Within the span of one week, Muslims in places as far apart as Quetta and Sheikhupura have successfully intervened to prevent two blasphemy cases from being registered and unwitting and innocent Christians being overtaken by a mob. Those Muslims were neighbours, police and clerics who demonstrated an exceedingly unusual treatment of cases which have otherwise tended to end badly in Pakistan.
The first case took place close to Sheikhupura, on October 28. Partially burnt pages and a torn copy of the Holy Qur’an were found in an abandoned house owned by two men, Anwar Khan and Irfan Khan, who use it as a storeroom. Their families live next door. By evening, clerics and police were called and the police registered a case, whose FIR against unidentified people stated: “A few pages of the Qur’an were found the courtyard of the house owned by Anwar Khan Lodhi. The house has been vacant for about two or three months.”
A mob had gathered as the police were searching the house and one person from the crowd pointed to a neighbouring house where a Christian family lived, saying it should be investigated. But the house’s owner, Irfan Khan Lodhi, confidently stated in front of the crowd that the Christian couple could never do something like that. Everyone fell silent.
The couple, P. Masih, 50, and his wife A. Bibi, discovered, however, that this was not the last they would hear of the case. While going over the day’s events, P. Masih says that his wife had returned home from work at around 1:30pm and noticed that smoke was rising from the house next door. “Two days later, an unidentified person called me on the phone and said that he was the in-charge of the police station and that a case had been registered against me,” P. Masih said. “It really unnerved me and I told my brother that a case has been lodged but I have no courage to go to the police station.”
- Masih then realised that none of them had been at home at the time the pages were burned. In fact, he had an alibi. “I work as a sweeper in a bank and there are cameras to verify my presence there,” he said. “Also, my wife works as a cleaner at a nearby maternity hospital. When she came home the fire had already been lit.”
- Masih was still reluctant to go to the police station, so he asked his wife to request her employer, an influential person in the area, to check with the police station if they had indeed been nominated in the first information report. Much to their relief, they discovered that the case was registered against unidentified people and the family did not need to flee or fear any backlash. The mischief-maker who had called had not been telling the truth.
Three days later a meeting was called to try to find out who had committed the crime. At the meeting, one Muslim family assured the people who had gathered that they could take oath as a sign of complete trust on the Masihs. A famous lawyer from the area, Abu Obaid, also gave his full guarantee that the Christians of the area could not have been involved. Similarly, Irfan Khan assured the gathering that the Christians were not involved. Irfan Khan added that they had living among them for 40 years and had never done anything like that. This seemed to put matters to rest.
A week before this incident, on October 20, about 1,000 kilometers from Sheikhupura, a young boy and his mother S. Bibi, who works as a nurse in Quetta and lives in the hospital’s hostel, were suspected of desecrating pages of religious significance. “A few pages related to Hajj were found desecrated outside her apartment so a mob slowly gathered,” said Balochistan assembly member William John Barkat, who got involved in the case. He was joined by MNA Asiya Nasir. Minority members are sometimes accused of blasphemy to settle land scores, disputes, personal enmities or other grudges.
“Before any untoward incident could take place, the security forces took S. and her son but released them after a thorough investigation,” MNA Asiya added. “No blasphemy case has been registered. But it seems that extremist trends are spreading and penetrating Balochistan.” The people who helped with this case were reluctant to go into details for fear of repercussions as have been suffered in the past. It is hugely significant that timely intervention in both cases prevented the community from facing any backlash.