On Sunday, a raging mob set the Mandani police station on fire in Tangi, Charsadda. The violent men also attacked four other posts and attacked a police station when the police refused to hand over the man arrested for alleged desecration of the Quran. This unruly mob also set police vehicles ablaze, and the area police have reported loss of records due to the fire. The security situation in the area remains tense.
The photo of the alleged suspect shows a frail man in ragged clothing, walking with officials. Initial reports suggest he is mentally unwell and a drug addict. The violent mob demanded that police hand over the blasphemy suspect. Multiple posts by men of Deobandi denomination on Twitter and Facebook have endorsed the vigilantes and taken this audacious position that the religiously violent men are true arbiters of justice.
The incident came into public view when videos of the angry men trying to push open the gates of the police station, while chanting Allah-hu-Akbar, were shared on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. Initial videos depicted the mob being dispersed through aerial firing by the police; and men of all ages agitating. A number of videos from Mandani show the station on fire, men demolishing walls of a building with a bulldozer on site, while others making videos with their phones. As the law-and-order situation further deteriorated, reports of more attacks on police check posts rolled out.
Facebook pages and profiles of Pashtun political activists or citizen journalists with thousands of followers have been demanding severe punishment of the alleged blasphemer and endorsing the violence unleashed in the city by vigilantes. Accounts of Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Islam supporters and those affiliated with Deoband media criticised the police for aerial firing, tear gas shelling and reiterated that the alleged blasphemers must be handed over to the lynch mob.
On Facebook, the hashtag Mandani in Urdu shows multiple shares of a Deobandi cleric’s post in which he calls the desecration incident a conspiracy and declared the alleged blasphemer’s mental state healthy. However, he is calling for the violence to stop. Scrolling down, in August 2020, Khatm-e-Nabuwat advocacy posts begin with Mandani tagged. In Charsadda, the Khatm-e-Nabuwat campaign has a huge traction. Historically, many puritanical Deobandis have been inciting hate and violence against religious minorities.
Currently, not unlike the Karak Hindu templeattack, there is no update on the possibility of political manipulation behind the attacks targeting the Charsadda police. The manner in which the mob managed to successfully damage public property indicates that this was a coordinated effort by the zealots.
An anonymous police officer told the dailyDawn, that the Police were unable to control the angry mob. This isn’t the first incident of a religiously motivated mob which the Pakistani police failed to control or apprehend. And it is certainly not the last either. Sadly, the police and state authorities have remained incapable of halting the vigilantes who kill in the name of religion.
When the Ahmadi residences in Gujranwala were targeted in 2014 by a mob which killed two minor girls and a senior citizen, an on-duty police officer told an Ahmadi victim, that controlling the mob wasbeyond them — “Saaday wuss di gul nayi”. In 2013, the Christian residents of Joseph Colony were warned by the police to leave their homes, just before the mob attacked them. But the police failed to protect properties and belongings of the working class Christians from the settlement. Like these two attacks, violence targeting the Christian neighbourhood of Gojra (2009) Ahmadi owned factory in Jehlum (2016), and a Hindu dharmsala and Mandir inLarkana (2014), are part of the country’s history on normalisation of lynch mobs.
Attacks on buildings, worship places and vandalism are not the only mob specialty in the land of the pure. Lynch mobs are almost always after human beings first, primarily those dehumanised by the majoritarian narrative. In 2012, a blasphemy obsessed mob killed a blasphemy accused man,reported to have been mentally unwell, inBahawalpurafter dragging him out of the police station. The same year, in Karachi’s North Nazimabad, a similarmob demanded the handover of an alleged blasphemer for lynching, reported to be a drug addict, but could not succeed. And in Quetta,that year, mob’s attempt to pressure police in letting them lynch another blasphemy accused mentally unstable man, led to deadly clashes with police.
Pakistan’s history of religiously motivated mob violence could be traced back toShanti Nagar, Anti-Ahmadi riots in 1974 and 1953, or one can read up on lynchings of Muslims and Dalits in India, or in the US against the African Americans to understand how hatred based on religious or racial discrimination turns into horrifying degrees of physical violence.
Shama and Shahzad, the young Christian brick kiln workercouple, were also burnt to death by a mob in 2014. In yet another criminal display of heinous bigotry,Mashal Khan, a young journalism student was lynched to death on his university premises by other students and outsiders.
Recently, for a NayaDaur video series on faith-based violence, every guest from religious minority groups voiced how hate against their communities was blatant and stronger than before, leaving these communities in continuous fear and trauma.
Pakistan’s history of religiously motivated mob violence could be traced back toShanti Nagar, Anti-Ahmadi riots in 1974 and 1953, or one can read up on lynchings of Muslims and Dalits in India, or in the US against the African Americans to understand how hatred based on religious or racial discrimination turns into horrifying degrees of physical violence. However, we cannot figure out why and how the Charsadda police station and posts are convenient targets of the entitled majoritarian vigilantes now, without acknowledging or accepting the impunity enjoyed by those who hate and kill Pakistanis from the minority communities.
The question that we need to ask ourselves is as follows: has the country moved into a dark realm, when fear among those at the receiving end of widely tolerated and institutionalised violence has become ‘normal’?