Two brothers were accused of desecrating the Holy Quran and insulting religious sentiments of local Muslims on August 16, 2023, in Jaranwala town of Faisalabad district.
This accusation quickly escalated into a mob violence, resulting in the destruction of over twenty churches and dozens of Christian homes. Within a week of this incident, several other people in different parts of Punjab accused some local Christians of committing acts of blasphemy. The first accusation appeared in Sahiwal, only four days after the Jaranwala attack, when Ehsaan Shan Masih, a 27-year-old local Christian, was accused of posting blasphemous images on his TikTok account.
A day later, tension rose in Faisalabad’s Madina Town area after the pages of Holy Quran were found near a Christian residence. On the same day, burnt pages of Holy Quran were found near a mosque in Chak 238, a village in Sargodha district, raising fear among the local Christian community. On August 25, a case was registered in Chak 37, another village in the same district, against some unknown persons for burning Holy Quran. This incident, too, made local Christians scared that they might be attacked because of it.
A day earlier than that, panic and fear gripped Christians living in Dhook Saidan area of Rawalpindi where rumors of blasphemy accusations continued to swirl around for the whole day. Next day, Christians living in Kasur city’s Mochipura area faced the alarming prospect of having to leave their homes when a a local Christian sanitation worker’s family was alleged to have committed blasphemy. A timely intervention by the police, however, defused the situation.
All these incidents have inflicted serious mental scars on the Christians living in Punjab. As Shazia Amjad, a Christian widow in Jaranwala who also works as a religious teacher in a local church, describes how she and other Christian women and children were so traumatized that they fainted multiple times during their three-day long stay in amid standing crops after their houses were attacked. Some of them still grappling with severe mental health issues, she says.
Even after returning to her home, she says, many children still feel traumatized when they see their half-burnt houses. She quotes one of her students telling her: “Every time I see the burnt houses, scenes of mob attacks replay in my mind, making me anxious and scared.”
Naina Samson, a mental health expert based in Islamabad, explains that the fears haunting Christian children and women have their origin in the multiple threats and attacks that Christian community has suffered over the last couple of decades. “Previous incidents of persecution have deeply impacted people so whenever they hear so much as a rumor of a mob attack, their old fears get triggered,” she says and explains that stress caused by traumatic incidents lingers in the subconscious, often resurfacing when triggered by circumstances.
Children are particularly vulnerable to such traumas because they have not yet developed any coping mechanisms that adults might have, says Samson. “They also struggle to comprehend and express their feelings effectively due to their limited communication skills so their unspoken fears could cause in them mental disorders such as stress, anxiety and depression.” When faced by repeated incidents that trigger their fears and other mental conditions, these children, may experience panic attacks, delusions and hallucinations, she adds. “They may also develop phobias and flashback which could significantly impact their productivity, confidence and behavior. In some severe cases, traumatized children could suffer nervous breakdown too.” Stressing the importance of changing the environment of such children and providing counseling support to them, she says: “Such support should be available to them at the level of family, community and educational institutions.”
Rev. Shahid Munir, a local priest Faisalabad, highlighted the severe challenges faced by the victims in the aftermath of the incident. He also underlined the mental trauma experienced by the victims in the current situations merely because of the difficult conditions they now find themselves in.
Pointing the financial struggles of the victims, he noted that multiple Christian business owners and small entrepreneurs reportedly have suffered losses due to vandalism and robberies on their stores and warehouses. Additionally, he also mentioned that numerous Christian employees have lost their jobs, with some employers reportedly asking them to leave, citing their concerns about working with individuals who are labeled as alleged blasphemers.
The Priest also drew attention to the infrastructural damages to the victims’ residences and worship places. He explained that the lack of funds to repair these damages, in the current severe weather conditions, is also causing worse impacts on their mental health.
Further, he underscored the urgent need for interfaith harmony dialogues in minority and majority communities. He believes that such dialogues can help minimize misunderstandings in the social discourse of Jaranwala and can promote the religious tolerance and acceptance.
He also urged the religious leaders of the Jaranwala to play a positive role in achieving social peace, allowing the stressed victims to regain their mental well-being and productivity needed for their social upliftment.