Media release excerpt
Community concern is growing after an eight [or nine] year old Punjab boy was imprisoned for a week over allegations of blasphemy. Outdated Colonial Era laws written by the British rulers were recrafted by Pakistan to exclude protections to Ahmadis and ‘Islamicise them’. Pakistan has a long standing history of persecuting minorities, including Hindu, Christians, Balochis, Sikhs and Sindhis, all of whom were represented at the HHR protest. Other UK Hindu organisations attended by public invitation.
HHR chairperson Ranbir Singh spoke to India Today about the persecution of Hindus in Pakistan and expressed concern that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child had been violated by charging the child for blasphemy despite being released on bail. Later, the charges were found unconstitutional in the first place due to the age and mental health of the child. Hindu Human Rights are concerned that, considering the extent of the violations against them that ensued, appropriate measures have not been taken, nor assurance given to the Hindu community around the world that the safety of minorities in Pakistan is paramount and that a full inquiry be undertaken as per the requests of the Indian Government.
After the court released the child on bail, the Hindu community were violently attacked by angry mobs. Reports say a known ‘firebrand cleric’, Razzaq Soomro incited the violence. A Ganesh Temple was extensively demolished, the Gods desecrated and burnt whilst bystanders watched and close to 100 locals including small children participated. Nearby Hindu homes and businesses were attacked and many residents forced to flee. Hindu Human Rights expressed concern for the child’s safety and that of the entire community without extensive community safety protections. The danger to the boy’s life is affirmed by the family being held in police protective custody.
Ex Mayor of Karachi, and Human Rights Activist, Arif Aajaki said for Pakistan’s minorities, ‘their right to life, their right to freedom of speech, freedom of gathering, freedom of faith – every right is violated persistently with impunity.’ He told India Today that 150 Hindu families were thrown out of Rahim Yar district due to the incidents. Aajaki demanded Pakistan protect and cease its ‘persistent persecution and terrorism against minorities who have lived in the region for thousands of years’.
With Taliban taking power in Afghanistan the threat to a peaceful democratic Pakistan, especially for minorities is inevitable. Taliban openly boast of their support from elements that govern Pakistan. Members of Pakistan Government have questioned Imran Kham over his ‘tendency to “appease terrorists”. The Afghan Government reported in July that Pakistan provides a safe haven for Taliban militants. Hence the situation facing minorities in that state looks ominous unless pressure is applied. Regrettably, even without the Taliban threat that looms large, minorities find that the only way they can survive if made targets of religious fanaticism is to somehow find asylum abroad. It is important to break that downward spiral.
Pakistan’s week of the minority: what the media and officials said
On 24 July 2021, a cleric filed a complaint to the Bhong police against a eight/nine year old Hindu boy with mental health issues, alleging that he urinated in a local seminary, also called a madrassa. It was allegedly in a library where ‘religious texts were kept’. Police ‘registered a case against the minor boy under section 295-A of the Pakistan Penal Code.’
But according to Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani of Pakistan Hindu Council, the boy had “urinated in his own clothes after he was beaten up at the seminary”. According to The Print, ‘On being reprimanded by the cleric, Hafiz Muhammad Ibrahim, for loitering in the madrassa, the boy allegedly urinated on the carpet out of fear. Ibrahim lodged a police complaint claiming that the Hindu boy intentionally peed in the madrassa and desecrated religious books.’ Vice agrees, with the story, adding that ‘according to Ibrahim’s police complaint, the boy entered the seminary’s library through a broken window and urinated on the carpet..[and] ‘spread filth on a library cupboard’. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has roundly condemned the charges as a conspiracy between the cleric and the policeperson being unconstitutional.
Hindus leaders sent an apology to the madrassa, explaining the child’s age and mental health, reported by MMNews (5 August 2021). The apology was rejected.
The boy was held, imprisoned by the local police, between 24 July 2021 and around the 4th of August 2021 when a local court released him on bail. Sometime between 4-9 August 2021, the child and his family were placed into police protective custody. Anyone tarnished with blasphemy will never be safe in Pakistan from extrajudicial killings.
On 4 August 2021 angry mobs attacked a Ganesh Temple in Bhong, Rahim Yar Khan as reprisal for the child’s bail. According to The Print, and the Express Tribune, the Hinduphobic violence was incited by ‘firebrand cleric’ Razzaq Soomro and ‘went completely unchecked’. The story of one witness, Chand Kumar is partly confirmed by video footage from the Siddhi Vinayak temple in Bhong. His witness report to UCA news describes the police first entering the temple and firing aerial shots. Hindu houses were attacked and Chand locked his family in a room, praying for the police to come but the constables were ‘hiding in a side room’ for three hours while anarchy ensued. Chand reports that that attackers were likely called in from Kacha in the Indus delta by locals. Footage on twitter shows groups of men arriving, some with motorcycles, pointing to strong discrepancies between the accounts of officials and eyewitnesses.
