News from our friend
Shamiel of Lahore,
The Christian enclave called Joseph Colony.
Sawan was booked under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, though it appeared that he had been falsely accused. Police were forced to register a case to placate the mob, a local police official said at the time.
a little more than a year after the mob violence in Joseph Colony,
a court sentenced Sawan to death.
Shortly after his arrest and detention in an undisclosed location, a mob of almost 3,000 people quickly descended on Joseph Colony – led by a barber named Shafiq Ahmed (a close friend of Sawan affectionately known as Bubby) – in search of the alleged blasphemer.
The mob pelted Sawan’s home with rocks before setting it on fire, and then they attacked other homes. Residents, including numerous women and children, abandoned their homes and possessions and fled for their lives. By the time the mob finished its ruthless work, two churches and nearly 200 homes were reduced to ashes.
Shamiel in a fire gutted house of Joseph Colony.
Ashes clung to my clothing. Women, young girls and children sat in the streets mourning their loss – they lost everything from their life savings and homes to all of their everyday utensils, vehicles, everything.
Also among the ruins lay the dreams of parents for their young daughters as looters made off with dowries of jewelry and money saved over many years.
Consumed with rage over alleged disrespect for the Prophet Muhammad, the mob desecrated the sanctity of two Christian churches, burned Bibles and tore up religious books.
The victimised Catholics of Joseph Colony: homeless, in tents.
An entire neighborhood of Pakistan’s second-largest city and cultural hub – full of people considered to be educated and civilized – was reduced largely to rubble in an act of mob violence that went beyond all imagination.
It reminded me of a previous and deadlier incident in 2009 in Gojra in Punjab province, when eight Christians – including women and children – were burned alive after being accused of blasphemy.
There is consensus among civil society and academics that if strict action had been taken at that time, then nobody would have dared repeat such unjust attacks. Instead, these attacks occur repeatedly and with impunity.
Sawan’s sister, Bushra, says her brother is innocent, and his sister-in-law Kiran said Imran Bashir – the man who accused him of blasphemy – was a trusted friend with whom she had never seen Sawan argue.
A federal minister speaking to the media after the attack in 2009 blamed the government in the Punjab, saying that all major incidents against minorities took place there. He further demanded the immediate arrest of all those involved in the killings and offered the services of Pakistani rangers to protect churches in the province.
Addressing a protest rally by Christians outside the Punjab Assembly building, the Minister said it was the need of the hour to be united against the common enemy of Muslims and Christians. Citing incidents in Gojra and Sialkot, he alleged that the Punjab government had “failed to protect minorities” and that “minorities are faithful to the country, and their services for the country especially in the fields of health and education could not be neglected”.
The Catholic youth of CYMD,
from their own poor wages,
bought and distributed plastic items for every day use
among the homeless of Joseph Colony, Lahore.
During a protest after the attack on Joseph Colony, one of the attendees named Johnson said: “We have no way but to protest in the present scenario because we feel insecure after the burning of our homes in Joseph Colony”. Another protester accused police of provoking the mob into violence.
I believe that the repeated attacks on Christians in Pakistan convince us that we are not equally treated or protected, and that our future is in danger. We face discrimination in the workplace and are among the most vulnerable and lowest paid workers.
Our women and children are not safe, and we are forced to live among inhuman people and within an intolerant society. And yet, we Christians have always played a positive role in the development of Pakistan and in all other sectors of life. We played a vital role in making Pakistan a separate and independent homeland.
But the burning of Joseph Colony – and all previous attacks – has damaged the basic ideology of Pakistan, and the failure to punish perpetrators of violence against minority groups has again left the Christian community in perpetual fear.
As violence continues to increase, Christians have to come up with better strategies and need rules and laws to secure their dignified survival in Pakistan. The government needs to look into more effectively providing this security. They need to protect minorities and afford them proper rights.
So far, they have failed to do so. Despite aggressive but peaceful protests in the wake of the Joseph Colony attack, and the closure of religious schools across the country, appeals, letters and petitions to eliminate the country’s controversial blasphemy laws, the government paid no attention, and it continues to ignore the needs of the Christian community and refuses to grant it the equality and protection that it so desperately needs.