By Naimat Khan
10 Apr 2015
Easter was a solemn affair for Christians all over Pakistan this year, many observing the holy day amid fear for their safety and memories of the loved ones that they have lost in terrorist attacks, and in the face of growing concerns about the safety of minorities in the province of Sindh.
“There was immense security, but the recent suicide attacks on two churches in Lahore, and even the havoc in Peshawar in 2013, are still fresh in our memories,” said Peter Sadiq, who was attending a prayer at St Andrews Church in Karachi’s Saddar area.
His sense of security is not shared by worshipers at nearly a thousand small churches mostly in the Christian dominated neighbourhoods of the city, which Christians say had very little protection.
“There has been a lot of fear in the community after the Lahore church attacks shook the already frightened religious minority,” said William Sadiq, a Christian activist. “We did celebrate Good Friday and Easter, but there was a haunting sense of insecurity.”
In June 2014, a Supreme Court bench headed by then chief justice Tassaduq Hussain Jilani had asked the federal government to form a task force to protect places of worship of the country’s religious minorities.
Surendar Valasai, adviser to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on minority affairs, says the PPP chairman had already summoned representatives of the minorities in his province for that purpose two months before the apex court’s 28-page verdict, in the wake of violence against the Hindu community in Larkana.
Of the 10,000 planned new inductions in Sindh police, he said, a thousand young recruits will belong to religious minorities, he said. “Another thousand policemen will be recruited from the minorities with the next batch, so that the Sindh government can raise a 2,000-strong force for the security of churches, temples, Gurdwaras and Ahmadi places of worship,” he said.
Sardar Ramesh Singh, head of the Pakistan Sikh Council, says he is waiting for the implementation of the orders of the Supreme Court, or Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. Sanjesh Dhanja, president of Pakistan Hindu Seva, says the country’s Hindus suffer from a sense of insecurity too. William Sadiq says Christians are especially concerned about the security at churches on Sundays, when a large number of worshipers attend prayers.
A former military officer, Munawar Chouhan, has written letters to Karachi’s churches, offering free security training for volunteer boys and girls. Christians say churches do depend largely on volunteers for their security. The gun and suicide attacks on two Churches in Lahore last month would have caused much more damage, witnesses say, if the volunteers had not shown the courage and stopped the attackers. The Shree Ratneswar Mahadev temple in Karachi’s affluent Clifton neighbourhood has recruited its own volunteer guards, but they have no professional training.
Christian leaders recently met PPP’s newly elected Hindu Senator Gayan Chand. “He told us that the Sindh government’s new force of 2,000 policemen for the security of the places of worship of minorities will help alleviate our fears,” William Sadiq said.
Hindu leaders share the general fear of terrorist attacks with the Christians, but they are also especially concerned about the recent violence against their temples. There have been six reported attacks on Hindu temples in Sindh in the last six months, including the Radha Krishan temple in Hyderabad, the Shanga Bhawani temple in Makli, Thatta, and the Hanuman temple in Tando Muhammad Khan. In March last year, a Muslim crowd set on fire a Dharamshala in Larkana, after unverified reports that a Hindu boy had desecrated the Holy Quran.
Sanjesh Dhanja sees extremism, personal feuds and class oppression as the reasons behind the attacks on Hindu community. Nearly half of bonded laborers in the province belong to the Hindu community, he says, and no amount of representation in the parliament can the lawmakers feel the pain of 90 percent scheduled castes.
According to Ramesh Singh, there are 17 Gurdwaras in Sindh, five of which are located in Karachi. Official records show that the government is unaware of five of them, although one of them – the Ramchandra temple – is in front of a police station. It has been encroached by the government itself, Sikhs allege, and it has built the Government Inter Science Nabi Bagh College over it.
A report submitted by the Sindh Home Secretary to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif during his Karachi visit late in March says there are six Sikh temples in the province.
A record of the places of worship of minorities in the country is kept by the Evacuee Trust Property Board, a federal organization, says the PPP chairman’s adviser Surendar Valasai. The Sindh government will update it for a better management of the security of minorities, he says, when the matter is devolved to the province.
Asad Iqbal Butt, vice chairman of the Human Right Commission of Pakistan, does not see heightened security as a permanent solution. “A strong information sharing system between the intelligence and security agencies, and timely action based on such intelligence, is what will work,” he says. The writ of the government will protect everyone, he says, whether Muslim or non-Muslim. That is why the Zarb-e-Azb operation has lowered the level of threat.
Mufti Muneebur Rehman, a noted cleric, says it is wrong to assume that only minorities are under attack. “All those non-Muslims who are law abiding citizens of Pakistan have the similar rights as Muslim citizens. They have the right to perform their religious rituals freely according to their beliefs, and it is the duty of state to protect them,” he says. “But right now, all Pakistanis are under attack. The terrorists have not spared mosques, shrines, imambarhags, or Meelad gatherings.”
Naimat Khan is a freelance journalist