By 1.12 am on the morning of 5 August 2021, footage of the incidents went viral internationally. Hindu leader. Dr Vankwani of Pakistan Hindu Council posted videos that were shared by around 5000 accounts. He said ‘Negligence by local police is very shameful. Chief Justice is required to take action’.
Hindus around the world were collectively outraged. Some Muslims were quick to leverage the issue as a comparison to Babri Mosque making sarcastic and Indophobic comments. Yet Babri Mosque was originally a Hindu temple. India did take longer to restore justice if that is the message but it was not. Other comments declared that the Ram temple would be again become Babri Masjid. On social media matters were swiftly instrumentalised to bolster nationalist agendas that smoke-screened talk about minority religious persecution in Pakistan and it’s roots in religious supremacy.
Hindus of Pakistan, due to the militancy are constantly forced to prove their alliance to what is in any case, their own ancestral land. The imposed colonial, and religiously defined borders continue to fester in communalism, and in Pakistan this is directed at minorities. As pointed out by Kamran Choudhary, Lahore, ‘The peaceful Hindus of Pakistan are suffering from the actions across the border [with India].’ What didn’t fit the stereotype portrayed by the media was that within Pakistan, some of the more cosmopolitan generation Z are fed up with religious extremists and prepared to fight in solidarity with Hindu and other minorities. It is to this generation that ‘interfaith’, ‘human rights’ and minority bodies of the country must turn for change.
By the afternoon of 5 August 2021, India’s Ministry for External Affairs (MEA) had summoned the Pakistani consulate “and a firm protest was lodged, expressing our grave concerns”. Arindam Bagchi, India’s Official Spokesperson for the MEA answered Sidhant at WION, at a virtual weekly meeting: ‘What is your reaction to daylight ransacking of Hindu temple in Pakistan?’ ABP News, Times Now and UNI media also had questions. The full response is worth citing:
Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Look we’ve seen reports on this and I have a statement to make on this. We have seen disturbing reports on social media of a violent mob attack on a Ganesh temple in Rahim Yar Khan, in Punjab province of Pakistan. The mob attacked the temple, desecrated the holy idols, and set fire to the premises. In addition to attacking the temple, the mob also attacked surrounding houses belonging to the Hindu community. Incidents of violence, discrimination and persecution against minority communities, including attacks on places of worship have continued unabated in Pakistan.
Within the last year itself, various temples and Gurdwaras have been attacked, including the Mata Rani Bhatiyani Mandir in Sindh in January 2020, The Gurudwara Shri Janam Sthan in January 2020, Hindu temple in Karak in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in December 2020. These incidents are occurring at an alarming rate, while the state and security institutions in Pakistan have stood by idly and completely failed in preventing these attacks on the minority communities and their places of worship.
The Pakistani Charge d’affaires in the high commission here in Delhi was summoned today afternoon, and a firm protest was lodged, expressing our grave concerns at this apprehensible incident and the continued attacks on the freedom of religion of the minority community and their places of religious worship and calling upon Pakistan to ensure the safety, security and wellbeing of its minority communities.
Moving on to the question regarding Jammu and Kashmir our position is well known. Today is actually the second anniversary of our efforts towards building a new Jammu Kashmir. And as I just outlined in our statement, recent incidents in Pakistan have yet again demonstrated how that country blatantly tramples over the rights and the safety and security of its minority communities.
On 5 August 2021, a Press Release by Pakistan’s High Court states Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, of the Minorities National Assembly and Pakistan Hindu Council, raised the matter with the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed set a hearing for the next day, 6 August 2021, directing the Chief Secretary Punjab and IGP Punjab to appear with a report. By that time, it had already spread across the world. The Supreme Court recognised Pakistan’s ‘reputation is damaged globally’.
In the evening of 5 August PM Imran Kahn tweeted condemning the attack, promising to restore the Mandir and told Punjab police to arrest the culprits. The Guardian reported Pakistan had ‘deployed the paramilitary in Punjab after Muslim mob attacks Hindu temple’. Al Jazeera did too. Both maintained the blasphemy charge, the bail, the scenario in the madrassa and accusations of ‘intentionally urinating’ to ‘desecrate’ it. These definitions are crucial to the charges although until now, the FIR and charge sheet have apparently been buried. Being booked under 295-A is ‘for deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class by words, or by visible representations’.
By 6 August the ‘majority of Hindu families living in Bhong Sharif had allegedly vacated the town fearing their lives after attack on temple’. The Mandir was cleaned and replastered for reopening on the 11th.
