Another lynching

Published June 22, 2024

THE lynch mob has claimed another victim. This time the brutal incident occurred in Swat’s Madyan area on Thursday when a man accused of desecration was burnt alive. Even the fact that the victim was in police custody did not deter the mob from delivering ‘justice’ themselves.

As per reports, the unfortunate individual was visiting the area from Punjab, and was accused of committing an act of desecration. While police had hauled him away, announcements were allegedly made from local mosques urging people to storm the police station where he was being held. The ensuing events are the stuff of pure horror, as the mob torched the police station, burning alive the victim in the process upon the law enforcers’ refusal to hand him over.

This sort of ghastly behaviour has become the norm in Pakistan, as such incidents are occurring with frightening frequency. In most cases, individuals are lynched over accusations of blasphemy, while in others, suspected criminals are beaten to death or shot by mobs. Both varieties of ‘mob justice’ reflect the receding writ of the state.

With regard to the lynching of suspected criminals — these cases are particularly on the rise in Karachi — people take it upon themselves to deliver ‘justice’ because law enforcers have failed to curb street crime. But in several such instances, innocent people have been killed, as victims have falsely been dubbed criminals to settle scores. The use of dubious blasphemy allegations is a more complex phenomenon, where illiteracy, extremism and the weakness of the state have created an explosive situation.

The hapless individual accused of desecration in Swat was not the first to die a painful death because of unproved allegations. Before him there was Priyantha Kumara, Mashal Khan and many others. More recently, a Christian man accused of blasphemy in Sargodha last month and attacked by a mob succumbed to his wounds. Meanwhile, last year rioters ransacked and desecrated several churches in Jaranwala on communal grounds, again based on rumours of blasphemy.

While immediate measures need to be taken in the form of prosecuting those involved in murdering and attacking individuals based on flimsy allegations, the bad news is that a wider, society-wide counter-extremism project may take years, if not decades, to succeed. The rot is deep and there are no quick fixes.

Some steps seem obvious, such as reining in the powerful hatemongers that have been unleashed upon society. This is the state’s primary challenge, should it have any intentions of taking it up. Other measures can include lessons on co-existence and tolerance in schools and seminaries, along with disseminating similar messages from the pulpit.

The chilling alternative to not doing anything — which appears to be the state’s preferred option — is the advent of mob rule.

Published in Dawn, June 22nd, 2024

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