Monday, June 14, 2010
The ashram, in Khushal’s words, was a symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity in district Tharparkar. However, all this changed with the recent attack on June 6 in which the accused, Photo Bajeer, destroyed some religious material, some statues of deities and attempted to break Saint Neenuram’s statue as well.
“He came in at around 4:15 pm when most of the caretakers are either resting or away. We had never seen him at the ashram before but he had done his homework well,” Khushal tells The Express Tribune.
However, within minutes Bajeer was caught and handed over to the police on charges of committing blasphemy.
This incident was the first of its kind in the ashram’s 100-year history, which makes it difficult for visitors and caretakers to come to terms with what happened. Most businesses in Islamkot and Mithi shut down for two days in protest. “I cannot believe that anyone of our regular visitors would dare do this,” says 72-year-old Khushal, who has been serving at the ashram since 1997.
Spread over 10-acres, the ashram welcomes people from all faiths and some 300 to 500 people are served free food every day. “We have never discriminated against any religion; everyone is allowed to visit the ashram at any hour to seek solace. In fact, we take care of humans as well as animals,” said Khushal, referring to the birds that are given food and water.
While the police have registered an FIR against Bajeer, the Hindu community is not satisfied with the investigations. “The police made no effort to trace those behind the incident and allowed the court to grant him a 14-day judicial remand. He is definitely enjoying the protection of some political worker,” alleges Ramesh Kumar, patron of the Pakistan Hindu Council.
The Islamkot police also declared Bajeer “mentally unstable” at the time of the incident, which, community members allege, was done to protect him.
“Since there is no law to protect blasphemous acts against any religion other than Islam in Pakistan’s constitution, Bajeer cannot be tried in the specific case. Thus the police are thinking of ways in which this case can be twisted,” says Khushal.
Judicial magistrate Ghulam Mustafa Khoso, however, says that Bajeer has been acting “strange” since he was sent to judicial custody.
According to him, Bajeer frequently yells at the police standing guard and has destroyed office furniture. “He also complains of frequent headaches so we had to admit him to Civil Hospital in Mithi for two days,” says Khoso.
But Khushal is not concerned with these details. “More than the destruction, what disturbs me is how people can lose respect for other religions and saints.”
“I wonder what he was trying to achieve by targeting this specific sanctuary and destroying the peace of Tharparkar where Hindus and Muslims have co-existed in harmony for centuries.”
The town of Islamkot is home to about 17,000 people, 55 per cent of whom are Hindus.
In this backdrop of attacks on religious minorities, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) recently constituted a committee to highlight challenges faced by religious minorities.
“We are dealing with an environment of fear,” HRCP Sindh’s vice president Ghazi Salahuddin says. “You don’t know what is going to strike next and that is the biggest challenge for our minorities today.”
Kaka Khushal points towards another disturbing trend. “Visits by various maulvis to the ashram have also increased in the recent past. They come here and incite religious hatred and there is no way to check this. It is only when attacks on other religions are successful do we begin to connect the dots.”