Hindu protests broke out in Ghotki, Daharki and Mirpur Mathelo towns on Thursday the 6th and reported by the Express Tribune. UCA news said civil society groups of Ghotki district and Hindu majority areas like Daharki city in Sindh organised the ‘4th August Black Day’ rallies demanding justice. The Guardian used a photo of one protest with no clear explanation that they were not in Rahim Yar Khan as the Hindus there had mostly fled. Other media spoke to two activists. One, Sukhdev Hemnani from Ghotki, says no families from Bhong were capable of leaving because they were too poor, that leaving Pakistan was untenable for them. Another Human Rights activist, Mukesh Meghwar said:
“These incidents incite Hindus to leave Pakistan” adding that roughly 75,000 Hindus have migrated to India and other parts of he world in the past five to seven years. “This is because of insecurity”
In 2014, Pakistan Hindu Council is widely cited as saying 5000 Hindus migrated every year to India. Ongoing persecution makes leaving the only option for many and tensions between India and Pakistan can lead to reprisals in Pakistan against Hindus. However the numbers are far from reliable in 2021.
On 6 August, The Express Tribune reported from the Supreme Court. Justice Gulzar declared the Punjab Police incompetent, sought the sacking of the commissioner, deputy commissioner and district police officer and told the government to recover renovation costs from the culprits of the attack. Justice Amin told the government to reconstruct the temple with govt money. [The temple was newly constructed in November 2018.]
The police claimed they were at the scene but ‘protecting the 70 houses’ although they can’t be identified in the footage and the Supreme Court would have noticed the crowd of 100 people attacking the temple were unhindered. The Police Chief informed the Supreme Court that terrorism clauses were added to the incident. When Justice Qazi Amin asked whether any arrests were made in the past three days, the police responded none.
For a terrorism case, Pakistan’s head of police didn’t appear to take it seriously. New Zealand has had one terrorist attack on a mosque and that offender will spend his whole life in a purpose built maximum security cell. Pakistan has had eight Hindu temple attacks in just the past year and the media in the west have not bothered to even report it until now there is a blasphemy charge connected.
Public footage shows the perpetrators’ faces, so confident were they of their impunity to desecrate a temple. The hypocrisy is striking: All this over a child who wet his pants involuntarily when beaten near Islamic books, now forever at risk of vigilantes, being tarnished as a ‘desecrator’. As the Supreme Court Justice said, he tried to imagine how the Hindu community felt, and to imagine what the reaction would be had such a thing been done to Muslims.
Regarding the child, the Chief Justice asked ‘Does an eight-year-old child know the difference between a Hindu and a Muslim?’ This is fair comment in ideal situations, however in the footage are children smashing the temple in reprisal. In Bhong village, children are taught to not only see difference, to commit acts the Chief of Police now calls terrorism. The Chief Justice ordered the police officer who registered the case, arrested the boy over ‘alleged blasphemy’ to be fired. Yet the police replied they would suspend him, to which the court said, they enjoy suspension because it gets them full pay. Here, clerics can tell the police what charges to press and when they break the law, or turn a blind eye to terrorist activities, they won’t be fired even if there is a Supreme Court order.
According to The Print, this is the eighth attack in Pakistan on a temple in a year in Pakistan.
On 9th August Amnesty International demanded:
As well as ensuring that these ludicrous charges are dropped, Pakistan’s authorities must immediately provide adequate protection for the boy, his family, and the wider Hindu community. Those responsible for the ensuing mob violence must also be held accountable.
On 11 August 2021 the Daily Times reported Pakistan’s Special Representative to Prime Minister on interfaith Harmony, Hafiz Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi speaking at a Minority Day function.
Ashrafi said the temple at Rahim Yar Khan had been rebuilt and handed over to the Hindu community. “Whatever happened to the eight-year-old child was just ignorance,” he said. He suggested an action should be taken against the officers who lodged the FIR against a child. Ashrafi said that those who did this, embarrassed the Muslims and embarrassed Pakistan as well. He stressed that FIRs should never be based on wishes. “No Muslim can dare to violate the Najran Agreement,” he cleared. He said that there should be a trial for those caught in the temple case, and those arrested should be punished so that no one could do so in future.
The argument of Ashrafi is reminiscent of the one he used in 2014 to oppose calls to repeal the blasphemy laws. He said then:
“Our stance is that those misusing the law by levelling false accusations should be handed down death penalty as is prescribed for violators of the law”.
His stance now on the police, or the cleric do not mention a death penalty for false allegations.
