It seems that in our land, where the military has held power for so many years, even the dead are not spared that dreaded sound of marching boots. Christians buried at a graveyard at Narang Mandi, located between Lahore and Sheikhupura, have been the latest to encounter it, with the burial place, used by the Christian community since before Partition, recently taken over by a retired military officer who says he has ‘recently discovered’ that the 10-kanal piece of land, in fact, belongs to him. The retired military officer, who is also the uncle of a sitting PML-N MPA has already built a boundary wall, reducing the graveyard to less than a third of its original size, and planted crops on the seized land. His nephew has said he does not back his uncle — but then military men rarely need civilian support. Others have taken similar actions in the past.
The pleas of the Christian community have gone unheeded, though they are fortunate in the fact that an assistant secretary has shown sympathy and urged the police to address the concerns of the ‘marginalised’ minority community. The local SHO of Narang Mandi says that he will look into the matter, but the picture seems a little grim. Since the local Christians spoke to this publication, they say they have received more threats. To add an even uglier twist, the retired military officer says that the Christians are being incited by a person belonging to the Ahmadiya community, who is opposed to him as he “does not treat him like a Muslim”. This seems to be a rather cowardly attempt to involve religious extremists in the matter. The retired officer does not so far appears to have produced proof that the land belongs to him, or even that it was taken away from the Christians in 1983, as he claims. All these issues require investigation.
But it is also necessary to look at the broader dimensions of the affair. Minority communities across the country have been mistreated for too long; their vulnerability has been taken advantage of by people with power. This issue needs to be tackled head on and stopped before further damage is done.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 14th, 2012.
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