The horrific lynching of a Sri Lankan citizen by an enraged mob in Sialkot has brought shame to the country. The rulers should be ashamed of the institutional failure to curb crimes committed in the name of religion, as well as the moral decay of society under them.
As per the preliminary report submitted to Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chief Minister Punjab Usman Buzdar, the Sri Lankan company manager, Priyantha Kumara, had ordered a cleanliness drive because a foreign delegation was to visit the factory. The prime accused is a factory supervisor who had been reprimanded over unsanitary plant conditions.
While preparing for the foreign delegation, Kumara had removed a religious poster, and this was the excuse used to attack him. Reportedly, the brutal violence was motivated by a personal, or professional grudge.
Reportedly, the victim tried to seek refuge on factory roof but the incited mob followed and dragged him out. His body was then set on fire.
Under what law, did a bunch of ordinary people became the judge, jury and executioner of Kumara. The incident speaks volumes about the law of the land being hijacked by mob mentality.
Reasons Behind Increasing Incidents of Faith-Based Violence
Some have linked the prevailing toxicity to General Zia’s Islamization in the 1980s. Others say this is the impact of fighting proxy wars during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Still others say such incidents are a result of the states appeasement of extremist groups, such as the Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP). They blame the state’s propagation of extremist ideology for political reasons, for such incidents.
Distinguished writer Zahid Hussain in his recent book No-Win War: The Paradox of US -Pakistan Relations in Afghanistan’s shadow, offers an insightful analysis. After criticising Nawaz Sharif’s, the then Prime Minister, hesitation on declaring an all-out war against terrorists, Zahid Hussain writes: “Despite the brazen attack and the fact that thousands of soldiers had been killed in attacks by militants, the government had not yet given the go-ahead to the military to elimnate militant sanctuaries in North Waziristan. One major reason for avoiding an operation was the fear of backlash in Punjab, the country’s biggest province and also a stronghold of the prime minister. The notion of Punjab’s safety, first and foremost, entailed serious consequences for the country’s unity and stability. Ironically, this inaction made Punjab more insecure in the long run.”
Often times state institutions also engage in unlawful activities including enforced disapperances and suppression of ethnic minorities, this also encourages people to take the law in to tehir own hands.
Politicians also endorse such incidents. Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehma, after the Sialkot incident, said, “If the blasphemy law is not implemented in its true spirit, such incidents will occur,” and Defence Minister Pervaiz Khattak described the lynching as “normal”. He blamed “passions” among youngsters.
These statements reflect the mindset of the society at large. We heard similar statements when Mashal Khan, a young student, was lynched. Had we learnt our lesson then, this unfortunate incident might have been avoided. .
We hear politicians in power branding those opposing them as bandits; certain political parties accusing another party as anti-state. The parliament is reduced to a rubber stamp with politicians following party dictatorship. Such circumstances have produced social, poitical and religious extremists threatening the whole edifice of democracy. Minister of Information Fawad Chaudhry rightly remarked that “We have planted bombs everywhere; if not diffused, these will exlode”.
Consequences of Lynchings
Countries hostile to Pakistan will leave no stone unturned to brand Pakistan as a state that sponsors extremism. We are already under international scrutiny for our institutional failure to curb crimes committed against minorities, including the forced conversion of Hindu girls to Islam and their subsequent marriages.
Journalist Ailia Zehra convincingly commented that there would have been little outrage about Priyantha Kumara’s lynching if he were not a foreign national. In the democratic political framework, every individual irrespective of their political, ethnic and religious affiliation is considered equal, but, under our political system, crimes against minorities do not draw equal indignation.
In a previous article of mine titled, “Fighting extremism with clarity” published in Daily Times, I wrote: “We want people of Western countries to stop hate and intolerance against Muslims in those states while our own society is mired in menace and we are unwilling to take assertive action against those preaching extremism and hate. Pakistan is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which calls all nations to uphold the fundamental right to life, family and religious freedom”.
The global repercussions of the lynching in Sialkot has already begun. The European Union has expressed its displeasure over the rising cases of religious extremism. Our brutality has raised questions about the democratic credentials of the country. The civil-military leadership has reiterated that mob violence won’t be tolerated. One hopes that those at the helm of country’s affairs have the will and capacity to wipe out mob mentality.
Priyantha Kumara’s sister has appealed to social media users not to upload images of the tragic episode as it is traumatizing for the family, especially for Kumara’s children. We should understand the psychological trauma that the victim’s family is going through. if we are able to understand this, we should also ensure that we take action to stop lynchings in our country. Policy makers should strategize how to diffuse extremist bombs planted in individual psyches, national politics and state apparatus. Implementing the rule of law could be a stepping stone towards a more plural and less violent Pakistan.