On 11 August, Dawn reported that ‘100 suspects’ were jailed on remand noting that ‘usually, the bureaucracy and police, and even senior political leaders including those in government are intimidated by the power that far right religious forces wield in the country’. But ‘Rahim Yar Khan district administration refused ‘to be cowed’ and took quick action. It is unclear however what exactly Rahim Yar Khan administration have achieved to ensure the safety of minorities, especially Hindus and to prevent future Hinduphobic attacks. Hindu protesters say they want hard penalties to come down on the perpetrators however, in the reports of the Centre for Social Justice, children are being taught exclusionary and religious supremacist content in schools, and there is a lack of inclusion or positive representation of minorities.
On 12 August 2021, a parliamentary committee meeting found that the ‘administration could have prevented the incident’ and was ‘negligent’ by response failures. Senior Police reported on investigations into the desecration of the temple in Bong village at this hearing. Those reports are not on the public record. The committee found restoration of the temple was insufficient without security and protection to minorities. This affirms the position of the Centre for Social Justice that minority oppression in Pakistan is structural and requires multipolar systemic reform across every sector of society.
Guardian reported, the same day, on the 12th, that the charges were “dropped by police” and cited Pakistan’s Special Representative to Prime Minister on Interfaith Harmony, Hafiz Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi.
But Ashrafi said the Guardian misquoted him and there was not a blasphemy charge to begin with. He said :
The Guardian…had not reported the issue correctly as there was a big difference between the registration of a case against blasphemy…and the case of desecration of a sacred religious place. He said the desecration of seminary case should not have been registered by police as such cases could defame the country. Legal action has been taken against those police personnel, who registered the case against the Hindu boy.
If that the case then the Supreme Court, Amnesty International and Hindu leaders who stated there had been blasphemy charges are also wrong. Dr Vankwani at PHC confirmed the Guardian report and reposted it repeatedly on twitter. Dr Vankwani stated on Aug 12 “Police drop blasphemy charges against eight-year old”.
On 13 August Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, asserted himself as a Pakistan Nationalist, using the case to posture against India. He posted a meme of himself published at Pakistan Observer claiming Pakistan’s superiority over India on minority rights. He cited himself:
“Expressing contentment over the apex court’s prompt action against the desecration and vandalising of Bhong temple, the patron-in-chief of Pakistan Hindu Council Ramesh Kumar Vankwari said Friday our state ensures the protection of its minorities collectively.”
On the same day, 13 August he wrote above a news video, the ‘SHO who locked the Pandu child in the police station should be arrested. Chief Justice of Pakistan.’
Above another news clip on the same day he states, ‘The Supreme Court Ordered the trial court to decide the temple case attack within four months.’
On 14 August 2021, Dr Vankwani retweeted the same Guardian article, citing his own comment that “we are happy that the charges have been dropped and the temple is repaired. It was made possible after the media pressure and government pressure on the [local] authorities.”
Clearly the understanding of the Hindu Council of Pakistan is that there were blasphemy charges laid and that accountability rested on the ‘local authorities’ such as the provincial cleric, the police and the court who failed to uphold Pakistan’s constitution.
On 15 August 2021 Bhong Sharif shops had reopened ‘after restoration of Ganesh temple’. Dr Vankwani reported to the media that ‘minorities living in the country love Pakistan’. But this is not what minorities are telling Human Right activists. Neither is it confirmed that the 800 Hindus of Bhong have returned. Minorities of Pakistan have been used to promote eyewash if somehow this case where a false allegation of blasphemy and the burning, looting and terror against an entire community has become an example of Pakistan’s capacity to take decisive action and ‘lead India’ on minority protection.
What happened at Siddhi Vinayak Temple?
Siddhi Vinayak Temple is situated in a compound in a small town of Bhong, situated off the Sukkur-Multan Motorway in the district of Rahim Yar near the border of Punjab and Sindh in Pakistan. It is a peaceful refuge normally for the district’s Hindu minorities. On an ordinary day, children are seen playing and laughing on the temple landing and steps. Families go about their ordinary business around the shady tree while peaceful Hindu music is streams from inside. Older children and devotees come to sit and meditate, to pray, to connect with the divine. The sanctity of the space is tangible.
On Wednesday 4 August 2021, a huge mob descended on the Ganesh temple. Footage appears to be uploaded live on 5 August 2021. From what looks like a nearby rooftop, it showed dozens were inside, setting alight the building, smashing the murtis and their glass housing, loudly shouting. Dozens more are seen outside, possibly over 100 people in total. Children are seen running between the road and the inside of the building, climbing the wall and tearing parts of the building down. Not a single member of the community tries to stop the destruction.
