The Christian community experienced another tormenting nightmare some weeks ago when Joseph colony in Lahore was reduced to ashes by an insane mob. While a flurry of belated condemnations from official ramparts followed the incident, it was nothing less than wilfully ignoring a potentially serious situation as the incendiary episode started brewing at least a day before the horror scene occurred.
Timely action could have averted yet another stigma on the much-tarnished image of the country. The Lahore administration and the erstwhile provincial government cannot be absolved from the responsibility of their unforgiveable indolence, which is tantamount to collaborating with the culprits. Accusing someone of blasphemy, stoking acrimony and unleashing of horror by riotous mobs has gone frequently unchallenged, especially in Punjab. Such elements can carry out their nefarious acts without any fear of the much-glorified writ of the state. The almost guaranteed impunity that is there for tormenting religious and sectarian minorities emboldens even ordinary loiterers to partake in mob-frenzy when it is targeted against hapless minorities. Only four years ago, the Christian community in Gojra witnessed a doomsday scenario when eight Christians were brutally killed and dozens of houses were torched, virtually crushing all state laws and Islamic teachings. Not a single perpetrator was punished as the complainant was conveniently intimidated to rescind his statement to avoid further wrath in the absence of law. No lion in the erstwhile Punjab government roared to demonstrate the writ of the state. Each such incident becomes a prelude for the next episode. The message was sufficiently loud and clear when a sitting governor of a province was killed and the murderer emerged as a revered hero. A paralysed state apparatus has lost its credibility as religious and sectarian minorities have become routine victims of unremitting discrimination. It has particularly gained momentum during the last year and Shias are prime targets nowadays.
Our battered image in the international community has been further hit in the wake of this incident. International media and human rights groups will be fully justified in questioning the collective values of our so-called Muslim nation. For a country with an innate orthodoxy, it has become a Herculean task to rein in the malevolent religiosity nurtured during protracted dictatorships, thriving on religious sanctimony. Subdued elected regimes remain entangled with ceaseless challenges posed to their survival. Hence, the vexed question of extricating society from this quagmire remains an unresolved riddle. Determined groups of people within civil society keep clamouring against such barbarism, often at the risk of their lives. A valiant judiciary and some pro-people media outfits are the only flickers of fading hope for optimistic souls in the country.
Although the swift response of the provincial government has brought some succour, the trajectory of such incidents has vitiated optimism. There is not even a remote chance of the long arm of the law catching the recalcitrant culprits. After some initial action to fool the people, poor prosecution will finally ensure that the case is interred. Meanwhile, the victims will hardly be able to find any lawyer to plead their case and it will be even more difficult to find a judge to carry out proceedings in the lower courts. A browbeaten community will hardly dare to pursue their case and most probably will capitulate at some stage. Similarly, the media and civil society are most likely to soon get seized with some other macabre incident lying in store. In all likelihood, the petrified victims of Joseph Colony will only be left with haunting memories of horror, and Pakistan as a country will earn only one more blot on its name.