Jaranwala tragedy: ‘If the police had reached in time, the mob could have been stopped from setting fire

Rahmat Masih works as a helper in a textile mill in Faisalabad. On August 16, he reached home in the morning after night duty. He was just lying down to sleep when his eyes were opened by the noise in the street. Meanwhile, someone knocked loudly on their door called their name, and asked them to come out immediately.

Rehmat says that he recognized his neighbor’s voice and when he opened the door, many people were gathered in the street. Most of them had locked their houses and were preparing to go somewhere.

Rehmat Masih’s house is located in Isa Nagri, some distance from Jaranwala’s Cinema Chowk, where his family has lived for three decades.

The neighbor told them that the mosque had announced that a Christian had desecrated the holy books, after which people were being called to Cinema Chowk to protest.

He said that considering the sensitivity of the situation, the Christian community decided to evacuate the area immediately.

“We had no other option to save our lives. We called the police on 15 and the landline number of Thana City Jaranwala several times but no one answered the call.”

Rehmat says that he hastily picked up the necessary equipment. He took his wife and five children with him and went out from the back of the house sat on a motorcycle rickshaw and reached a relative in a nearby village.

“Our churches and houses have been burnt. We are forced to hide to save our lives. If the police had reached the mosques early in the morning after the announcements, the mob could have been stopped from arson.”

According to the 2017 census, the population of the Christian community in the urban areas of Jaranwala was estimated to be 4,558. Most of them live in Isa Nagri and Christian Town, Nusrat Colony, and nearby areas.

Ashraf Masih, a resident of Christian Colony, says that he came to know about the conditions of Jaranwala in Faisalabad.

“I immediately returned to my home in Jaranwala and took two rounds on a motorcycle to transfer my wife and three children to a friend’s camp outside the city.”

Mohammad Irshad, a shopkeeper of Isa Nagri, says that early on Wednesday morning, people saw sacred scrolls scattered in a street in this area. On these papers were written obscene words in red pencil. Also, there was ugly writing on a large piece of paper. On the same paper, the pictures of two persons were written with their names, phone numbers, and ID card numbers. Later it was found that they are both brothers.

Muhammad Irshad claims that he saw the paper pictures and wrote himself. When people told the police about it, the reply was that the informants should come to the police station and apply.

“On this, the people there announced on the loudspeaker of the mosque and gathered the people of the area.”

According to Irshad, this crowd turned towards the Christian population. Meanwhile, some people tried to stop vandalism and arson in houses and churches.

“They forced their way into the church. They pulled down the crosses from the roofs. They vandalized them and sprinkled gasoline on them and set them on fire.”

Mohammad Afzal, a resident of Chamra Mandi, says that the holy papers and obscene posters were sent to Imam Qari Yunus of the local mosque.

Muhammad Afzal also confirmed Muhammad Irshad that the incident was reported to the police.

“A police officer came there and said that the accused had escaped. Whoever wants to apply should come to the police station. After that, an announcement was made from Qari Yunus mosque and then announcements were made from other nearby mosques as well.”

Local journalist Hamad Shafaat has been covering the Jaranwala tragedy throughout the day. They say that around the age of eight and a half, the burning started. They did not see any policemen anywhere in the area till noon on the day.

“The distance between the city police station and Cinema Chowk is only a kilometer. Yet the police’s indifference to the whole incident is surprising.”

Hamad says that after twelve o’clock, two and a half dozen policemen under the leadership of SH Omansoor Sadiq reached the spot. But they also did not try to stop the riots. This further increased the morale of the vandals.

He said that afternoon, four or five elite force vehicles also came but the police did not take any action. Appeals to desist from vandalism were made only by local scholars, while at that time there was no trace of Antamia Tehsil.

Hamad Shafaat says that during this time the office of Assistant Commissioner Jaranwala Shaukat Masih Sindhu was also targeted. According to an official report, the Assistant Commissioner’s house was also set on fire.

He said that the vandals made several allegations against the Assistant Commissioner, including helping his community, but these allegations have not been confirmed by neutral sources.

“During the siege, slogans were raised against the Assistant Commissioner. The protesters were abusing him and demanding his suspension. The Assistant Commissioner went to Lahore in the afternoon and orders for his transfer were issued by the evening of the same day. He was ordered to report to the S&GDA.”

According to Hamad, when there was an uproar in the media, more anti-riot (anti-right) forces and police personnel were sent from Faisalabad in the afternoon. According to police officials, their number was three and a half thousand.

He said that by that time SP Bilal Silhari had reached Jaranwala in the afternoon. After the arrival of anti-rights forces, attempts were made to disperse the rioters. But in response to shelling and lathi charge, stone pelting started and this continued till late evening.

Regarding the delay in stopping the riots, Jaranwala police in-charge Bilal Silhari argues that the police refrained from using force against the protestors to avoid casualties and that is why the impression is being given that the police came late. The vandals were not stopped in time.

However, Atif Jameel, a member of the District Human Rights Committee, does not accept this justification of the police and calls the Jaranwala tragedy a result of the administration’s lack of seriousness.

They say that announcements have been made since early morning. The Christian community was leaving the house but the administration was nowhere to be seen. If the police had come into action at that time, this tragedy could have been prevented.

Deputy Commissioner Ali Annan Qamar and City Police Officer Faisalabad Usman Akram Gondal arrived in Jaranwala in the evening. Later, two companies of Rangers also arrived. But what was to happen had happened.

A holiday was declared in Tehsil Jaranwala the next day and Section 144 was enforced for seven days in District Faisalabad.

According to police officials, a case 295B and 295C (for insulting the Quran and blasphemy) was registered against the accused Raja Amir Saleem and Rakhi Masih in the complaint of the SHO in Jaranwala police station on Wednesday morning at seven o’clock.

Cases have been registered against 34 named and 600 unknown persons involved in the riots. Among the nominees are the leaders of two religious parties, Muhammad Yunus and leader Asifullah Bukhari.

According to the CPO spokesperson, 128 accused have been arrested in Jaranwala after registering 5 cases under the provisions of anti-terrorism and arson, including insulting religious places of worship.

Atif Jameel says – how can anyone do this? This incident seems to be a conspiracy. His motivations must be brought to the fore through an impartial investigation.

Director Peace and Justice Father Khalid Rasheed said that the number of churches burnt in Jaranwala is more than 20.

“Our team has gone there today but as of last reports they have not been able to get permission from the police and administration to go to the Christian communities.”

He said that at first insult from the two boys could not be imagined. Even if the allegation is accepted as true, action should have been taken against them according to law. Who has given a group or a mob the right to attack an entire community by framing it as a criminal?”

In August 2009, at least six Christians were killed in a similar riot in Gojra.

In April 2021, a case was registered against two Christian nurses posted at the District Headquarters Hospital Faisalabad for blasphemy.

According to the report of the Center for Research and Security Studies, 11 cases of blasphemy were registered across the country from 1947 to 1987. And three accused involved in them were extrajudicially killed.

During the reign of General Zia-ul-Haq, the blasphemy law was enforced and the punishment for this crime was fixed under Articles 295B and 295C of the Constitution. After that, from 1987 to 2021, a 1300 percent increase in the registration of cases under this law has been seen.

According to this report, during 74 years, 1,415 cases of blasphemy were registered in the entire country and 89 named accused were extrajudicially killed.

In this regard, a maximum of 1,098 cases were registered in Punjab, in which 70 named persons have been killed extra-judicially.

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