RAHIM YAR KHAN: Fear still rules the Bhong area of District Rahim Yar Khan. A local Hindu, who works as a cloth seller in Bhong, talking to Journalism Pakistan, says that the Hindu community lives in fear of being harmed anytime by the Muslim majority, adding that they are safe because of the deployment of Rangers and the Police. “As soon as the Law Enforcement Agencies (LAEs) leave the locality, the Muslim majority will attack us; we have received indirect messages,” he added.
He further said that the local majority blames them that a judicial court sentenced one of their relatives under the pressure of the minority, adding that this excuse is enough to subject Hindus to any revengeful act.
“We did nothing against them. They had damaged a temple and they were arrested by the area police. We are not a complainant rather the State is a complainant to establish its writ,” he said. He accused that whenever managers and employees of local landlords who include, Raees Munir, Raees Nabeeland, and Raees Jahangir, needed money, they created religious disturbance so that Hindus could pay them.
“We are vulnerable and don’t have any option except to pay them. They repeat such incidents after an interval of two to three years with different methods,” he accused.
Another local Hindu, who works as a Jeweler in the area, said that on Muharram 9th and 10th they were in fear. Twenty families had left their homes during these two days and it was feared that the Muslim majority could attack them.
He told Journalism Pakistan that the local majority of Muslims could not bear or see the flourishing businesses of the Hindu community, adding that most of the time, the Hindu business community receives calls of extortion from hardened criminals of Katcha areas. “We are thinking of shifting to some other places but no place is safe for the minority community in Pakistan. We are sons of soils like others. Why are we unsafe in our motherland,” he questioned.
In May 2022, an Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) sentenced at least 22 accused to five years of imprisonment each for allegedly attacking Ganesh Mandir in 2021, a Hindu temple in Rahim Yar Khan.
In his judgment, Justice Nasir Hussain, the ATC judge, had acquitted as many as 62 other accused persons of the charges, giving them the benefit of doubt.
According to Inspector General (IG) South Punjab, Police had arrested a total of 84 persons for attacking and damaging the temple’s building. He added that it was an angry and charged mob that had started breaking walls and doors of Ganesh Temple. He also informed the press that the security guard of the temple was beaten with electric fittings and a part of the temple was set ablaze.
The Prosecution Department had presented the relevant evidence in the form of footage and witnesses who testified against the accused. After seeing the evidence the court punished 22 accused. This issue was discussed everywhere in the country. Subsequently, the Punjab Government took the issue seriously. The accused were fined around 1.5 million rupees as compensation for the restoration of the temple.
The incident took place in the aftermath of a rumor that spread that a Hindu minor child had desecrated the Holy Book of Muslims in a Bhong seminary. According to police, the reason was the decision of a local court in which an 8-year-old Hindu boy was released on bail who was arrested on charges of desecrating a madrassa. The boy was arrested for urinating on the carpet of a local madrassa and people had gathered and an FIR was lodged against the Hindu boy.
Following this, the boy was presented before the Court in Tehsil Sadiqabad where the Judge released him, treating him as a juvenile, below 10 years. According to the then police officer Asif Raza, locals had blocked the road before the attack.
This news was shared on social media pages. People from district Rajanpur and Rahim Yar Khan of all sects gathered and blocked the Road of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) near Bhong.
The District Administration held negotiations with them but the negotiations failed. Reinforcement for police from Rahim Yar Khan reached to disburse the mob. The angry mob started slogans and quarreled with the police. Some policemen were injured, and even the then ASP of Sadiqabad also made a narrow escape from the attack of the angry mob.
After some time, the mob started disbursing. As they reached the temple, a cleric talked to a charged mob and they started demolishing the temple. After damaging, they saw the black flag of Shiite Muslims which was also rooted out. Now, the Ahl-e-Taashi and Sunni were clearly divided. Earlier, they were united. The local people did not know about the severity of the issue. Even they were not expecting any kind of reaction from the State and the state institutions.
According to some people who were part of the mob, they did what their faith required of them. According to them, they were idol breakers and they did it consciously as the country had been created for Muslims. They are not ready to accept diversity because they are not trained about diversity, acceptance, and interfaith harmony.
Fear was ruling in the streets of Bhong. The Hindu traders had left the city. Furthermore, the local Hindu residents had left their homes too to save their lives. The issue was the talk of the town. It was feared that the lives of minority communities were not safe. So, the government of Punjab deployed police everywhere to control the situation. The policemen went to mosques in the area and had meetings with Muslim clerics to avoid any untoward situations. The situation was very tense; the government had called in Rangers to restore peace in the area.
The Government of Pakistan took action and the matter was discussed in the National Assembly, where a member of the National Assembly Sardar Riaz Mahmood Mazari strongly condemned this act. Additionally, the former Pakistan Chief Justice, Gulzar Ahmed had taken notice of the incident and regretted that vandalism at Ganesh temple had brought shame to the country. He also expressed disappointment over the local police, who, he said, did nothing to stop the violent mob from attacking the Hindu temple. “Imagine what mental agony the desecration incident had brought to the members of the Hindu community,” Gulzar Ahmed had said. The incident was also condemned through a resolution unanimously adopted against it.
Restoration of Temple and Peace
The temple was visited by IG South Punjab, Deputy Commissioner RYK, and MNA Dr. Ramesha Kumar Vankwani. Later, many delegations visited the temple and showed their solidarity. The Temple was restored by the District Administration of Rahim Yar Khan. A handsome amount was collected by the local police from the accused too. The Hindu residents and traders who had left the city, returned to the city once peace was restored. Now, they have started their business but fear still remains embedded in their hearts.
According to Sony, a local Hindu businessman, they have come back and started their businesses. He said “We are patriotic Pakistanis; our religious places must be protected by the government everywhere in the country. According to the constitution of Pakistan of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, it is the responsibility of the State to protect our lives, business, and our worship places. Government should implement National Action Plan (NAP) so that hatred could be defeated from Pakistan,” he added.
A local journalist from Bhong city said that the government should establish peace committees so that hate mongers could be stopped from spreading their venomous propaganda in the country. He was of the view that religious people should be taught the importance of inter and intra-faith harmony in the area.
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