|Standing before the Charred Bodies|
Two years ago on that fateful day, I reached Gojra while the ambers were still glowing. The town had been tense after the Korian incident. Contingents of Police had been positioned. A local land grabber with political connections had decided to exploit religious sentiments in the backdrop of Korian and ransack a Christian colony in order to grab the land. In the early hours of the morning, the arson and carnage began. Nine people including women and children were burnt alive. The hordes ransacked homes, set alight furniture, desecrated churches and burnt schools that included Islamiyat books. The police standing as bystander moved in only after the hordes had retreated in an organised manner. Organised rumour management using loudspeakers angered Muslims. The stage was set for a communal riot.
The Federal Minister for Minority Affairs had camped himself in the local church but found it difficult to convince the provincial and district administration to act decisively. Next evening, on intervention of agencies the process of registering an FIR began. It was a half baked document providing deliberate loop holes for a counter FIR. As a result, more Christians than criminals were rounded up by police, tortured and threatened. Ultimately, much of the compensation money ended in the pockets of the custodians of law. Mindful of their vote banks, no political party barring MQM and PTI made any attempts to bridge an artificially created divide.
Punjab, for the past many years continues to witness such incidents with alacrity. The entire trail from Jhang to Gojra, Mian Channu and Shantinagar is littered with similar incidents of religiously fanned hatred spearheaded by banned militant outfits. There is always a familiar pattern to these crimes; police inaction or atrocity, involvement of dons related to land grabbing, petty personal disputes, violence, delayed police reaction and fence mending. The story does not end here. Compensations lead to police extortions and the affected remain doomed. I often ask myself, why such crimes and pattern endemic to Punjab? Is Punjab Government vulnerable to pushes and pulls that haunt it? Is it the result of over centralisation? Or is it a policy of appeasement before the militants and the religious right that let events take the course. It is perhaps a bit of all? In most cases, the underlying motive invariably turns out to be personal rather than spiritual.
The case of Robert Masih was no different. Loud speakers were used to fan religious hatred. He was tortured to death in the Police Station in Sambrial. The boy was refused burial in his home town. Amidst the scare created by looming communalism, no one was apprehended or punished.
This dispensation of ‘justice in rage’ is not limited to Non Muslims. The drama repeated itself in Sialkot when two young boys of a respectable family were lynched to death under the supervision of Police. Political undercurrents soon became apparent and the gory drama recorded ‘on camera’ was soon forgotten. Nor can we forget the attack on a peaceful Eid E Milad procession in Faisalabad.
A similar act of militancy was to repeat itself in Faisalabad. Two Christian brothers were gunned down in broad daylight in the court premises for alleged blasphemy. The court was to later acquit both posthumously while the local authorities never investigated the actual culprits.
A year back, the Chapel of Gordon College Rawalpindi was attacked and occupied by armed gunmen. Timely action by the local police and civil society had the premises vacated. However, the land grabbers with active backing of local political bigwigs reoccupied the premises with false property papers. The Federal Minister Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti finally managed to prove that the church was Auqaf property. During the entire process, the Punjab Government remained inactive tantamount to criminal negligence.
Aasia Bibi’s case resulted in the murder of the Punjab Governor Salman Taseer. Most religious leaders refused to condemn the incident while lawyers were seen showering petals on the assassin. In the same sequel, Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti, the Federal Minister for Minorities was gunned down brutally in Islamabad.
Very recently scores of Christians in Gujranwala were detained by police under protective custody for alleged blasphemy. They were tortured and extorted. The allegations proved false and malafide when the intelligence agencies discovered that three Muslims with eyes on women and properties had trumped up false evidence against the Christians. The criminals confessed to the crime and the FIR was withdrawn. The irony is, that the same people who were demanding public justice, lynching and death against alleged Christian blasphemers readily forgave those who had actually committed the offence.
Such atrocities bring a very bad name to Pakistan. They also add to the misery of people who have an unblemished record of patriotism and sacrifice to the country and who distinguish themselves wherever justice, fair play and chivalry are essential. It also forces fringe elements of the society to recluse themselves into ghettos that become both a refuge and easily identifiable targets.
It is high time to re-evaluate why the road map that All India Muslim League had followed from Aligarh to creation of Pakistan is in contrast to the political landscape of what are now Muslim Leagues; an anti thesis of the notion adopted by the founding fathers. Political elites, contrary to the spirit, have time and again placated the religious right to marginalise and exclude Non Muslim Pakistanis and push them to the fringes.
It appears that nothing will improve. To compound the situation, 18th amendment will be debated for the many compromises it made on the basic complexion of the constitution. One amongst them is the devolution of the Minority Affairs to the provinces, a subject prominent in the Lahore and Objective Resolutions. This amendment will hit hard on the lucrative Evacuee properties opening flood gates to land grabbers and acts of violence. With no federal oversight, the provinces will do as they have done in the past.
Brigadier Samson Simon Sharaf is a retired officer of Pakistan Army and a Political Economist.
1 August 2011
The Daily NATION for which I am a columnist, declined to publish this explicit OPED