Everyone saw what happened to Christians in Gojra. No one came to their help. Can anyone guarantee the same won’t happen to them?
With these thoughts in their minds, the Christian community of Mehrabadia have shifted to a public park in G-9/4.
They have flatly refused to go back to their neighbourhood despite assurance from the local people and clerics that they will not be harmed. “We do not believe them,” said a man from the community, who added that over two hundred families ran away from the neighbourhood and have pledged not to return there.
He said Gojra and other past incidents rung fresh in people’s minds when they fled their homes in Mehrabadia after a mob converged outside the house of Rimsha Masih, a girl accused of burning pages of a religious text.
“The girl did not commit blasphemy. It was the cleric from a local mosque and some others who made up the issue to uproot us from Mehrabadia,” said another Christian man who did not give his name. He claimed to live close to Rimsha’s house and said he knew exactly what happened.
When asked why the community felt the cleric and the locals wanted the Christians out when they had been invited back to the neighbourhood, the man said they (the locals) did not want Christians to pray at their Church or sing carols and hymns.
“The carols and hymns are part of our prayers. How can we abandon them?” asked the man, who added that the local Muslim community members and clerics have told them not to pray in their church or even to sing or play music at their weddings.
The men, women and children gathered at the park said the church in Mehrabadia was set up in a building they obtained for Rs7,000 per month rent. However, they maintained that no one has damaged or attacked the church building after the Rimsha episode.
The man claimed this was the real motive behind the “locals’ playing up the Rimsha issue” and painting it as a blasphemy case. Narrating what happened, the man said the girl accompanied her mother, a housemaid, to a nearby house where she worked. The landlady asked the little girl to empty a stove of ash in the bin outside the house.
A mischievous local boy spotted her doing that and placed a piece of paper in the ashes, he said. “We do not know what it actually was but a female student from the nearby mosque saw Rimsha and the boy with the ashes and reported it back to her teacher, the mosque’s cleric,” he added.
According to the local of Mehrabadia, he did not know what exactly was reported to the cleric, but over 700 people stormed their neighbourhood on the night of August 16 and said the girl had burned pages of the Quran. “She is not mentally competent. She cannot even recognise copies of the Quran,” said the man.
Daniel Masih, who is also from the Mehrabadia Christian community, demanded that the government provide them with an alternative place to live. He said returning to Mehrabadia was “out of question”.
Earlier, they cut some trees along an open sewage line nearby to set up tents but they were stopped by the police and local administration, who deputed armed guards at the site to prevent further logging or setting up of tents.
While roving the park, The Express Tribune also came across a man who lived near the park, who expressed displeasure over “these people” being present in the park close to his house and their “suspicious activities”, none of which could be elaborated upon.
“We do all the cleaning of roads in the city and pick up garbage from people’s houses, and in return, they cannot even find us a piece of land to live on,” said Daniel Masih, adding, “When will the government wake up…only after someone is killed?”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 30th, 2012.