Inside, other footage shows smiling men and boys using long sticks to smash fittings, glass walls, stones pelted at the deities and debris visible all over the floor. Further footage illustrates that the brutal destruction at the entry includes small children throwing boulders at the doors, one who turns to smile at the camera. Allahu Akbar is clearly audible among the shouts. Inside the footage shows men repeatedly smashing at the six deities, using a heavy barge pole held by seven men. They aim the pole at Parvati’s face and she is decapitated. They turn to throw their hands in the air and shout victory cries before resuming to ensure all the murtis are smashed. Bystanders watch and film. Other reports state ‘the protesters also blocked the motorway for three hours’ and ‘attacked surrounding houses belonging to the Hindu community’. Dawn reported ‘police said dozens of men stormed the Ganesh temple’.
Police spokesperson, Ahmed Nawaz called them ‘protesters’ who ‘smashed the windows of the temple’, however the footage clearly shows the extent of damage far transcends window smashing and that this is an act of terror, not anything lawful like ‘protest’. Other authorities spoke to the media claiming the attack went against the constitution of Pakistan and that the Ministry for Human Rights ‘was in touch with police’. It is evident police are inclined to downplay and legitimate religious persecution in Pakistan by failing to identify the attack as a hate crime against Hindus. Another report says ‘the protesters attacked surrounding houses belonging to the Hindu community’. This is affirmed by many accounts, including eyewitness. What international observers will be eyeing closely are promises made by the Police Chief to try suspects under terror legislation.
The events are backgrounded by many recent attacks on Hindus and temples in Pakistan and a rise in charges of blasphemy since 2020. The Centre for Social Justice has published many reports that detail all aspects of minority oppression in Pakistan. Issues like forced conversions, religious freedom, implementation of legislation, the obligation to ratify human rights, fanaticism in the education system are all documented in detail. Their Justice Yet Afar Report contains comprehensive analysis of available data with extensive frameworks and recommendations towards meeting global standards on all aspects of life for minorities and combating religious supremacism in Pakistan. The below flowchart is from Justice Yet Afar.
The European Parliamentary Resolution passed in April 2021 sets out conditions Pakistan must meet to avoid sanctions from Europe, including Khan’s incitement of Anti-French Sentiment after the beheading of Samuel Paty. It infers that the Government of Pakistan deliberately condones and foments Muslims prejudices against minorities. It urged support for the National Peace Council (NPC). The National Peace Council home page states:
NPC’s fundamental agenda is to provide peace for every single soul in country. We are working on National, provisional and district level to spread our message of peace in our homeland. From last few couple of years, Pakistan is facing a very big issue of ‘terrorism’. Every Pakistani who is living in or out of Pakistan, wants to bring peace in our motherland but unfortunately we are still in the circles of this terrorism and violence issues.
In January 2021, the anti-Terrorist court sentenced three men over allegedly blasphemous content shared on social media. Rana Nouman Rafaqat, Abdul Waheed and Nasir Ahmad were sentenced to death. A fourth, Professor Anwaar Ahmed received a ten year jail term. Dawn cites the US Commission on International Religious Freedom that around 80 people are presently incarcerated with death penalty or life sentences on blasphemy charges. According to a Supreme Court Judge, 1855 people had been charged since 1987 with religious offences.
In 2020, however, the number quadrupled to 200 from an average of 53 cases per year. Reports in Dawn, from The Centre for Social Justice claim the majority of charges are laid by Muslims against other Muslims with less than 5% against minorities. Safety, for those accused of blasphemy in Pakistan cannot even be assured in a court of law, and whilst under police security, as even US citizens can be gunned down on the stand.
On 18 April, Imran Khan declared blasphemy as akin to holocaust denial and argued western governments should treat those who blaspheme the same under law as they do holocaust denialists. It is difficult to understand how burning a sacred book, or urinating on a carpet equates to denying the deaths of millions of Jews. What is relevant here is that western governments recognise how hatred of a minority can lead to genocide and for those who deny the extermination of the Jews by the Nazis, like anti-Semitics, there are stiffer penalties.
TRT News report that although Pakistan sentencing for blasphemy includes capital punishment, and no-one since the introduction of that legislation had been executed, those accused of it are often attacked and killed by vigilante mobs. On 29 April 2021 European Parliament passed an extensive resolution. The complaints are listed in 19 paragraphs, all related to religious extremism, one of which reads:
- whereas Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, despite never having led to official executions, incite harassment, violence and murder against those being accused; whereas people who are accused of blasphemy have to fear for their lives regardless of the outcome of judicial procedures; whereas it is widely known that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are often abused by making false accusations that serve the personal interests of the accuser.
Yet not one temple or Hinduphobic attack ever counts as blasphemy.
Pakistan Hindu Council Conclusions
On 11 August 2021, Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani of PHC delivered a live message from a vehicle after opening the restored Ganesh Temple in Bhong Sharif RYK. He stated, “I am fully satisfied regarding the restoration of the temple and the role of the administration, and arrest of culprits.” The case against the underage eight year old will be discharged tomorrow due to underage, a lack of evidence on both sides, (rpts) on both sides, that he had done intentionally…In future to prevent these kind of incidents we should f….[cuts out, new clip starts] the role of Imam is very important because the teaching of Islam is very clear. Respect of every religion is mandatory, so I think the actual teaching of Islam should be promoted at a grassroot level, that in future there will be no, any incident in future.’ The post had hundreds of likes.
