Latest case to raise concern about the fate of religious minorities
KARACHI: A crowd in Pakistan ransacked a school and Hindu temple after a Hindu principal was accused of blasphemy, police said yesterday, the latest case to raise concern about the fate of religious minorities in the predominantly Muslim country. The violence erupted in the southern province of Sindh after a student accused the Hindu principal of blasphemy in comments about the Muslim Prophet Mohammad.
The enraged crowd ransacked the school and damaged a nearby temple, a district police chief said. The principal had been taken into protective custody and police were investigating both the alleged blasphemy and the rioters, he added. “It seems the principal had not done anything intentionally,” the district police chief, Furrukh Ali, told Reuters.
Insulting Islam’s Prophet Mohammad carries a mandatory death penalty in Pakistan, which is about 95 percent Muslim and has among the harshest blasphemy laws in the world. No executions for blasphemy have been carried out in Pakistan but enraged mobs sometimes kill people accused of it. Rights groups say the blasphemy law is often exploited by religious hardliners as well as ordinary Pakistanis to settle scores.
The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan condemned the weekend violence, footage of which was recorded in a video and circulated on social media. It called on authorities should take prompt action. “The video … is chilling: mob violence against a member of a religious minority is barbaric, unacceptable,” the commission said in a post on Twitter. Hindus make up about 1.6% of Pakistan’s population of 208 million, the majority of whom are Sunni Muslims.
In January, the Supreme Court upheld the acquittal of a Christian women who spent years on death row after being convicted of blasphemy in a case that had drawn alarm from religious and human rights advocates. In March, Pakistan’s government sacked a provincial minister for making offensive comments about Hindus as tension between Pakistan and Hindu-majority neighbor India ran high after a militant attack in the Indian-controlled portion of the contested Kashmir region.
Indian Pilgrim corridor
In another development, a corridor for Indian Sikh pilgrims travelling to a holy temple in Pakistan will open in November, in time for one of the religion’s most sacred festivals. The visa-free border crossing from India to Kartarpur, Pakistan will be inaugurated on Nov 9, just ahead of the 550th birthday of Sikhism founder Guru Nanak on Nov 12, Pakistani project director Atif Majeed said yesterday.
The project is a rare recent example of cooperation between the nuclear powers, who came close to war in February following a militant attack on police in Indian-controlled Kashmir. India revoked the special status of its portion of the disputed territory last month, inflaming relations once again.
The Sikh minority community in India’s northern state of Punjab and elsewhere has long sought easier access to the temple in Kartarpur, a village just over the border in Muslim-majority Pakistan. The temple marks the site where the guru died. To get there, travelers currently must first secure hard-to-get visas, travel to Lahore or another major Pakistani city and then drive to the village, which is just 4 km (2-1/2 miles) from the Indian border.
Indian pilgrims will pay Pakistan $20 to use the corridor, which includes roadways, an 800-metre bridge over the Ravi River and an immigration office. Up to 5,000 Indians will be allowed access daily, with plans to eventually double capacity, Majeed said. Costs of the corridor were not released. Many Sikhs see Pakistan as the place where their religion began. Its founder, Guru Nanak, was born in 1469 in a small village near the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore. – Agencies