LAHORE: Normalcy is gradually returning to Shahdara Town, a day after religious parties carried out a daylong protest against an alleged incident of blasphemy involving a local Christian youth.
According to details, a large number of Christians living in Dhir village in Shahdara Town fled their homes on Monday after a charged mob comprising activists of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR) and other religious parties blocked the Shahdara intersection, burned tyres and threatened to further intensify the protest until the arrest of Patras Masih, an 18-year-old sweeper at a private bank.
Per the FIR No. 174/18 registered with the Shahdara Town Police Station under Section 295-C of the blasphemy law, the complainant Hafiz Muhammad Awais alleged that Patras had posted a sacrilegious photo on Jan 16, 2018, on a Facebook group named “Paaglon Ki Basti”. Interestingly, the FIR of the alleged blasphemy was registered after almost one month of the incident.
On Monday, announcements were made from mosques in the area urging locals to come out on the main road to protest against the alleged blasphemy. Fearing violence, a majority of the Christians living in the village abandoned their houses and left for safer places.
A local Christian told Pakistan Today that his family had left their home on Monday evening fearing an attack by the protesters.
“Although there’s a large number of policemen present in the village, I don’t think it’s safe for our families to return immediately,” he said on the condition of anonymity.
However, another Christian resident of the village said that he had decided not to leave his home “as it is my village”.
“We have been living peacefully with the Muslims for decades but this unfortunate incident has disturbed that peace. I decided not to leave for a safer place because this is my home, my country and no one can force me out of it,” he said.
Muhammad Nadeem, a Muslim who was seen chatting with a group of Christian men in a street, told Pakistan Today that it was unfair to target Christians “who were not involved in the blasphemous act”.
“If Patras Masih is guilty of committing blasphemy, why should other residents of the area get punished for his crime?” he asked, adding that the sanctity of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) is beyond question therefore the incident must be probed thoroughly.
Muhammad Sadiq, who has been living in the area for decades and is also the caretaker of the Baba Bandook Saeen Shrine in the village, said that he had tried to persuade the Christians not to leave their homes but most of them thought it was unsafe to stay.
“The accused has been arrested by the police therefore I urge all the Christian community to come back,” he said.
Criticising the local MNA Malik Riaz, Sadiq said that the MNA had failed to intervene in the matter even though “he lives hardly 15 minutes away from here”.
ALL’S WELL NOW:
DSP Shamsul Haq, the officer in-charge of the police deployment at Dhir village, told Pakistan Today that police had not asked anyone to leave their homes. They left due to fear. All Christians should return to their homes as the accused has been arrested and the situation in the area is normalised,” he said.
Zainul Abideen, a cousin of the main complainant Hafiz Awais, told Pakistan Today that he had visited the police station on Monday night along with Awais to confirm that the accused had been taken into custody.
“We then spread the word that the protest has been called off as the accused has been arrested,” he said, adding that there was no security threat to the local Christians now.
Zainul Abideen, a supporter of the TLYR, said that the matter was reported to the police because the boy had refused to delete the sacrilegious photo.
“However, according to a local pastor, the boy had inadvertently shared the photo,” he said, adding that the police should investigate the matter properly and punish those responsible for making the sacrilegious image in the first place.
Napolean Qayyum, a Christian rights activist, said that the police had shown haste in registering the FIR under Section 295-C.
“The police should have probed the incident properly before registering the FIR. Patras is an illiterate boy and this fact should be considered during investigation. Moreover, the case has been registered after a delay of one month which points to some mala fide on part of the complainant,” he said.