The aftermath of the Jaranwala incident, which unfolded in Faisalabad’s district, continues to cast a daunting shadow over Pakistan’s Christian community. The incident, sparked by allegations against two brothers for desecrating the Holy Quran and insulting religious sentiments, escalated into a rampage, leaving more than twenty churches and dozens of homes in ruins. However, the ordeal for Pakistani Christians is far from over, as threats loom large over churches and residential areas.
In the wake of the Jaranwala tragedy, fear has intensified due to a disturbing trend of escalating blasphemy allegations. Within just seven days, four more cases of alleged blasphemy have emerged, further unsettling the vulnerable community. These accusations, often illogically linked to the Christian population, have bred widespread distress and concerns for safety.
The spate of blasphemy accusations in Pakistan that has followed the recent Quran burning in Sweden has also been accompanied by increased fears of mob violence.
Four days after the Jaranwala incident, on August 20th, another case of blasphemy was registered in Sahiwal. Tensions arose in 186/9-L village when a 27-year-old Christian, Ehsaan Shan Masih, allegedly uploaded a video on social media containing blasphemous images that had triggered the attacks in Jaranwala on August 16. A FIR under sections 295A and B of the Pakistan Penal Code and provisions under the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 was registered at Dera Rahim Sahiwal. This incident, coupled with previous allegations, sent shockwaves through the community, halting their daily lives and fueling an environment of apprehension and fear.
Bishop of Sahiwal, Abraham Daniel commenting on the incident states, “Christians in Pakistan are going through a very tough time, because of the rising religious intolerance in the society. He also urged the Christian youth to use the social media sensibly in current times and do not post and share the controversial content.
Responding to the query, he suggested the community that, they must tackle the current times with a great sense of responsibility and tolerance. He also asked the people to be careful in day to day life and avoid anything which can trigger the religious sentiments of the society.
Tragically, the cycle persisted, the same day in Sargodha’s remote village of Chak-238, another FIR for blasphemy was registered on August 21st. The discovery of burnt pages of the Holy Scripture near a mosque triggered outrage, amplifying radical sentiments and threatening the safety of the local Christian communities.
In Sargodha’s Chak-37 on the 25 August 2023, a fourth FIR was registered at the police station in Kadana, Sargodha, against unidentified persons under section 295 B. In this FIR, the applicant – an imam (cleric) claimed that when he reached the mosque at 4:10 am that morning, he saw burnt pages of the Quran. The complaint was registered against the unknown personals and demanded the arrest of culprits as early as possible.
The second attempt of the same nature, in the same city, led to protest from the radical groups on Sunday 27th of August in Sargodha and Jaranwala, gave the Christian community of the area sleepless nights, as protestors and mobs rallying against the blasphemy incidents can get violent in a matter of minutes.
Trauma has become a constant companion for many community members and many of them lack the capacity to fight it. In the second week of Jaranwala attacks, an elderly man resident of Chak-238 Jaranwala Ejaz Masih succumbed to the distress caused by the desecration of religious symbols. Such mental anguish resonates throughout the community, affecting women, children, and the general populace.
Highlighting the persistent mental trauma experienced by the victims and persecuted Christians in the area, Reverend Mashooq Masih, the Senior Clergy member of The Salvation Army Church, states that post-Jaranwala, the women and children are the most severely affected.
Recalling an incident involving his own son, a 12th-grade student studying in an institution near the Jaranwala. The incident left him concerned, as he discovered extremist views about his son in his college friends’ WhatsApp group. His fellow students were blaming Christians for disrespecting their religion and even contemplated taking revenge on his son, saying, “we will see him as well, let him come to college”. He concerned the safety of his son, over the increase of religious intolerance in the society, after the Sweden incident.
Moderator of the Church Bishop of Azad Marshal addressing the members of the Lahore Bar Association demanded the fair judicial inquires of such incidents of vandalism against the Christians, underling that if a though judicial inquiries were had been conducted into similar incidents in the past, which the includes the Gojra and Joseph Colony attacks, then their reports have had been surfaced.
“One wonders if appropriate steps were taken to stop such incidents, then there would have been no Jaranwala incident. Now, let us not lose this opportunity to firmly work together in seeking the answers,” he emphasized.
Bishop Marshall said that prevention of such incidents from recurring could not be ensured without accountability of those responsible for the security lapses and introducing changes in the investigation procedures, especially in cases involving blasphemy allegations.
Former Human Rights Minister Punjab, Ejaz Alam Augustine Laal echoed these concerns. He highlighted the increasing trauma among the students of Jaranwala, not only due to the incident itself but also due to the continuous threatening behavior of the general public. “I am afraid that the normalization of this trauma will take decades for these students to overcome,” he stated.
He also highlighted the increasing trauma among the students of different cities of Southern Punjab, because of the continuity of blasphemy allegations on a regular basis. Many parents are unwilling to send their children to the schools because of roaring intolerance and religious hatred among the public.
“I am afraid that the normalization of this trauma will take decades for these students to overcome,” he stated.
The Ex-Minister also appreciated the role of Police and enforcement agencies in thoroughly investigating the incidents in which the local Christians are also being interrogated. But, showed his concern over protests all over the country against the incident demanding the unarrest of the attackers and vandals.
Ex-lawmaker also argued that the state must take serious measures to stop such incidents of vandalism and attacks on the residential areas of the Christian community, in future, the state must ensure the safety of Christian community in Pakistan after this, he stated
He also urged the developed western Christian world to show empathetic behavior towards the persecuted Christians of Pakistan, and support them as they support other persecuted communities of the world.
Tahir Naveed Chaudary, Ex-lawmaker of Punjab Assembly from Sargodha, shared his perspective on the current situation of Sargodha after the allegations of blasphemy and protests. “The situation in the area after the two FIRs registered with blasphemy charges against unknown persons has pushed the Christian communities at a risk,” he asserted.
He stressed that innocent people shouldn’t be attacked and persecuted, emphasizing the importance of upholding the rule of law. Ex-MPA also said that, “Punishment must be given to the individuals who commit such crimes through respected judiciary, the whole community shouldn’t be attacked to avenge the mistakes of individuals”. “The trend of mob justice must end, as reforms must take place to mitigate this”, he continued
The Human Rights Minister of Pakistan, Khalil George, stressed upon the all stake holders inside and outside the government bodies to peddle the efforts in promoting the religious tolerance and interfaith harmony in their respective capacities to deconstruct the radicalized mindsets in the society to foster the peace and harmony.
The Minister also urged upon the urgent implementation of the National Action Plan in order to restore the peace in society. He also emphasized the authorities to take stern action against the vandals, who looted and burnt several churches and houses of the vulnerable Christian community of the Jaranwala, Faisalabad.