In an extraordinary turn of events, Section 295-A was used to register a blasphemy case against Muslim men for damaging a Hindu temple during protests on Ishq-e-Rasool Day.
Section 295-A is the lesser known, non Islam-specific clause of the country’s blasphemy law.
The Shri Krishna Bhagwan Mandir, located in the Gulshan-e-Maymar area of Karachi, was vandalised by a mob rallying against the anti-Islam film ‘Innocence of Muslims’. They also ransacked nearby houses where members of the Hindu community reside, and looted jewellery and other valuables.
For its part, the Gulshan-e-Maymar police registered a case using 295-A (‘deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs’) along with other charges of looting, vandalism and theft, against the protesters.
Nine people, including one Maulvi Habibur Rehman and his accomplices, men from nearby residential areas, have been nominated. SHO Jaffar Baloch said, “For me, every believer is the same. The desecration of a temple meant blasphemy to me, and that’s why we inserted that section.”
While no one has been arrested so far because the accused are on the run, security has been beefed up in the Hindu locality.
Scenes of chaos
In the single-room temple, destroyed sculptures of Hindu gods lay scattered. Too devastated to pick up the smashed pieces, its caretaker Maharaj Sunda cried, “I devoted my life to serve the gods, and seeing them like this makes me wish for death.” When the attack took place at 8:30 am, the Maharaj was tending to animals near the temple. Frightened screams from within the temple brought him running back.
When he entered the temple, a scene of chaos greeted him. Six statues of Hindu gods were destroyed. An infuriated mob of 150 people, carrying rocks and sticks, barged in and took away gold adornments from the four-foot statues before smashing them to the ground. Worth more than Rs1 Lakh each, the sculptures were brought from India when the temple was made in 2000.
“It was terrible. Everyone was running to save their lives. Some like me got attacked by stones when we tried to stop them,” said one man named Govinda, pushing his hair back to show a wound on his forehead. The rioters then moved onto their holy books. Showing torn pages of Geeta, the Maharaj’s eyes welled up with tears. “They ripped pages from the old Geeta, and took away the new one.” A broken piece of Radha’s face lay on the floor. A picture of well-known philanthropist Ruth Pfau, who supported an NGO that built the temple, was also torn.
The protesters, who left no stone unturned, then entered nearby houses, snatching gold earrings from newly-married Lakshmi and mangal sutars from others. Another Pathani displayed a scar on her ear where men had ripped out her only gold possession, a single earring. Hurling stones at houses, they also injured a woman who was washing clothes.
The locals had no idea what the protestors were rallying about before they entered the area. All they knew that they were angry with ‘the Americans’. “We are not Americans. We have no link with them. Why were we attacked?” said a resident. This was not the first such incident in the area.
The mob finally ran away when Sikh men in the locality reached the spot with their traditional daggers, kirpans. Since the incident, no prayers have been held at the temple. Men have stopped going to work. Children are afraid to play outside.
“We are Pakistanis. We have never been to India. Let us live here,” said the Maharaj.
Long way to go
Welcoming the move by the local police, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Chairperson Zohra Yusuf added, however, that she had never heard of a blasphemy case registered against Muslims for damaging a house of worship.“When Ahmadi houses of worship are attacked, blasphemy sections are not inserted. Also, minorities are fearful to lodge complaints.”
Her concern is lent credence by the fact that four churches in the city have been attacked in 2012, but no FIR against their desecration has been registered. HRCP council member Asad Iqbal Butt, who visited the temple, called it the responsibility of the government to rebuild the temple. “We also demand a boundary wall for the Hindus.” Butt said he called up various Hindu panchayats for help, but no one responded. “Had it been a rich Hindu community, the panchayats would have reacted otherwise,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 30th, 2012.