Crimes in the name of religion are committed all over the world; Pakistan is no exception. Our rulers tell us that religious minorities are treated equally but the opposite is in fact true. In the ‘Land of the Pure’, threats, attacks, targeted killings of people from minority sects/other religions and different forms of religious hate crimes have risen considerably over the years.
A woman, her two minor granddaughters and an unborn child died earlier this week in Gujranwala, Punjab. Several others were injured. They did not die an accidental death. Their houses were set on fire on purpose by an angry mob. Footage from the scene showed people cheering while the houses were burning. These houses belonged to the minority Ahmadiyya community, a sect that has been persecuted over the decades in Pakistan after they were officially declared ‘non-Muslims’. In 2010, two Ahmadi mosques were attacked in Lahore. Around 100 Ahmadis lost their lives in those violent attacks. Shaheed Salmaan Taseer, the then Governor of Punjab, was one of the few high profile leaders to have condoled with the Ahmadiyya community publicly.
After two Ahmadi mosques were attacked in Lahore in 2010, Pakistani civil rights activists protested outside the community’s mosque. Pic/AFP
The ‘justification’ given for the recent atrocious act was an allegedly blasphemous Facebook post by a member of their family. An Ahmadiyya community spokesman denied the allegation of blasphemy and said it was “completely false”. The real reason was simply the fact that these people were Ahmadis. The propaganda against the Ahmadiyya community is so widespread in our country that an attack against the Ahmadis is hardly ever condemned and is instead celebrated. Such is the fear of the Right that no outrage is expressed by our rulers when attacks against the Ahmadis take place. When Mian Nawaz Sharif expressed sadness over those attacks back then and called the Ahmadis his ‘brethren’, he was attacked by the rightwing media and the religious Right for it.
With the exception of some honourable journalists, most of the media in Pakistan has played a negative role when it comes to the minorities, especially the Ahmadis. Before the Gujranwala incident, Maulana Tahir Ashrafi — a religious scholar considered to be a ‘moderate’ mullah by some — made baseless allegations against the Ahmadis on a talk show. Such comments have led to incitement to violence in the past as had happened after Amir Liaquat’s show a few years ago. When a channel can virtually be taken off the air and a media group hounded for criticising the military establishment, why is no action taken against hatemongers spewing venom on our television screens?
It has become quite a norm in Pakistan to accuse someone falsely of committing blasphemy. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), blasphemy cases have risen from one in 2011 to at least 68 last year, and around 100 this year alone.
Whenever one thinks that nothing can shock one any more, something terrible happens again and shakes our faith in humanity. The Gujranwala incident has done that and much more. The joy on the faces of the murderers of these innocent people will haunt our memories forever.
The writer is a Pakistani journalist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org