Ending Mob Violence: Addressing the Misuse of Blasphemy Laws

Pakistan stands in stark contrast in an era that increasingly celebrates diversity and inclusivity. Rather than embracing its rich tapestry of cultures, religions, and ethnicities, the country’s religious minorities and ethnic groups face persistent discrimination and danger. Despite the visionary leadership of Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who fervently advocated for freedom, equality, and minority rights, today’s reality paints a grim picture for many minorities, where acceptance and safety remain elusive.

In the heart of Pakistan, where diversity should thrive, a harsh reality shatters the dream of freedom and equality for all. Religious minorities, including Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, and others, live in constant fear of persecution, their lives rendered precarious by the extremist misuse of blasphemy laws. A haunting incident from Sargodha on May 25, 2024, epitomizes the horrors faced by these communities. An 80-year-old Christian, Lazar Masih, was brutally tortured by a mob and later succumbed to his injuries in the hospital. His factory was reduced to ashes, and his family endured unspeakable physical and emotional torment. Under the guise of defending religious honor, the perpetrators took the law into their own hands without conducting a thorough investigation. The scenes were horrific: as his property burned, he was viciously assaulted with stones and subjected to derogatory slurs such as “Chura.”

This is not the first instance of a violent mob attacking a Christian community, individual, or household. Less than a year ago, a violent mob set fire to an entire Christian community in Jaranwala. Miscreants vandalized over 90 houses and around 20 churches, desecrating numerous copies of the Holy Bible, the Book of Psalms (Zaboor), the Torah (Turait), and the Gospel (Injeel). Despite this clear act of blasphemy, it went unnoticed and unaddressed by blasphemy laws, which primarily serve to protect Muslim religious sentiments. This represents discrimination at its peak.

Examining the grim reality more closely, Pakistan has experienced a myriad of alleged blasphemy cases that profoundly shake the foundations of justice and humanity. The haunting echoes of incidents such as the Shanti Nagar tragedy, the Gojra riot—which claimed six innocent Christian lives and destroyed around 60 homes—and the Joseph Colony attack reverberate through our collective conscience. These atrocities, driven by baseless allegations and religious fervor, have left indelible scars on communities and desecrated places of worship. The absence of accountability adds salt to these wounds, with perpetrators roaming free and their actions unpunished. At the same time, the victims and their families continue to bear the heavy burden of injustice.

Christian contributions to Pakistan’s founding vision epitomize the essence of a nation built on the principles of unity and diversity. Reflecting on Pakistan’s history, it is poignant to note that the decisive votes of Christian leaders played a pivotal role in shaping the country’s destiny. Inspired by Jinnah’s vision of a harmonious nation, Christians and other minorities stood at the forefront of Pakistan’s emergence, believing in a land where all religions could coexist and thrive. Since its inception, Christians have been instrumental in Pakistan’s development, particularly in vital sectors such as health and education, which account for 50–60% of its overall developmental ratio. Institutions like St. Mary’s School, St. Joseph’s, Cathedral Schools, Convent Schools, Forman Christian College, and Kinnaird College stand as beacons of excellence, nurturing generations of leaders who have left an indelible mark both nationally and globally.

Despite global trends promoting diversity and encouraging applicants of all races, genders, and nationalities to apply for prestigious positions like PhDs, postdocs, and professorships, Pakistan remains significantly behind. Shockingly, job ads in Pakistan sometimes explicitly favor specific religious affiliations, with some even restricting certain positions, such as sweepers, to the Christian community. This blatant discrimination starkly contrasts with the principles of equality and inclusivity embraced worldwide.

Why has Pakistan’s minority population plummeted from 23% to a mere 3%? How did a nation, founded on the promise of freedom and equality for all, with the decisive vote of the Christian minority, witness such a drastic decline in its minority communities? Who bore the brunt of the persecution, forced displacement, and violence that led to this alarming decrease? These haunting questions echo through Pakistan’s history, revealing deep-rooted systemic issues that continue to plague its minorities. The drastic decline in the minority population underscores a tragic narrative of persecution, forced displacement, and unrelenting violence, highlighting the urgent need for introspection and reform.

If all minorities are driven away, who will be the next target? Perhaps even the majority will eventually face the consequences. As we confront this grim reality, it is imperative to delve deeper into the forces that have eroded the very fabric of inclusivity and diversity that Pakistan once celebrated.

True diversity transcends mere tolerance; it celebrates the vibrant mosaic of races, cultures, and religions that coexist within a society. It involves acknowledging and honoring the contributions of all communities, ensuring their safety, and safeguarding their rights. In Pakistan, this ideal remains a distant dream.

To realize the inclusive vision of its founding father, the incumbent government must take decisive steps to protect religious minorities, uphold their rights, and celebrate their invaluable contributions. Only by doing so can Pakistan truly become a nation that embodies the values of diversity and harmony that Jinnah envisioned.

Diversity in Pakistan is not merely about religious tolerance; it is about embracing the nation’s rich and multifaceted identity. The harrowing tales of persecution and violence against minorities serve as stark reminders of the immense work that remains. By confronting these issues head-on and striving for a more inclusive society, Pakistan can truly honor its founders’ legacy and build a future that genuinely celebrates diversity.

Now is the critical time to revisit and reform the blasphemy laws and their execution, as well as develop new policies that ensure religious freedom and protect the nation’s minorities. The government must take decisive action against extremism and foster an environment where every citizen, regardless of their faith, feels safe and valued.

The urgency to act cannot be overstated; the future of Pakistan’s diverse identity depends on it. The time for action is now. The government must stand firm in its commitment to inclusivity, ensuring that the principles of equality and harmony envisioned by Pakistan’s founders are realized for all its citizens.

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