Frenzy of hate

THE paroxysm of violence in Faisalabad’s Jaranwala area on August 16 chillingly demonstrated to the Christian community, indeed to adherents of all minority faiths in the country, that they are defenceless against the rage of the mob. That over 600 people were booked on terrorism charges for their role in the rioting is a belated and anaemic demonstration of the ‘writ of the state’. From all accounts, the state was nowhere to be found when local mosques picked up on blasphemy allegations against two Christian brothers living in the area and proceeded to incite the public. While the rioters ransacked and torched five churches, and attacked several houses belonging to Christians, the local police were silent bystanders. According to the victims, the rampaging mob met no resistance from the cops, forcing many residents to flee their homes in terror. The Punjab government had to call in the Rangers to quell the violence, and some 3,000 police personnel were later deployed from various units.

That no one from the targeted community lost their life is the only note of comfort in this shameful episode. With each such incident, there is an incremental loss of faith in the ability, and indeed the will, of the state to protect the minorities of this country. Consider that the ultra-right elements that relayed a hate-filled narrative on loudspeakers to whip up public sentiment against the Christians in Jaranwala later accompanied the police to help ‘calm’ the situation, and also claimed they were engaged in protecting the community. This is yet another instance of the state indulging regressive pressure groups even when they openly intimidate people. For one, there can be no more sinister way of demonstrating to the victims that they exist on the sufferance of the majority. Secondly, it is also against the law in Punjab to use a sound system to voice “any sectarian or other utterances of controversial nature likely to lead to public disorder”, and yet such incitement to communal violence continues to occur. The political leadership has spoken out strongly against Wednesday’s disturbances and the provincial caretaker government vowed to ‘restore’ all damaged churches and homes. Yesterday, the Islamabad police formed a Minority Protection Unit with 70 personnel to protect minority places of worship and communities. While this is a welcome move, it is but a band-aid on a very deep-seated malaise.

Source: Dawn; August 18, 2023.