Seventy years into partition, persecution of minorities remains a pressing issue in Pakistan. Instead of moving gradually towards extinction, the spectre of minority oppression has been exacerbating thanks to the episodic nature of our minds which has been developed due to widespread illiteracy, ignorance and religious fundamentalism. The most conspicuous consequence of this reactionary state of mind is arbitrary deliverance of justice which can be seen in the form of mob violence, communal based punishments, forced conversions, heinous rituals – targeted against minority groups, especially their women – and so on. This grim picture necessitates the protection of minority rights project with utmost caution and persistence, as any miscalculation from flag bearers of minority rights – who are already scant in number – can lead them to where they started from – complacency.
During last couple of weeks, two such events transpired which might have been propagated with an intention to highlight minority oppression but ended up trivialising the noble cause. In last week of August, a post popped up everywhere on social media telling a story of a slain Christian boy from Burewala, Punjab. The story went like this: the boy, 17, went to the MC Model Boys High School, Burewala, district Vihari, to attend first lecture of grade-Nine. He wasn’t allowed to sit on front rows and his teacher called him a ‘Churra’, a derogatory term – meaning sweeper – most Pakistanis use for Christians involved in menial jobs, in front of the whole class. This encouraged other students to bully Shamroon, the Christian boy. Despondent, the 17-year-old decided not to go to the school as he was stretched to the limits by his class mates. His parents, however, convinced him to go back to where he can get himself equipped with the cognitive tools to counter religious bigotry: school. So he did, made an unforgivable mistake of touching the glass of ‘Muslim’ students and got beaten to death by this already charged up fellows who were also being patronised by their teachers.
One day before Eid al-Azha, on Friday, a video went viral on Facebook, alleging that: “sacrificial camels have been deliberately tied up by the owners to hurt the local Hindus’ sentiments.” The video showed some camels tied up apparently in a temple’s courtyard, with Hindu deities visible in the background. It clearly gave an impression that the local Muslim community was treating their Hindu neighbours with highhandedness and trying to subvert rituals which were supposed to be performed at the temple, while also polluting the sacred space with animal waste. The online furore created after the video forced the Sindh government to register a case against the owner of the animals.
Both aforementioned stories were spurious. Unfortunately, both went viral before any ground facts could be ascertained. Shamroon was killed not because of communal hatred, but as a result of a duel with another boy, who fatally kicked Shamroon in the abdomen.
Similarly, the courtyard where animals were tied was not part of the temple, neither was there any Hindu-Muslim discord. Instead, it was a heartening yet rare manifestation of inter-religious harmony, as the leader of the local Hindu community had allowed the camel owner to tie his animals in the area adjacent to the temple because of uninterrupted downpour in Karachi and which could maim the sacrificial animal in open air setting. Thanks to Jibran Nasir, the only person who visited the site and confirmed that there was no animosity between two communities. Instead, the viral video created suspicion in the erstwhile ideal relationship between Hindu and Muslim groups of Moria Khan Goth area.
Such false news, when refuted by a reliable source, solidifies the majority’s state of denial that no oppression against minorities exists in their respective polities. While giving minorities their due rights may still be a pipedream, evoking their sentiments against the majority will never serve the purpose either. This is a gross miscalculation which is failing the cause of oppressed people around the globe. Palestinians are exhorted to hate the state of Israel by their leaders. Kashmiri youth is encouraged to take up arms against the state. Afghan children are trained to kill the invaders from the outset. Thus, when the strategy of the oppressed is to hate – and only hate – the perceived enemy, it starts to perpetuate their oppression, to the point where no solution to the issue is left.
Minority oppression in Pakistan is too delicate an issue to be left to the unabated social media frenzy. Government, the civil society and the media must take the cause into their responsible hands. The media must report from the model communities like that of Moria Khan Goth to convey the message that spaces still exist in Pakistan where people from different ethnicities and religions live side by side and share common community centres. Government must ensure that the rule of law prevails in every nook and canny of the country (the primary, and only, duty of any government). And the civil society must continue to create awareness against communalism while making sure that where there is persecution against minorities, there is a mechanism to deal with it.