Gojra Gangsters’ Attack On
Pakistani Christians Backfires
By Gul Jammas Hussain
07 August, 2009
I’ve been to that village in Pakistan many a time, but things were different on Saturday. On that day, dozens of Christian homes were set alight and eight people were burnt to death after villagers received reports that the local Christians had desecrated the Holy Quran.
The village of Korian, near Gojra town in Punjab Province, is full of rogues and is notorious for its many different criminal gangs and their never-ending infighting and clashes with outsiders. But over the past few years, there has been an upsurge in militant organizations in the area and a number of vigilante groups, like the so-called Green Turbans, have sprung up out of the sinister world of crime of gangsterism.
Many reports say that banned extremist sectarian outfits like Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi played a significant role in the conflagration, but it was actually the petty criminal gangs who torched the homes.
Most of the country’s Christians -- who make up a little less than five percent of the total population -- are extremely poor and downtrodden people who work in other people’s houses or clean toilets, drainages, and city and village streets as municipal workers in order to make a living. Their income is so low that sometimes they spend a lifetime to earn the money to build a rickety hovel. In the weekend attack, over 40 of these homes were set on fire by street criminals who were incited by religious fanatics.
A Christian woman from the area told one of my relatives in a nearby city that the Holy Quran was not deliberately desecrated. She said what really happened was that a Christian recycler was collecting paper from houses when some Muslim family mistakenly handed over some chapters of the Holy Quran and that man’s illiterate children, not knowing that they were playing with pages of the holy book, made paper boats out of them and floated the boats in a pond beside their house. The vigilantes witnessed this and rushed to the mosque, saying that the Holy Quran had been desecrated and called on the local Muslims to punish the entire Christian community of the village.
The violent incidents shocked the nation and Pakistanis from all walks of life have condemned the barbaric acts and declared that they stand in solidarity with the country’s Christian minority.
And Pakistan’s vibrant electronic media played a key role in disseminating the news about the tragedy, which caused high-ranking officials to rush to the area in droves, including Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, who promised on Tuesday that the government would cover the cost of rebuilding the charred houses and pledged to bring the perpetrators of the attack to justice. “There couldn’t be any cruelty more harsh than this,” he said in an address to Christians.
If there is any silver lining to this incident, it is the fact that it seems to have encouraged Pakistanis to become more tolerant and to work to enhance national cohesion.