The already disadvantaged citizens of Jaranwala saw any remaining hope snatched away by the violent mob.

One of the locals claims that the most disruptive members of the mob were children between the ages of 10 and 15. “I have never been this terrified of children before,” the speaker said.

It is the afternoon of Friday, August 18, two days after a mob in Faisalabad’s Jaranwala tehsil burned down and vandalized scores of Christian homes and 19 churches in various neighborhoods and villages of the Jaranwala tehsil as a result of claims of blasphemy.

Along Sayedwala Road, which runs through the middle of Jaranwala city, there are rows upon rows of police trucks and jail vans. The majority of people from Jaranwala had fled to Faisalabad before the attacks on their homes. Therefore law enforcement agencies in Faisalabad, as well as the other cities in the area, are on high alert. According to them, they anticipate another mob attack following the prayers on Friday.

Inside of Jaranwala, the route that goes from Sayedwala route to Cinema Chowk has been closed off with barbed wire, and all of the accesses that lead to the roundabout have been sealed off. The alleged act of blasphemy took place at Cinema Chowk, which is only a few hundred meters away from Jamia Masjid Mahtab. It was in Jamia Masjid Mahtab that the prayer leader made statements, which incited the violence that followed.

There are additional police contingents from Faisalabad and fire engines from Rescue-1122 stationed at all road entries between Christian Town and Essa Nagri at Chak 127 on the outskirts of Gogera Bank Canal, which is around two kilometers distant, and all the way to the Parish House, which is another two kilometers away.

Two or three houses out of the several that were located on the street next to Jamia Masjid Mahtab have been turned to ashes. A man is seen seated on a chair in front of his charred home, and his next-door neighbor, a woman, can be seen standing on the steps leading to her home. She recalls the event in a matter-of-fact manner, stating that early in the morning, someone came on her door and informed her that everyone in Christian Town had fled because of an imminent attack and that she needed to hurry. “You need to hurry,” they told her.

The individuals suspected of committing the act of blasphemy were locals of Christian Town, which is located a few blocks behind Jamia Masjid Mahtab and is near to Chammra Mandi (leather market). Christian Town is a crisscross maze of narrow alleyways and does not have a sewage system. Along one of the neighboring streets is an improvised banner that bears the slogan of the Tehreek-i-Labaik Pakistan party.

There is a DIY banner representing the TLP hanging in the street next to Christian Town. All photographs taken by the author

Tents and barbed wire cover the perimeters of the streets where the suspects lived, and as if those measures weren’t sufficient, police officers wade through overflowing gutter water to deter others from approaching the area. All of the houses on those streets have been almost completely destroyed by the fire. But on the block immediately adjacent to the mosque, where the lady resides, someone needed to determine for the mob which of those properties belonged to Christian households.

They got back around ten o’clock on Friday morning, she explains, pointing to her neighbor who is waiting outside of his damaged house, because authorities from the building department were meant to visit their homes to assess the damage.

Theft of valuables from a trunk kept inside a residence in Essa Nagri.

Depending on the severity of the damage, the government of Punjab is contemplating making an offer of compensation for losses in the range of 200,000 to 1,000,000 Indian Rupees (Rs.). On Friday, representatives from the building department started touring homes in a variety of neighborhoods to have a better idea of how to calculate the extent of the damage. An officer from the construction department was walking through Essa Nagri when he made these remarks: “We will measure the size of these houses and come with an estimate based on what we can see.”

Unrecoverable voids in one’s life

In Essa Nagri, a member or two of each house that was set on fire may be found presently seated on chairs, awaiting the arrival of the inspection teams. Hammers were used to break down the boundary wall of the United Presbyterian Church in this area, and then it was set ablaze. The church has pink walls that have been painted with Christmas decorations on them, and these walls still emit heat. The front doors of the church open onto a street that is so small that it is littered with the charred remains of bicycle frames, furniture, and refrigerators.

