There is no member of any religious minority in Pakistan that can sleep safe in their beds. The virulent intolerance displayed against minorities has left two groups particularly vulnerable to attack and discrimination — Christians and the Ahmadis. The latter have the added disadvantage of discriminatory practices being institutionalised constitutionally. Their places of worship are attacked, the buses they commute to work on boarded by terrorists who go on to commit mass murder, and their homes and businesses destroyed. The latest such incident occurred in Jhelum on November 20 and continued on the following day.
The spark that ignited the inferno was familiar — an unsubstantiated allegation that a page of the Holy Quran had been desecrated by an Ahmadi, reportedly the security in charge at a chipboard factory, also owned by an Ahmadi. This was quickly taken up by clerics in the vicinity, a mob gathered and within minutes mayhem ensued. Eventually the local administration had to concede that the situation was beyond its control and the Rangers were called to restore order. The factory was mostly destroyed, as were houses on the same site and members of the Ahmadi community driven from their homes with little prospect of an early return. There have been the usual calls for an investigation and the Punjab chief minister has called the usual “high level meeting” that will achieve precisely nothing. None of those who incited the incident will be arrested — or if they are, will be swiftly released. There will be no prosecutions for criminal damage or compensation for lost livelihoods and property.
Such incidents are depressingly regular and all have the same outcomes — the minority groups that are the targets receive no redress, they remain unprotected and unknown numbers of them flee the country where possible. Where investigations are conducted, they invariably find that the blasphemous allegations were groundless and often of malicious intent. The state colludes at this rolling travesty. And the rest of the world looks askance at the barbarism that lurks just beneath the surface. It is time the authorities took note of the recent observations made by the Supreme Court while upholding the sentence awarded to Mumtaz Qadri — that the citizenry cannot take the law into its own hands and pronounce judgments as to whether blasphemy was committed or not.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 24th, 2015.
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