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Political, Religious Leaders Show Solidarity with Hindus After Ghotki Riots

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KARACHI: Political and religious leaders sat down in Sacho Satram Das temple on Sunday night where members of the Hindu community were assured of full support after protests erupted in Ghotki following blasphemy allegations against a Hindu school teacher.

According to a report in Express Tribune, the above-mentioned temple was vandalised earlier in the day along with five shops owned by members of the Hindu community. In addition, a school was also torched by protestors in the area.

The protests erupted after Notan Lal, owner of Sindh Public School (SPS), was accused of passing blasphemous remarks by a student. Hundreds of protestors took to the streets and vandalised properties owned by members of the Hindu community.

The said school owner was arrested by police after the registration of a First Information Report (FIR) following widespread protests in Ghotki city and the surrounding towns. Meanwhile, law enforcers miserably failed to control the situation throughout the day, and calm returned to the area only after the protestors dispersed later in the evening.

The main protest led by Mian Mithoo’s elder brother, namely Mian Aslam, was responsible for attacking SPS owned by Lal.

It merits mention here that in the past, Mian Mithoo has been accused of facilitating the conversion of Hindu girls in the region. Speaking to media persons, Mithoo denied any knowledge about the incident.

Angry protestors vandalised the Sacho Satram Mandir located in the city centre while around five shops in Jilani Market were also looted during the riots.

Events Leading Up To The Incident

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a school teacher from Ghotki told reporters that an SPS student, namely Muhammad Ihtisham, had told his father that Notan Lal had allegedly passed derogatory remarks against Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

In a video that went viral on Sunday, Ihtisham had complained about the incident to other teachers but he was told to hush up the matter. He said, “I then approached my family and narrated the incident to them.”

Protestors had gathered at Ghotki’s A-section police station on Saturday and demanded that the police register an FIR against the school teacher. The FIR was registered late on Saturday night, according to police.

Meanwhile, the city administration and law enforcers turned a blind eye to the riots and failed to disperse the protestors who moved on to attack the temple.

Thousands of supporters of the Mian brothers also held a sit-in on the main roads of the city and later assembled outside the school.

According to some locals, the angry protestors reportedly threatened Hindu families in the area who locked themselves up in their homes fearing violence.

A member of the Hindu community said, “We even told our children not cry to avoid getting any attention.” He further said, “The event was like a nightmare for us. We are under immense mental stress and our free movement has also been restricted.”

In another video that went viral on Sunday, Mian Aslam is seen leading the violent protestors. On the other hand, Mian Mithoo, a former member of the National Assembly (MNA), denied any involvement in the incident.

Speaking to media persons, Mithoo said, “I did not lead any protest in the area as I was attending a meeting in Ubaro.” I just heard that a member of the Hindu community had committed blasphemy, he added.

General Reactions On Social Media

Political leaders and civil society members took to social media and demanded from the Sindh government and law enforcement agencies (LEAs) to provide security to the Hindu community throughout the district.

A civil society activist, namely Sikander Ali Hullio, told reporters that the entire district was being held hostage by the supporters of a particular religious group. Such incidents lead to a sense of deprivation among members of minority communities who have remained an integral part of Sindh since many centuries, he added.

Damage Control Measures And Reactions

Following the protests, workers and supporters of Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), led by Maulana Rashid Soomro, held a peace rally in the city and called upon the people to remain peaceful and show restraint as police investigated the matter.

In a video message, Soomra requested his supporters to refrain from taking the law into their own hands. “The man accused of blasphemy should be arrested immediately and be given exemplary punishment if found guilty of the crime,” he said in his message. He further said, “Islam doesn’t allow anyone to harm persons and damage properties belonging to minority groups.”

Meanwhile, talking to reporters, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) MNA Kheal Das Kohistani said that such incidents disturbed the historic religious harmony enjoyed by people in Sindh. He contacted Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah and requested him to provide security for the worship places of the Hindu community.

Kohistani also appreciated the role of JUI-F’s Soomro for making efforts to pacify the situation. While giving suggestions, he said, “It is the need of the hour to form district-wise peace committees.” Representatives from all religious groups should be included in the committees to resolve religious issues in the future since such incidents bring a bad name to the country, he added.

Sindh Information Minister Saeed Ghani and Local Government Minister Nasir Hussain Shah reached Ghotki on Sunday evening to meet leaders of the Hindu community. Accompanied by local political and religious leaders, Ghani and Shah also visited the Sacho Satram Das temple where they assured the Hindu community of their full support.

The two ministers also announced that the government would provide compensation for the damage caused to the temple by violent protestors. “The situation has been brought under control and the perpetrators would be brought to justice soon,” Ghani said while talking to media persons.

Arrests Made So Far

Ghotki Senior Superintendent of Police Dr Farukh Lanjhar said that the persons nominated in the FIR has been arrested and shifted to an undisclosed location for further interrogation. He pledged to take strict action against those involved in damaging the school building, temple and properties belonging to Hindus.

Meanwhile, Sukkur Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) Dr Jameel Ahmed said that the situation has been brought under control in the area.

It is important to mention here that one FIR was filed under Sections 295 (injuring or defiling place of worship, with intent to insult the religion of any class), 147 (punishment for rioting) and 149 (every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed in prosecution of common object) of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC).

Police have nominated 45 people in the FIR, out of which 22 are named while 23 are yet to be identified.

Another case was lodged against 150 people, including 27 named and 123 unidentified persons, for blocking roads. A third FIR related to rioting and theft was filed against 23 people, including 11 unidentified persons, over reports that protesters had stolen goods from multiple shops in Shahi Bazar.

In addition, police also directed the school administration to file a separate complaint against people who damaged the building and infrastructure, so that a fourth FIR can be registered against the culprits.

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