The first house on the right is Allah Ditta’s home, which he shares with his mother. Jaranwala Assistant Commissioner Shaukat Masih, who himself had to evacuate the area, engaged the 30-year-old man as a gardener at his home. According to Allah Ditta, his residence was a target because individuals in the neighborhood were aware of the work he did. His mother takes me on a tour of the looted and charred remains of the rooms, but she is particularly interested in showing me the roof.

A room in Allah Ditta’s house contained several pieces of broken furniture.

The mob that broke into the house melted the iron girders of the roof, causing them to fall to the ground inside the house.

She points to the charred remains of what was once a bedroom and explains, “My son who has special needs used to dwell here.” Because of the heat, the iron girders that supported the ceiling have melted and joined together with the floor. The ground is littered with the charred remnants of her son’s pigeons. She only provides one explanation for what happened, which is that “they torched his birds.”

Another local homeowner, Sarfaraz Emmanuel Paul, is standing outside his home while being besieged by video bloggers and journalists who want to capture his interview and film his house after it was burned down. His home is only a few yards away from hers. His mother was a Sunday School teacher, and one of the rooms in their home was entirely destroyed by fire. In that room, her Sunday School supplies and hymn books were torn apart and burned.

A couple who are sitting outside their house recognizes me as I go through the neighborhood, and they call out to me to come over. They had spent all of their retirement assets to relocate to Essa Nagri a few years ago so that they might begin a humble prayer ministry there. In the past, they had been members of our church. Their house was ransacked and burned to the ground close to the Gogera Branch Canal. Pastor Saleem Arif’s All Evangelical Covenant Church is located to the left of their residence. On top of the church, the home of the pastor and his family was also torched and ransacked.

The people of Essa Nagri, the majority of whom had just returned home that day and appeared to be in a state of complete disbelief, were comforted by visitors from all walks of life, including journalists, government officials, neighbors, workers from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and representatives of the clergy, who embraced and wept with them.

“scenes that defy description”

Shahbaz Samuel Francis Masih, who holds the post of elder in the Catholic Church, explains how the violence unfolded on his street. Elders are in positions of power within the church hierarchy. He claims that Father Khalid Mukhtar called him and requested that he inform others to leave. He monitored the evacuation and led those who were unable to evacuate into the sugarcane fields that were nearby.

He indicates a building in the distance that has a ‘alam,’ which is a black flag that indicates a Shia person’s place of residence. “I rushed to my neighbor’s house and asked them to protect me, and then I witnessed the entire affair from the rooftop,” the narrator says.

A space located within the residence of the pastor serving the All Evangelical Covenant Church.

When the crowd showed at around 10 in the morning, there were approximately 15 to 20 police officers on duty in front of the entrance to the Gogera Branch Canal. “Trawlers packed of young men came to a stop at the entryway, and when they opened the door, a swarm of them emerged.” Shahbaz states, “I had never seen so many people in these streets… there were thousands.” “I had never seen so many people in these streets.”

They entered the UP Church, searched through the Bibles that were inside, and then burned the books outside on the roadways. After robbing the church, they proceeded on to the homes, where they first broke the locks before entering and stealing goods. After that, they would throw a red chemical that was contained in a bottle onto the rooftops, and then they would climb up on the roof and use hammers to bring everything down.

Other pastors, who have by this time come around us and had in the past observed mass fires in Shanti Nagar and Gojra, chimes in and says that this chemical had also been used in both of those places. They point out that a chemical that is powerful enough to melt through iron girders would not be sold at a basic store on the corner because it would be too dangerous. The name of the red chemical or where it might be sold has yet to be discovered. It is possible that a significant amount of corrosive chemical has gone missing from a factory, and this should be looked into.

According to Shahbaz, the most damaging members of the crowd were children ranging in age from 10 to 15 years old. “I have never been this terrified of children before,” the speaker said. According to him, they would move through residences as if they had been trained to execute the activity in question.

