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Gojra attack survivor recounts horror

Published Aug 04, 2009 12:00am

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House of a Christian family destroyed by an angry mob in Gojra. - Photo by AP

'The first man who was shot on his forehead was my father. He died on the spot. They had clearly targeted him with a telescope,' recalls Minhas Hameed, whose 75-year-old father was the first victim of the Gojra attack. There were others that followed - all from his family.

The attack on the Christian colony in Gojra, district Toba Tek Singh, on Saturday evening left seven people dead. All were members of Hameed's family. His father was killed on Saturday morning, hours before the masked attackers, allegedly a group from Jhang, began torching the homes of Christians.

Residents of the colony say they heard gunshots on Saturday morning, but insist that local residents of Gojra were not armed and that guns only entered the picture when the masked men arrived at the colony on Saturday evening. At that time, other members of Hameed's family were burnt alive as their house was set on fire along with 59 other houses in the colony.

Hameed rushed his father to the hospital after the first gun shot, only to find that more dead bodies awaited him on his return home. 'I survived because I was with my father in the hospital. When I returned, I saw my house burning and could do nothing to save my brother, two sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews. They were all burnt to death,' recalled Hameed in a telephone interview with Dawn.com.

After losing seven members of his family in a single day, Hameed says he does not consider himself lucky to have escaped the attack. 'I have lost more than half of my family, my house - everything.' Hameed lived in a joint family with his parents and brother. They were associated with the interior decoration business in Gojra and numbered 12 in all.

According to Hameed, violence escalated on Saturday evening after residents of the Christian colony, comprising 350 households, heard the news of a mob heading towards their village. However, none of the villagers took the news seriously.

'We heard that a group was out to attack Christians in our colony over some incident of the desecration of the Holy Quran in the nearby village. Such allegations have been levelled against us in the past as well, and we thought the news about the mob was a rumour and even if something does happen, the Rangers will take care of it as they had been deployed in the area.' Sadly, Hameed was proven wrong.

'The faces of the men were covered and they claimed to be US agents. Initially, they held a few a children hostage threatening to kill them. Then they began chanting slogans against the Punjabi Christian community, calling us names and swearing at us in front of children.'

Later, the attackers began pelting stones at the residents from the railway tracks on the opposite side of the colony. The residents retaliated for a while, but could not continue for long as the enraged mob comprised hundreds of people.

It was only when the situation went out of control that the police started firing tear gas at the mob. 'But as luck would have it, strong winds were blowing in our direction that day as a result of which our eyes began to water.'

Although members of the minority community pleaded the police to do more, they were refused help. '[The police] said the area did not fall in their jurisdiction and claimed that the Rangers would take care of us. But no state force came to our rescue. The attackers then started heading towards our homes.'

It was at this point that the remaining six members of Hameed's family, fearing for their lives, locked themselves in a room. As the attackers set houses on fire, many families in the neighbourhood vacated their houses and ran for their lives. But Hameed's brother, sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews were not as lucky.

'It was all too chaotic. After my father was wounded, I could not think of anything but medical help and rushed him to the hospital. Nobody was around to help me then because every one wanted to be with their families,' said Hameed, who is still in a state of shock.

'After my father was wounded, my family must have feared the mob would attack them too and chose to stay together in one room.' Little did they know they were destined for a worse fate.

Hameed says he is still trying to recover, but images of his house in flames, along with others in the neighbourhood, have been haunting him.

It is too early to say whether the attack on Hameed's family was personal. They were a well-established family and quite respected in their neighbourhood. This attack is on the entire community of Christians, not just one family,' says Shabir Ahmad, a Labour Party leader in Gojra. 'Further investigation will prove what triggered the attack.


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