TRT News reported that Lal Das Sohni from Pakistan Hindu Council said ‘the two community groups have no issues between them’. Footage translated into English shows him saying ‘The criminals who attacked the temple have no connection to religion. They are residents of this place. The local Hindu don’t have an issue with the local Muslims. They live like brothers, there’s no concept of Hindu and Muslim denomination.’
A news report of 11 August 2021 shows Dr Vankwani speaking at the temple giving credit to the Pakistani authorities for their support restoring the temple although nothing is heard about taking action on the long term communal conflict or protection of local Hindus whose homes, businesses were attacked and the 150 Hindu families who fled the area.
Outside he recites ‘Naatia Kalam in the glory of the prophet to ‘win hearts of the attendees’. Comments underneath indicate distrust along with fervent support. ‘These maulvis will not be ashamed even then’ and ‘keep proving your loyalty’. Dr Kumar is seen performing aarati at the Ganesh murti inside. It is not evident the damage is repaired from further footage. The glass housing for the murtis is replaced yet there are no murtis inside, only one Ganesh placed for propitiation on that occasion. The ceiling and walls have new fittings and appear clean and intact. The ornate carved lattice from the front doors is gone, replaced by mirrored glass. The front wall is obscured by large plastic banners from floor to ceiling.
Another video on the same day is posted showing Dr Vankwani meeting with interfaith committee in Imam Bargah Bhung Sharif RYK. Pakistan Hindu Council post 13 August cites an Islamic story about a villager who disrespected Muhammed and was forgiven. It says:
All religious leaders including scholars, Pandit, Maharaj and Bishop have a very important role to prevent such tragedy in the future of such tragic incidents. The elders of the community should openly embrace each other and say goodbye to the bitterness of the past. May the name of Allah be there everywhere!
Notably absent are the names of those who incited the violence, and only the names of minority spiritual leaders who are primarily the victims. This is understandable to some extent if it is to avoid triggering further reprisals however community leadership is stressed and if the leaders who incited the violence are not named, and if the leaders who are affected are forced to repeatedly prove their loyalty by downplaying the evident anti-Hindu sentiment demonstrated at every level of the community, then such statements are likely to cause further victimisation by holding victims and not perpetrators to account.
Kurram Shahzad, Deputy Commissioner Gujrat, issued a statement to the media at the Bhong Ganesh temple on 11 August that police had finalised the details of the estimated 150 families who fled and urged their return. This contrasts with the claims of the Ghotka Human Rights activist, who said nobody had left.
What is most evident in this story is the vital role of the media in reporting on events inside Pakistan and the lack of accountability of the establishment. Access to official facts, an FIR, a charge sheet, police statements, information on court proceedings, statements from other religious leaders of the local community and a diverse range of Hindu voices are in short supply. What there is not, aside from on twitter videos and by following every report closely to stitch it together like in this essay, is comprehensive, reliable coverage. Without facts and transparency for global human rights workers monitoring the escalating violence against minorities by religious extremists and the capacity to hold authorities to account, there is no possibility of preventing what looks even from these accounts, like a deliberate and sustained attempt to ethnically cleanse Hindus from Pakistan. As the four months between now and the Supreme Court Ruling on the temple vandalisation, international human rights groups will be keeping a close eye on reports, especially the application of terror laws to the attack on the entire Bhong Hindu community.
While Pakistan Hindu Council were celebrating the success and praising Pakistan’s swift refurbishment of the temple, on the 8th of August, another 15 year old child, Chatro from Salho Bheel Sindh, was forcibly kidnapped and her house burnt down as a warning to them not to bring the matters before the courts. On the 14th of August a freshly buried corpse of a 14 year old girl was dug up and raped, also in Sindh.
Minority children and young girls are not safe and nobody is talking about it. Nowhere aside from Ranbir Singh at the HHR protest on 16th August has any organisation or media raised the violation of children or asked Pakistan to ratify the UN Rights of the Child. To close, the words of Human Rights Activist, Kapil Dev at Vice: “Had this happened elsewhere in the world like in New Zealand or Canada, their prime ministers would have arrived the very next day to meet the affected victim community. Unfortunately no such thing has happened here. Had the prime minister or the chief minister visited the community, it would have really restored their faith and trust in the state of Pakistan.”
For more insight on the issues, some of the documents that came up during this research.
