Monday, March 16, 2015

Daily Times Editorial March 17, 2015

Cry, my country The bombing of two churches on Ferozepur Road, Lahore on Sunday, March 16, in which 15 people died there and then and one injured died the next day in hospital, triggered riots in the area when the youth of the victimised Christian community came out in protest on the road, breaking the Metro bus fence and trashing the ticket office. They also halted all traffic, stoning and smashing any vehicle that tried to run the gauntlet. Given the anger of the protestors, the tragedy of two innocent passersby lynched and their bodies burnt has seared the conscience of all citizens. It was obvious on the first day, and most of the morning of the next day, when the protest refused to die down, that the Punjab government thought the best course was to let the anger spend itself, even if it meant the rioters destroyed private property and endangered citizens who happened to be caught up in the melee. Arguably, the police failed to rescue the two lynching victims and followed a strategy of masterly inactivity. On Monday, attempts by former Punjab law minister Sanaullah and Home Minister Khanzada to mollify the rage of the protestors failed. The failure extended to the Church authorities as well as Christian leaders. The protestors were in no mood to accept the usual homilies trotted out on such occasions. On Monday too, another tragedy was enacted when a woman driver, in a desperate attempt to escape the crowd, mowed down two youth and was herself subsequently injured by the rock-throwing crowd. Such was the blind rage of the protestors that their ‘unguided missiles’ did not even spare other residents of Youhanabad, the Christian colony where the two bombed churches were located. As a result, the Christian community (and other residents of the area) divided into two groups at daggers drawn with each other. It was only in the late afternoon of Monday that the Punjab authorities finally came to the conclusion that the protest was not about to go away of its own accord and decided to take action. First, police reinforcements were called up and tear gassing of the protestors began. When even this did not serve the purpose of dispersing the crowds, three companies of Rangers were also summoned. By late afternoon, early evening on Monday, the crowds thinned out and a modicum of calm was restored to what had taken on the appearance of a battlefield. At the time of writing these lines, it cannot be assumed with sanguinity that today will be entirely peaceful. We must wait and see. The Christian community feels persecuted. Their people have been time and again burnt out of their homes, killed and lynched, usually under cover of a (false) blasphemy charge brought by (usually) vested interests of one sort or another. These were precisely the circumstances that persuaded the late governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer to take up the case of Aasia bibi, an effort that cost him his life at the hands of a fanatic. Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti became the next victim of these terrorist forces for opposing the controversial and much abused blasphemy law. After every incident of persecution and worse, the victims, whether Christian or others, receive from the authorities soothing noises about taking steps to prevent such incidents in future, monetary compensation to the families of the dead or injured, and that is the end of that as far as the authorities are concerned. How many such cases have been investigated subsequently to the stage of justice and closure? Neither such hollow assurances nor money can now assuage the anger of the victimised, nor can they any longer serve as balm on wounds; if anything, the track record of continuing persecution and hapless inaction of the authorities are seen as sprinkling salt on those wounds. It may be of interest to point out that the Jamaatul Ahrar (JuA), a splinter group of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), has claimed responsibility for the atrocity in Lahore. The JuA has recently rejoined the TTP, and ‘celebrated’ this decision by killing Christians at prayer. It may not be stretching the point to conjecture whether the TTP and its affiliates have now graduated to targeting prayer meetings. They were already targeting Friday prayers, particularly in Shia mosques. Now if they have included in their target list churches, we should tighten our belts for more Bloody Sundays and Fridays.

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