Pakistan: Government must immediately stop communal violence in Sindh

Asia Human Rights
July 29, 2016
Reproduced with Permission
Asian Human Rights Commission

The pretext of blasphemy has once again led to communal violence in Sindh, with one teenager Hindu shot dead and another critically injured. The violence started after a newly converted Muslim drug addict allegedly burned pages of the Quran. Twenty-four hours after the incident and his arrest, agitators in the presence of police and the Rangers started closing shops and blocking the roads.

According to reports, villagers in Mehran Samejo near Daharki city caught a Hindu man desecrating pages of the Quran. It is said that the Hindu suspect, Amar Lal, mentally unstable, is a drug addict who had begun living in a mosque after converting to Islam a few months ago. Local media and activists claim that Mian Mithu, chief of the Dargah Bharchundi Sharif seminary, infamous for the abduction and forceful conversion and disappearance of many Hindu girls and boys, converted Amar Lal and kept him inside the mosque. Amar Lal was arrested by the police, and no agitation was done by the local Muslim population. Mian Mithu, who runs the business of forcibly converting Hindu girls and boys to Islam and use for communal tension-photo from social media

Then suddenly in the late hours of the next day, on July 27, two Hindu boys who were having tea outside a tea stall were shot at by motorbike riders. One of them, 17-year-old Dewan Sateesh Kumar, succumbed to his injuries, while his friend Avinash remains in a critical condition. The teenagers were attacked an hour after members from Hindu and Muslim communities met to discuss the incident of Amar Lal and how to maintain law and order in the area.

The shooting of the two boys sparked three days of agitation and unrest, engulfing more than half a dozen districts of the province, where all shops, markets and transport are closed. Armed masked men are looting and causing mayhem, while law enforcement officials are acting as mere bystanders. The police have failed to take any effective action, leaving the Hindu community to barricade themselves in their homes or migrate to Karachi or Punjab. The provincial and federal government has also failed to take serious notice of the situation; perhaps the government is avenging the killing of Muslims in Kashmir by allowing the bloodbath of Hindus in Sindh.

There are speculations that Mian Mithu's ulterior motive in sparking the current violence is a 100-acre property of a Hindu in Mirpur Mathelo. The cleric's modus operandi to encroach upon a person's property is to falsely accuse them of committing blasphemy. The mob will then take care of the rest.

Sadly, mob justice in Pakistan is neither a new nor a rare phenomenon; the rising incidents of mob lynching have become a daily affair in a country where rule of law is nonexistent. Minority groups are particularly targeted by mobs who vent out their frustration with the system and the state on the slightest pretexts. People are aware that they will not be prosecuted for their actions, encouraging further violence. To date not a single person has been convicted for mob lynching despite CCTV camera footage of those responsible for the lynching being made public.

In 2013, a large mob destroyed hundreds of homes belonging to Christians in Joseph Colony in Lahore after accusing a young Christian man of blasphemy. The accused Christian, Sawan Masih, has been sentenced to death by the courts for committing blasphemy. However, the mob, which destroyed the property and livelihoods of thousands of Christians, has escaped justice.

Pakistan's founding fathers envisaged a free state where each minority group would have the right to profess their faith without fear of persecution. Unfortunately, soon after its formation, religious parties purporting to be the guardians of Islam hijacked the State of Pakistan, and the results are clearly visible. Attacks on minorities and forced conversions are dramatically rising, resulting in mass exodus, particularly of the Hindu community, which constitutes almost 1.8% of the country's population. The majority of Hindus live in Sindh and Baluchistan.

The rising tide of intolerance and extremism is a direct result of the Blasphemy Law, which virtually gives legal cover to all acts of violence in the name of blasphemy. The judge who pronounced a death sentence for Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, has been sent abroad to protect him and his family. No attempts have been made to repeal the laws that have informally institutionalized violence in the society, perhaps because the state fears backlash from religious political parties. Equality of all citizens as guaranteed under Article 25 has been reduced to paper only, with vulnerable factions of the country finding no reprise in the state or its functionaries.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) urges the Sindh and federal governments to take all steps to immediately end the communal violence in the Sindh province before it engulfs the whole country. The government must provide security and safety to the Hindu community and all religious minority communities.

The state must investigate the case of mob vigilance and prosecute the culprits behind the murder of the two Hindu youth. The state must play its part to protect the Hindu community to ensure an egalitarian society free from violence and religious intolerance.