LAHORE: Following the recent arrest of the prayer leader of Islamabad’s Ameenia Mosque on charges of fabricating the evidence that he had used to accuse a 14-year old Christian girl, Rimsha Masih, of blasphemy, the ever-deteriorating situation for religious minorities due to growing religious intolerance in the country stands underscored for the West at least.
The mosque Imam was apprehended after an eye-witness Hafiz Zubair testified against him, revealing that he saw the prayer leader Khalid Jadoon adding additional pages of the Quran to the pile of the burnt pages and planting them in Rimsha Masih’s bag with the aim to implicate her in a blasphemy case.
Rimsha could have faced a death penalty for allegedly desecrating the Quran, but the witness Hafiz Zubair has not only saved her in all probability, but has also helped the country save its blushes amongst the comity of nations.
Zubair’s testimony has proved that justice is not totally non-existent in Pakistan, besides giving the world a precedent to cite that religious dogmatism has not totally engulfed the whole society. The recent cases of alleged discrimination against the Pakistani Hindus have also adversely affected the country’s image, giving a golden chance to the whole of West and other international human rights groups again to point fingers at Pakistan that the country had failed to protect the rights of minorities.
In a recent letter to President Asif Zardari, a group of six US senators have also expressed grave concern over the condition of the Ahmadi community in Pakistan, asserting that they also continued to experience acts of murder, violence and discrimination, as did Shia Muslims.Meanwhile, France has also urged the Pakistani authorities to release the young Rimsha.
A research conducted by “The News International” reveals that although violence against Christians, Ahmadis and Hindus has not been a very regular feature in Pakistan, as it has been the case with Shia Muslims, yet various incidents of terrorism have rattled these religious minorities badly since 1998.
In 1998, a Christian Ayub Masih was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death. Ayub was accused by a neighbour of stating that he supported British writer Salman Rushdie, author of “The Satanic Verses.”
The lower court upheld Ayub’s conviction. However, his lawyer was able to prove before the Pakistan Supreme Court that the accuser had used the conviction to force Masih’s family off their land and then acquired control of the property. Masih was resultantly released.
Here follow some other major incidents targeting the Christians, Ahmadis, Hindus, Sikhs, foreign embassies/consulates, diplomats, missionaries, journalists and places of worship of religious minorities in Pakistan since the September 11, 2011 attacks on the United States:
On October 28, 2001, an attack on a Protestant church in Bahawalpur had resulted in 16 deaths. The casualties were all Christian worshippers except a cop.
This was the worst-ever attack on Pakistani Christians till that time.
On February 22, 2002, an American journalist Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and murdered in Karachi. This incident had no link with religious narrow mindedness.
On March 17 the same year, an attack on a Protestant church in Islamabad’s Diplomatic Enclave killed five, including a US diplomat’s wife and daughter.
On May 8, a bomb in Karachi killed 11 Frenchmen and three Pakistanis near the Sheraton Hotel, though this incident cannot be linked to religious bigotry.
On June 14, a car bomb exploded near the US Consulate in Karachi, killing 12. The outer wall of the consulate was blown apart. This, of course, was a backlash of the US-led war on terror.
On August 9, three nurses—and an attacker—were killed in an attack on a church in Taxila’s Christian Hospital.
In August 2002, gunmen stormed a Christian missionary school for foreigners in Islamabad, killing six.
On September 25, a Christian welfare organisation “Peace and Justice Institute” was attacked in Karachi. The attackers tied seven office workers to their chairs before shooting each in the head.
On December 25, assailants threw a grenade at a Presbyterian church near Sialkot, killing three young girls on Christmas.
On February 28, 2003, two cops were shot dead outside the United States Consulate in Karachi.
On October 7, 2005, eight Ahmadis were killed inside a Mandi Bahauddin mosque.
In November 2005, Roman Catholic, Salvation Army and United Presbyterian churches were attacked at Sangla Hill (near Lahore). The attack was over allegations of violation of blasphemy laws by a local Christian, Yousaf Masih.
On March 2, 2006, a car bomb attack near the US Consulate in Karachi killed four people including a US diplomat, a day before President George Bush was to reach Pakistan.
On June 5, 2006, a Pakistani Christian, Nasir Ashraf, was working near Lahore when he drank water from a public facility. He was assaulted by the locals for his ‘sin.’ A mob developed and thrashed Ashraf.
In August 2007, a Christian missionary couple, Reverend Arif and Kathleen Khan, were gunned down in Islamabad.
On March 15, 2008, a bomb was hurled at a wall of an Islamabad restaurant. It killed a Turkish woman. Four of the 12 people wounded in the bombing were reportedly FBI agents.
On June 2, 2008, the Danish embassy in Islamabad was attacked with a car bomb, killing six people. A post purportedly from al-Qaeda appeared on the Internet a day after the attack and mentioned the publication of “insulting drawings” by a Danish newspaper and its refusal to “apologise for publishing them.”
In August 2009, six Christians were burnt alive and a church set ablaze in Gojra for allegedly desecrating the Quran.
On February 22, 2010, two Sikhs were kidnapped in the tribal belt. They were later beheaded by their abductors.
On May 28, 2010, two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore’s Garhi Shahu and Model Town localities were attacked, killing around 100 people.
On September 3, 2010, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside an Ahmadi mosque in Mardan, killing himself and an Ahmadi.
On November 8, 2010, a Christian woman, Aasia Noreen, was given death by court for being blasphemous. The accusation stemmed from a 2009 incident in which she reportedly entered into an argument after offering water to thirsty Muslim farmers, who accused her of blasphemy.
Aasia was visited in jail by the then Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, who himself was shot dead in January 2011 by his own guard for supporting the woman. Governor Taseer had remarked: “Frankly, it’s up to God to decide whether I’m a Muslim or not, and not some illiterate mullah to decide I’m a Muslim or not.”
On March 2, 2011, Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian minister in the Pakistan government was mowed down for opposing the blasphemy law.
According to recent National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) statistics, over 2.9 million followers of seven different faiths, besides Islam, live in Pakistan and comprise more than three per cent of all Pakistanis having national identity cards.
The break-up of religious minorities in Pakistan shows that the Hindu community is the largest with 1.4 million followers. Christians are second on this list with 1.27 million followers.
Then, there are 125,681 Ahmadis or Qadiyanis, over 33,000 Baha’is, 6,146 Sikhs and over 4,000 Zoroastrians or Parsis.
Not fewer than 1,500 Pakistani citizens have classified themselves as Buddhists.
Now, let us compare this regretful state of affairs in Pakistan with the neighbouring India.
India, the birthplace of four major religions; Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, has also witnessed a few major religious riots since 1947.
These include the February 1983 violence in Assam, where thousands of Muslims were killed on the suspicion that they were illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. The 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi, following the assassination of Premier Indira Gandhi, had seen 2,700 Sikhs losing lives.
To be continued