fanatics who were bent on lynching him. The mob, which was carrying sticks and weapons, surrounded his home and attempted to break in; electricity meters and outdoor air conditioner units were wrecked and set alight. Although the police arrested 26 people, with a case against 44 nominated and “300-400 unidentified suspects”, it also, reportedly, slapped a blasphemy charge on the critically injured victim. The assault is an eerie reminder of the Jaranwala carnage last year when an enraged mob set upon the settlement and razed a Christian man’s house. The Joseph colony butchery in 2013 is seared in national memory, when more than 100 homes were ransacked and set alight. But Pakistan’s sad truth is that such barbaric episodes will persist without pragmatic solutions to contain vigilantism, leaving scores homeless, robbed of livelihoods and even imprisoned for years as few lawyers gather the courage to fight their case. Those that do can face lethal consequences.

Our past patterns do not offer assurances. The cycle of banal condemnations, arrests for appeasement and token flag marches reeks of the state’s inability to confront this psychosis. Sadly, mobs turn into executioners due to the authorities’ helplessness before these elements. Thus, accountability for instigators is just as important as making corrupt officers answerable. Perpetrating atrocities in the name of religion is unpardonable and allegations without concrete evidence and due process are crimes of power and greed. Bigoted elements are also empowered by slipshod policing and dismal conviction rates. Besides, the blasphemy laws have been misused to persecute minorities, usurp property and settle personal scores. According to rights groups, predominantly Muslims were targeted by the criminal exploitation of these edicts; Mashal Khan and Salmaan Taseer are prominent names that come to mind. All this necessitates a review to avert malpractice. Political commitment to interfaith harmony, neutralising hate speech and religious manipulation, educational reforms focused on acceptance and appreciation for religious communities are a compelling need. Pakistan’s power elite too must break its silence and pledge protection for the persecuted.

Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2024

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