Incidents, Reports, Findings – Evolving Document
14 August 2021: 14 year old deceased girl exhumed from grave and raped in Sindh. “In perhaps the first case of necrophilia in the [Thatta] district in years, some unknown men dug out the corpse of a freshly buried teenage girl and raped it.”
13 August 2021: Ancestral Hindu land encroachment by “Land Mafia” and refusal to cease occupation after 46 years of court orders which are ignored by the occupiers. The ‘Pakistan People’s Party’ are held accountable by the victims who report they have been threatened with death and told to ‘leave this country and go to India’.
11 August 2021: On Minority Day in Pakistan, Muhammed Ali Nawaz forced entry to Hindu home at Salho Bheel, Sindh, viciously beat the family of Mangal Bheel, raped then kidnapped his daughter, 15 year old Chatro.
8 August 2021: A transgender person and two others, were sentenced for blasphemy after burning the Quran.
18 July 2021: Silsila Alikhil, in 20s, daughter of Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan, abducted, severely tortured over several hours.
26 April 2021: Myra Shehbhaz, 14 year old Christian girl Madina, Faisalbad, Punjab abducted by armed Muslim men led by Muhammad Naqash FIR filed.
15 April 2021: Centre for Social Justice Pakistan published a report “Justice Yet Afar: Assessment of Supreme Court’s Verdict on Minorities Rights”.
11 March 2021: 13 year old Kavita Oad, Kandhakot, Sindh, abducted, forced to convert to Islam and on 14 March, her house in Sindh was burnt down.
10 March 2021: “Chairman Cheela Ram Kewalani gave a detailed briefing to the President on the proposed Minority Act Details on welfare of minorities and solution of problems were discussed with the President of Pakistan”…“The National Minorities Commission has Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Baha’i, Kailash as well as Muslim members.”…” After 27 years, concrete steps are being taken to solve the problems of minorities”.
March 2021: 12 year old Farah, kidnapped by three men from family home in Faisalabad. Police officers refused to register the crime, and physically abused parents. She was chained, shackled, raped, made to clean and feed animals.
In February 2021:, in India’s Parliamentary Q and , Shri V Muraleedharani asks Sir Sujeet Kumar about India’s stand on temple vandalism in Pakistan and what Pakistan’s response has been.
(a) & (b) There have been reports of atrocities and acts of vandalism of places of religious worship belonging to minority communities in Pakistan.
Government has raised all such cases with the Government of Pakistan calling upon it to take steps to protect and promote the safety, security and well-being of its minority communities and their places of religious worship. Pakistan has also been asked to take immediate measures to expeditiously bring the perpetrators of such despicable and heinous acts to justice.
31 December 2020: Clerics incite mob attack on Khyber Pakthunkwa temple
November 2020: 13 year old Arzoo Raja, Catholic, kidnapped Oct 13 by Ali Azar. Sindh court upholds child marriage. Perpetrator not arrested. Protests Karachi, Lahore, Hyderabad, Faisalbad and others.
October 2020: Centre for Social Justice Pakistan Report “Quality Education vs Fanatic Literacy” published. It makes a comprehensive review of Pakistan’s educational materials and demonstrates prejudice toward minorities and presence of xenophobic, ‘fanatic’ Islamist indoctrination. One section states:
Religious minorities in Pakistan live a life of fear and near alienation. Although the country’s Constitution promises safeguards to them, yet such provisions are openly violated. Minorities have often been a target of hatred, violence and discrimination. The cases of abductions, forced conversion and forced marriages of women from minority communities, persecution on trumped-up accusations of blasphemy, mob attacks on non-Muslim neighbourhoods and arson attacks on their places of worship are far too many to recount here. Not only that the state has not always been there to protect them, but there are areas where even actions of the state openly violate the constitutional protection guaranteed to religious minorities
7 December 2020: US Congress pass a resolution to end blasphemy, but to oppose a UN international anti-blasphemy norm:
25 September 2018: Calls for: (1) for the global repeal of blasphemy, heresy, and apostasy laws; and (2) the United States to make the repeal of these laws a priority in the bilateral relationships of the United States with countries that have such laws.
7 December 2020: This resolution calls on the President and the Department of State to (1) make the repeal of blasphemy, heresy, and apostasy laws a priority in bilateral relationships between the United States and countries that have such laws; (2) designate countries that enforce such laws as countries of particular concern for religious freedom; and (3) oppose efforts by the United Nations to implement an international anti-blasphemy norm. The resolution also calls on the governments of countries that enforce such laws to amend or repeal them and to release anyone imprisoned pursuant to them.
14 August 2020: US Congress introduces a resolution against Hindu and Sikh persecution in Afghanistan:
This resolution condemns terrorist attacks and religious persecution against Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan. The resolution supports the resettling of Sikhs and Hindus from Afghanistan as refugees in the United States.
