Supporters of the leftist coalition group, the Sindh Progressive Committee, had a run-in with the Barelvi religious-political party Sunni Tehreek at the Hyderabad Press Club on Tuesday, resulting in the police hauling in almost two dozen activists.
The Sunni Tehreek had been protesting the recent spate of violence in Karachi and had wrapped up the event. The Sindh Progressive Committee (SPC), which comprises the Workers Party, Labour Party, Communist Party, Jeay Sindh Mahaz, National Party, Awami Party and Watan Dost Inquilaabi Party, held a protest outside the press club against forced conversions and religious extremism.
The fight reportedly started as the Sunni Tehreek supporters alleged that attendees at the SPC’s event had beaten up a man who had stopped them from chanting slogans that they alleged were against religion.
Sunni Tehreek’s protestors went back to the press club and the fight forced SPC event attendees to hide inside the club as the Sunni Tehreek men threw stones and chanted slogans against them. While some female SPC leaders including Professor Arfana Mallah and Sindh University lecturer and activist Amar Sindhu managed to escape, the police cordoned off the area around the press club and rescued the rest. While they had assumed the police would release them, they were sent to the Cantonment Police Station.
The Sunni Tehreek’s Abid Qadri alleged that the SPC had “attacked our man first” and “used abusive language”. Arfana Mallah said their protest was peaceful but they had been attacked by the Sunni Tehreek, who brought “weapons, stones and sticks” and “forced us not to chant slogans”.
According to the police, 23 men from the Sindh Progressive Committee were arrested. The Sunni Tehreek’s Hyderabad General Secretary Muhammad Yaseen Qadri registered a First Information Report (FIR) under sections 148, 147 and 149. Even though the FIR mentions 60 people, only three are mentioned by name – Comrade Iqbal, Allah Bux and Bakhshal Thallo. The Sunni Tehreek and SPC have both claimed their supporters were injured.
At the SPC’s protest in Karachi, activists demanded that Rinkle Kumari and Asha Kumari, the two women who have drawn attention to the rise of Hindu conversions in Sindh, be handed over to their parents. They chanted slogans against landlords, clerics, army generals and extremists and asked that the government separate religion from matters of the state.
Speakers included Yousuf Masti Khan, Nasir Mansoor, Jan Muhammad Buledi, Usman Baloch, Mehnaz Rehman, Comrade Iqbal and Abdul Khaliq Junejo. “We don’t support a state that promotes religious extremism and stifles the environment for other religions. Every man is free in this country and has the right to move freely and perform his religious rituals,” said Usman Baloch.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 18th, 2012.