Bewildered and dazed to the core

Nearly all of the people who have returned to their homes to evaluate the damage are in a state of shock, and they are unable to provide a coherent timeline of how the events happened. This is because almost all of them were away from their homes when the disaster occurred.

Aside from the sheer terror of watching individuals plunder and burn homes as the police waited about, most people raised significant questions, such as how could a mob equipped with torches, sledgehammers, and corrosive chemicals assemble so quickly? Who were the youngsters and men in trawlers brought to these neighborhoods, and who instructed them to destroy specific homes? And lastly, how is it possible for the government to stand by and watch as a targeted and damaging form of collective punishment unfolds without interfering in any way?

They maintain that the persons who are being charged of blasphemy were in fact in debt to a significant creditor.

At the local church’s Sunday school, the crowd tore hymn books to shreds and then set fire to them.

The room belonging to the Sunday School teacher, in which she led classes and hosted prayer gatherings.

During my trip to the Catholic Church, I discovered that Father Khalid Mukhtar had been ill and had traveled to Faisalabad. Additionally, his home in the Parish had been ransacked and set on fire.

Father Mukhtar, speaking over the phone, stated that the suspected act of blasphemy took place at approximately 5 a.m. when two women who were wandering around Cinema Chowk came across a picture of two suspects with their names, CNIC and addresses, along with chapters of the Holy Quran that had been crossed out with a red pen. Also included in the picture was a portion of the Holy Quran that had been desecrated. After approaching the possible criminals, the women escorted them back to the chowk in order to show them the pages. The men took the pages with them before departing for their homes. A mob eventually formed, and once it did, they marched to the men’s house, where they asked to see the pages, and then they left.

He explained, “I arrived in Christian Town at approximately 6:30 in the morning, where I saw the maulana and SP, and we had a conversation.” Despite this, the fighting started perhaps about nine in the morning. The priest made a number of urgent phone calls to his parishioners located all throughout the city, pleading with them to get out of there quickly. The assistant commissioner of Jaranwala, who was a Christian by faith, was also required to depart the area.

The method behind the insanity

The majority of residents of Christian Town, which is located near Chammra Market, and Chak 127 Essa Nagri are working as sweepers in the municipal corporation. They also work in industries, shops, and other places. They reside in working-class communities, which are characterized by a lack of amenities and a deteriorating physical environment.

According to church elder Shahbaz, this is the very first time something like this has taken place in the city of Jaranwala. However, other Christian pastors and individuals who were there to express their condolences note out that Jaranwala is the latest among many towns and neighborhoods in the Faisalabad division that have witnessed such violence. They say this while pointing out that Jaranwala is the newest victim of such violence.

In 2009, a crowd in Gojra district, which is 74 kilometers away from Jaranwala, set fire to 60 homes and killed seven individuals over claims that were very similar. During the same time period, Chak 424 was put in danger, and its inhabitants were forced to flee.

The late Bishop John Joseph, who committed himself during a demonstration against the blasphemy law in 1998 by shooting himself on the steps of a courthouse in Khushpur village, which is located approximately 70 kilometers distant from Jaranwala.

Warispura is also situated forty kilometers to the west of Jaranwala, and it was in this town in 2010 that blasphemy accusations led to the deaths of two Christian brothers. Following yet another round of blasphemy claims in 2018, the same village experienced a temporary exodus of Christian families for a period of time.

The events that took place in Jaranwala the week before last were simply the most recent in a string of violent episodes that have been instigated to persecute a minority group that has very little to begin with and even less reason to have hope for the future. The community has very little faith in the state’s ability to punish individuals responsible for these crimes because the state has failed to do so on multiple occasions.

There is little doubt that the atrocities that occurred on August 16 will continue to haunt the people of Jaranwala for many years to come as they try to pick up the parts of their life that have been left behind. And while monetary compensation may alleviate some of the financial load, one can only hope that the state eventually fulfills its commitment to its most vulnerable inhabitants, which is the protection of life and property given to all people, regardless of faith, caste, or social standing.

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