12 February 2020: A Centre for Social Justice Report on Minority Women’s Rights found the Pakistan Government lacked commitment and capability to legislate and enforce protections for minority women, particularly forced conversions and forced marriages.
15 November 2019: Sindh Province rejects bill against forced conversions for the second time. In 2016 when the first version was passed:
[t]he bill was effectively blocked by the mobilisation of the Islamist groups and parties. A group of Ulema, including the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) met with Dr. Abdul Qayyum Soomro, the chief minister’s special assistant on religious affairs, on 5 December 2016, and termed the bill against the basic principles of Islam. Religious parties in Karachi launched a campaign against the bill in order to pressurise the Sindh government into repealing it. The Jamaat-[i]-Islami (JI) argued that there could be no age limit on people converting to Islam. Religious Parties threatened to lay siege to the Sindh Assembly if the legislature did not repeal the bill.
25 March 2019: Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, a Pakistani Hindu, member of the National Assembly in a minority seat, speaks to WION on his demand for laws against forced conversion in Pakistan after 2 Hindu girls were abducted at gunpoint by 6 men. He had delivered a resolution with the Hindu Council of Pakistan to the National Assembly.
19 January 2019: Ramesh Kumar Vankwani talks to media about Asia Bibi’s 8 years detention for blasphemy, the role of extremist lobbyists ‘baying for her blood on the streets’ and the Apex Court granting her freedom. He claims that every year 5000 Hindus are forced into exile in India. He discussed the corruption and embezzlement of indigenous Hindu properties left with the Evacuee Trust Property Board of billions of ‘lost’ rupees. He spoke of the desecration of Katas Raj Temple where Shiva, Ram and Hanuman are worshipped and said to the ‘the second most sacred shrine in Hinduism’ by ‘cement factories’ which the Supreme Court shut down. Attempts to forge a liberal political ecosystem in Pakistan have failed due to extremism.
8 November 2018: Tens of thousands, led by the TLP party, protested the acquittal of Christian woman, Asia Bibi after eight years incarcerated for blasphemy. A deal was struck by the government to prevent Bibi leaving Pakistan in return for an end to extremist demonstrations. In the footage children, small boys, are seen holding banners and signs saying “Hang Aasia”.
28 August 2018: Punjab only law passed in India to stop ‘sacrilege of certain religious texts’ to improve ‘harmony’.
The Indian Penal Code (Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2018 includes the insertion of Section 295AA into the Penal Code to provide that “whoever causes injury, damage or sacrilege to Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Srimad Bhagwad Geeta, Holy Quran and Holy Bible with the intention to hurt the religious feelings of the people, shall be punished with imprisonment for life.” (Id.) Section 295 was also reportedly amended to increase the term of imprisonment for the offense of “injuring or defiling [a] place of worship with [the] intent to insult the religion of any class” from two years to 10 years.
1 August 2018: 19 year old Hindu boy booked in Mirpurkhas Mirway Gorchani Sindh for alleged blasphemy on social media.
19 December 2016: Sindh Government establish Commission for Protection of Minority Rights, to ‘provide a platform to examine the grievances of minority communities, suggest mechanisms for accelerating the pace of their socioeconomic development, and promote and protect their identities at the provincial level.’ Dr Kumar of the Hindu Council Pakistan state it was also to ‘reiterate the values of religious harmony, tolerance, respect and peace, which were inherent in the creation of Pakistan’.
January 2016: Prayer leader Shabbir Ahmend incites 15 year old child to cut off hand for ‘blasphemy’.
19 June 2014: Church suicide bomb attack Sep 22 2013 in Peshawar ignites a Supreme Court ruling for the establishment of a national council for minority rights that should “monitor the practical realisation of the rights and safeguards provided to the minorities under the Constitution and law”. An excellent overview of all relevant materials since then is in the CSJ 2021 report.
April 2014: Report released by Movement for Solidarity and Peace stating 1000 girls are forcibly abducted, converted to Islam and married each year.
December 2013: 6 and 10 year old girls kidnapped from Mirpur Khas, Sindh. In court, “both girls admitted to having embraced Islam of their own free will”.
October 2012: Christian teen accused of blasphemous text messages. House burned by local clerics.
November 2010: Asia Bibi, at Nankana Sahib in 2009, was accused by a group of Muslim women, who refused to drink from a cup Bibi drunk from and a conflict between them is alleged where the women, and a local cleric, abducted Bibi, accusing her of blasphemy. A local court sentenced her to be hung. “Shahbaz Batti minorities minister and former Punjab governor Salman Taseer were assassinated.” The assassin was executed and local built him a shrine as a martyr, inspiring a political party the Tehreek-Labbaik (TLP). She now lives in Canada and has released a memoir.