All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) Chief, Shahbaz Bhatti should also do something beyond sloganeering. An Exclusive Report on Sangla Hill Church Attack by Sheraz Khurram Khan


Setting ablaze of three churches, two clergymen’s houses, a hostel and St. Anthony’s School in Sangla Hill comes as yet another appalling instance of committing sacrilege of churches by the Muslim residents of the area

The sacrilege of places of worship of religious minorities is done by the mobs without impunity due to backing of myopic Muslim religious leaders, who are always lying in wait to swell the scary list of injustices against the religious minorities under one pretext or another. The recent incident occurred because one Kalu Sunaira allegedly charged one Yousaf Masih with throwing a burning matchstick into Quran Mehal, a religious seminary in Sanglahill on November 12. According to the religious teachers and the students of the madressah (seminary) a copy of Quran caught fire, which was put out by students of the seminary. I wonder what price the poor Christian residents of the area had to pay in case the list of charges against the accused were of graver nature than hurling a burning matchstick; one cannot rule out turning of Sanglahill into a graveyard of local Christians in that case. A country where one can hire a court witness against payment of few hundred rupees and maybe a far little than the said amount in most cases, what does it take for one to sell one`s soul to the devil and level a fallacious charge of blasphemy against someone. Even if the accused has committed blasphemy going berserk of a mad assembly of some 3,000 people carrying axes, clubs, iron bars and kerosene oil bottles could hardly be justified. It is ironic that whether the blasphemous charges against the Christian accused remained to be proved in a court of law, a blasphemy of horrendous magnitude was committed in a broad day light by thousands of people. While the 'hurt' crowds of thousands of Muslims feel they are avenged after staging a shameful show, who is going to bring the perpetrators of sacrilege of Churches and torching of other Catholic institutions to book. If past record of ensuring justice to religious minorities in the wake of incidents of the ilk of November 13 is any guide the Sanglahill tragedy's culprit would also not be arrested. The statements of various government officials, ministers and those who are at the helm of affairs following the Sanglahill tragedy are no more than empty slogans. They were supposed to spring into action and meet out exemplary punishment to the culprits, but perhaps this is a big ask in a country where a law of Jungle prevails for religious minorities. The indifferent attitude of the concerned authorities in ensuring that justice is done to wronged Christian residents of the areas would only go to increase the sense of deprivation among religious minorities. It will sharpen the feelings of alienation and insecurity among them. The quantum of unease, uncertainty and insecurity among people following faith other than Islam in the country is only going to increase. How the best from a person could be expected when he is gripped with a fear of being slapped with a blasphemy charge all the time. How difficult each Christian resident of Sanglahill would have found to go his place of work the day following the reprehensible incident of Nov 13. The haunting scare of being charged with blasphemy would have kept few from going to their jobs for some days; especially those who have Muslim employers. What did the mad crowd achieve then? What wrong had been done by Catholic priest, Fr. Samson Dilawar and Pastor Tajamul, whose houses were also torched by frenzy people. The St. Anthony's school where majority of Muslim girls study and a hostel were also not spared by the mob led by short-sighted and fanatic clerics. Who is going to pay the damage? The grave situation vis-à-vis state of affairs of religious minorities in Pakistan calls for taking of concrete measures aimed at safeguarding minorities' rights in the country. Much touted theory of enlightened moderation by President General Pervez Musharraf has made virtually no difference as for as promotion of culture of tolerance, moderation and peaceful co-existence in the country is concerned. Statements by few Christian parliamentarians including Mushtaq Victor and Akram Masih Gill that minorities are enjoying full freedom and that their rights are being safeguarded are mere eyewash. Does sitting on a treasury benches mean that one should cease to raise the voice for minorities in a country where they are living under a constant shadow of fear and uncertainty and are paying hefty price for following a religion other than Islam. Were they not supposed to stage protest against the heinous incident of torching the churches? Perhaps, the perks and privileges that go with their moving into national assembly have blinded them or seeing the reality they do not see it or do not want to play the role that is expected of them. All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) Chief, Shahbaz Bhatti should also do something beyond sloganeering. It has become practice with Bhatti to address a press conference in the wake of any untoward incident in Pakistan and make hollow promises with the grieved Christian community, which are never fulfilled later. To Bhatti's book, if mere making speeches and presiding over press conferences in the wake of untoward incidents with religious minorities is an effective struggle for rights of minorities in the country then he should step down and better do some other job with which he could do justice. How about minister of religious affairs, Ijaz-ul-Haq`s statements that minorities in Pakistan are enjoying their rights. How could Ijaz justify his statements in the wake of November 13 incident as well as that of forced conversion of three Hindu girls, Reena (21), Usha (19) and Rima (17) on October 18, who are now being kept at a Medressah (seminary) and their parents, Sanu and Champa have been denied access to meet them. The religious minister for minorities affairs is supposed to take practical measures aimed at safeguarding rights of minorities in the country rather than seeking cheap publicity by addressing the press conference and lying that minorities` rights are being taken care of in Pakistan. It is about time that concrete and result-oriented measures aimed at ensuring safeguarding of inalienable rights of religious minorities are taken and emphasis is shifted from words to action. The writer is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad, Pakistan

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