Over the past one year, attacks on religious minorities in Pakistan have multiplied tenfold. Members of these communities, whether Muslim (Shias and Ahmadis) or those belonging to other religious denominations (Hindus, Sikhs, and Christians), have been persecuted and betrayed.
Hardliners have exploited the country’s arcane and severe blasphemy law, striking fear into the hearts of minorities. Dissidents have been murdered in cold blood and many a graveyard has been filled with the corpses of innocent Pakistanis.
On Saturday, mobs patronised and instigated by the PML-N Government in the Punjab Province attacked, ransacked and robbed houses in Lahore’s Joseph Colony. Local Christian leaders claimed they had received threats to vacate the area weeks before the incident took place. They even believed the police was complicit in letting the mob raze and vandalise Christian houses in the colony.
Locals also claimed that the arsonists forged a conspiracy against Christian man Saawan Masih and falsely accused him of blasphemy to drive Christians out of Joseph’s Colony. At least 170 out of 250 houses were torched in the area.
Most Christians have suffered losses worth lakhs of rupees, and many have lost all their savings. Two churches and more than a hundred Bibles were burnt in the attack. They are now demanding compensation from a Provincial Government that has done little to stop attacks on the community.
“Burn us too! Did they leave us alive to see all this?” wailed a Christian woman, her hands repeatedly hitting her head.
Minorities in Pakistan have been persecuted right since its independence in 1947.
In 2009, at least seven Christians were burnt alive in Gojra over the alleged desecration of the Kuran. Last year, a 14-year-old Christian girl named Rimsha Masih was accused of allegedly desecrating the Kuran, detained in prison, and finally released after she was found to be mentally impaired.
Hindus and Sikhs too, have been widely persecuted across Pakistan and have become victims of forced conversions by extremist groups. In January this year, a 40-year-old Sikh trader was kidnapped, beheaded and mutilated by belligerent Islamist groups in Khyber Agency.
Temples and gurudwaras, even in industrial cities like Karachi have been bulldozed to the ground, and the Government hasn’t expressed even the slightest dismay over this tragic occurrence.
Only a month ago, Hazara Shias in the restive Balochistan Province witnessed one of the gravest crimes against their community. Plagued by secessionist movements right since the nation’s birth, the Balochistan region has become a hotbed of political turmoil, and houses thousands of Shias who have been caught in the crossfire between militants, extremists and a warring Army.
Blasphemy towards Islam warrants death in Pakistan. Reformist lawmakers who have flown too close to the sun have been slain by radicals at the behest of clerics who defend Pakistan’s hardline blasphemy laws. Two such Pakistani leaders were killed last year.
The time isn’t far where along with an economic and security crises, Pakistan will witness an unprecedented ethno-religious explosion, the seeds of which have already been sown. The seriousness of crimes against religious minorities in Pakistan cannot be ignored anymore, but it also points to a greater conundrum. Pakistan’s problems are far from over.