Gojra slaughter: Keeping the faith
If nothing else, punishing culprits of the Gojra massacre may prevent the flight of many more minority members.
While the reopening of the Bhutto case has the courts frothing and fulminating and the newspaper headlines screaming, perhaps one should give thought to another case, in which, little progress has been made in bringing justice.
I speak of the Gojra case of 2009, in which hundreds of people were initially charged with murder and violence in a Christian neighbourhood in the town situated in Toba Tek Singh district. Eight Christians, including four women and a child, were burnt alive when attackers set 40 houses and a church ablaze following allegations that members of a local Christian family had desecrated a copy of the Holy Quran.
The perpetrators of this monstrous violence are set to go unpunished. Some of the Christian families who suffered at Gojra have fled the country. Others have been harassed and intimidated into withdrawing their cases. But it is not just these families whose fate hangs in the balance at Gojra, it is, quite substantively, our fate as a nation.
The year 2010 was a particularly bad year for minorities in Pakistan, and regrettably, 2011 was no better. It began with the assassination of Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti. Not only have the police failed to protect minorities, they are often complicit in framing false charges against them.
Given that our military is engaged in fighting a war against religious extremists, one would think that the state would support the military’s fight with strong statements and follow-up actions for minorities and religious freedom. Unfortunately that has not happened. Even as they lament the persecution and ostracism of Muslims in the west, Muslims in Pakistan routinely maltreat religious minorities. Several Ahmadis were killed in various incidents of violence during 2010 while dozens of members of the Hindu community in Balochistan migrated to India because they no longer felt safe living in Pakistan.
At such a time, what could be achieved by pushing forward with the Gojra case and punishing the culprits? Though it might not immediately erase the memory of lawyers showering petals on Salman Taseer’s killer, it would restore a measure of trust in the legal system and stem the spread of extremist thought. At the very least, it may prevent the flight of many more members of religious minorities from Pakistan.