The police arrested a teacher and the owner of a high school on blasphemy charges on Wednesday evening, following a day of clashes with enraged protesters outside the school in Karim Park.
An FIR was registered against the Farooqi Girls High School administration, owner and principal Asim Farooqi, and teacher Irfa Ahmed under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code on the complaint of Abdullah Saqib, the vice principal of Jamia Kareemia Sadidia, a religious school in the same area.
City Division SP (Operations) Multan Khan said that the teacher and owner had been taken into custody.
The blasphemy charges stem from comments allegedly written by Iftikhar in a class 6 student’s notebook while checking a homework assignment to translate a passage about the Holy Quran and the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) from English to Urdu. Photocopies of the offending page were being handed out at the protest.
The Farooqi Girls High School, which was set up in 1978 and has two other branches, has a good academic record, with one of its students coming second in the humanities group in the last set of matriculation results announced by the Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education.
According to police and eyewitnesses, crowds also chanted slogans outside the other two school branches on Yaseen Road and at Munshi Ladda on Wednesday morning, but soon dispersed.
The trouble at the school began when protesters chanting slogans started marching towards it following a community meeting on Tuesday night. SP Khan said that police had been dispatched to the school on Tuesday night upon reports of unrest. He said that 200 police officials had been deployed there on Wednesday morning.
Saqib, the complainant in the case, said that local clerics and residents had met early on Tuesday morning and decided to pursue the case legally in order to quell the unrest. “We tried to stop the violent protesters, because they bring a bad name to our religion,” he said.
But before the FIR was lodged, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the school confronted the police guards, forcing them to take refuge in nearby houses. The protesters took charge of the street on which the school is located, burnt its furniture and computers and spray-painted “Gustakh-i-Rasool” on the walls. A car parked in the courtyard was destroyed.
The MNA for the area, Bilal Yasin of the PML-N, visited the scene and urged the protesters not to take the law into their hands.
Yasmeen Rehmat Ali, a resident of the area, said the protests began at around 1am on Tuesday night. “The police was there on the spot but there wasn’t much they could do since the mob was very charged,” she said.
The father of one of the students at the school said the alleged blasphemous incident had happened before Eid.
The police were eventually able to take back control of the building while senior officials met with locals to reach peace. “Until things normalise in the area, we will continue to monitor and provide security to the area,” SP Khan said.
Rescue 1122 District Emergency Officer Dr Ahmed Raza said that two fire vehicles and two ambulances had been dispatched to the area. He said the protesters had made it difficult for the fire fighters to get to the scene, but they had managed to do their job of preventing the fire from spreading. He said that no one was reported to have been injured.
‘He’s a bad man’
Many of the protesters at the scene didn’t appear to know exactly what the protests were about. “He [the school owner] is a bad man. His school should be destroyed,” said a nine-year-old child, though he said he didn’t know what offence the owner had committed.
“He is a very indecent person. He should be punished for doing this. He charges high fees and doesn’t listen to complaints,” said a protester who identified himself as Muhammad Abdullah.
Some 100 members of the Islami Jamiat Talaba also protested outside the school. IJT’s Railway Road College Nazim Sheikh Abid Javed and Civil Lines College Nazim Rohail Saif Khan tried to calm the protesters, saying they had toured the school with the police and found nothing blasphemous inside the premises.
All Pakistan Private Schools Management Association President Adeeb Jawdani said that Farooqi was an active and respected member of the association. “His school is one of the prominent schools in the city. This may be a conspiracy against him,” he said.
National Commission of Peace and Justice (NCJP) Chief Executive Peter Jacob said that it had become too easy to accuse someone of blasphemy and the police and the state must ensure that those making false allegations are prosecuted. “Until those who accuse others falsely and take the law into their own hands are brought to book, such incidents cannot be prevented,” he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 1st, 2012.