LAHORE: Two Christian women were beaten and publically humiliated by an angry mob over apparently frivolous blasphemy allegations and they and their family are now in hiding for fear of being killed, The Express Tribune has learnt.
“None of our relatives is ready to let us stay with them. They fear the wrath of the extremists, particularly after the assassination of Salmaan Taseer,” a male member of the family said over the phone from an undisclosed location.
The family and a non-governmental organisation that is helping them asked that their identities not be revealed, lest it put them in further danger. The names mentioned here are fictitious.
According to the family, the allegations stem from a dispute between Amina, a Muslim, and her sister-in-law Zahira, a Christian, in an East Lahore locality. The two got into an argument on Tuesday night and though it appeared to have been settled, on Wednesday morning, after her husband Zahid had gone to work, Amina walked out onto the street and started shouting that Zahira had abused the Holy Prophet (pbuh).
A short while later, a group of men led by Muhammad Sameer, a member of a religious organisation keen on raising its sectarian profile, forced their way into the house and started slapping Zahira, said another of her brothers, Sohail. “Other men and women from the neighbourhood started gathering at the house too and they beat up my sister and mother. They were the only people in the house,” he said.
“We tried our best to get her to confess her crime,” Sameer told The Express Tribune. As a member of the religious organisation, he said he could not tolerate any derogatory remarks about the Holy Prophet (pbuh).
Sameer added that he was very proud of his wife’s performance during the mob beating. “She beat Zahira more than anyone else. Her hand is so swollen that she hasn’t been able to make rotis since the day of the incident. I’ve been getting my meals from a restaurant,” he said.
Malik Mumtaz Qadri, the self-confessed assassin of Salmaan Taseer, is a member of the same group as Sameer. The group also runs a twenty-four hour cable TV channel.
Khadim Hazoor, Sameer’s son-in-law and another participant in the beating, said that the women’s faces were blackened and they were made to wear necklaces of shoes and paraded around the locality on donkeys to humiliate them.
He said the women denied blaspheming and repeatedly touched their feet seeking mercy.
He said the people of the locality would not allow Zahid or his family to return to their house, which he lives next door to. He claimed that the fight between Zahira and Amina the night before the incident revolved around the upbringing of Zahid and Amina’s 18-month-old daughter. Amina had wanted to raise her daughter as a Muslim, but Zahira wanted her niece to be raised as a Christian, he said.
Hazoor accused Zahid of “cheating Islam” by pretending to convert from Christianity to Islam so he could marry the Muslim girl. “We will not let them live in this house. He has not only cheated Amina but also Islam,” he said.
Zameer Khan, an NGO worker, helped the family flee the locality after they were attacked. “Apparently there was no blasphemy, just an argument between two women,” he said.
He said after hearing of the incident, he had reached the scene to find the women being attacked. He said he had asked the mob if anyone had heard Zahira utter any blasphemous remarks, to which they all replied in the negative. He said he persuaded them to let the women go while he investigated the matter. He then helped relocate the family temporarily. He said he had also convinced the mob not to involve the police.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 15th, 2011.
Christian women attacked, publicly humiliated in Lahore based on false blasphemy accusations
According to the AsiaNews report – Two Christian women, mother and daughter, who recently suffered violence and humiliation, are now in a safe place. An angry mob turned against them in Lahore, beating them, after they were accused of blasphemy. The incident began with a dispute between the two and a Muslim woman, who is married to their son and brother, over the religious education of the mixed couple’s daughter. Mgr Rufin Anthony reacted to the fact, slamming Pakistani society’s increasing intolerance, a sociological problem it must deal with the utmost urgency.
Speaking from their hideout, John Chand, son and brother of the victims, told AsiaNews that the two women “are afraid of being attacked by extremists” and are hiding to avoid being killed.
The mob beat Saira Chand and her mother so badly that both lost consciousness. At some point during the attack, some of the abusers put necklaces made of old shoes around their necks, smeared their faces and put them on the back of donkeys to parade around their east Lahore neighbourhood. After regaining consciousness, the two women vehemently rejected the accusations of blasphemy, touching their feet repeatedly, to demand pity from their tormentors.
A local Muslim leader, Mian Muhammad Sameer, said he did everything to get the two women to “confess” their crime of blasphemy.
A member of Sameer, the same organisation to which Malik Mumtaz Qadri, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer’s murderer, belonged, he said he was proud of his wife, who “beat Saira more than anyone else.”
“Her hand is so swollen she hasn’t been able to cook since the day of the incident. I’ve been getting my meals from a restaurant,” he added.
According to John Chand, the violence was sparked by a dispute between his wife Amina Zaheer, who is Muslim, and his sister Saira, who is Christian, which got worse after the mixed couple had a baby girl.
Matters were already difficult from even before. Amina’s father Zaheer Malik had already objected to her marriage unless John converted to Islam. However, the two got married in court and each kept their religion.
The issue became more complicated when their daughter was born. John wanted to name her Sonia and raise her in the Christian faith. His wife and father-in-law wanted her to grow up a Muslim.
The blasphemy charge was levelled when Saira and Amina had a row that involved Saira’s mother.
When Amina left her mother-in-law’s home, she began accusing the two Christian women of insulting the Prophet Muhammad, and this sparked action by local Muslim extremists.
Eventually, the two women escaped to safe place thanks to the help of Zameer Khan, an NGO worker, who saved their life.
For him, the issue had nothing to do with blasphemy but was just a dispute between two women. Senior Superintendent of Police Zulfiqar Hameed agrees. According to the police officer, it is “a domestic issue” in which Saira was unfairly accused.
Speaking to AsiaNews, Mgr Rufin Anthony, bishop of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, said, “Our society is becoming more and more violent, intolerant and wild.”
The problem is not religious or ethnic but “sociological”, one “that needs to be addressed quickly”.
“Events have come to this stage in the country’s history where religion is being abused to settle personal scores,” said Fr Xavier Joseph.
“State and religion must be separate,” he added; otherwise, “there will be a civil war and that will be the end of the Pakistan as we know it”.