By C. Douglas Golden September 18, 2021 at 1:11pm
Here’s how arbitrary the justice system in Pakistan can be.
In early August, international news outlets began reporting on the story of an 8-year-old Hindu boy who had been arrested for blasphemy in a religiously conservative area. In response, a Hindu temple had been ransacked by a Muslim mob after the boy was released on bail. Others in the Hindu community had fled their homes.
Days after that report was picked up, charges against the boy were dropped — and the police who arrested him found themselves in handcuffs, likely due in no small part to the outrage.
According to The Guardian, the 8-year-old was the youngest person to be charged with blasphemy after he was alleged to have intentionally urinated on the carpet in a madrassa’s library. The incident occurred in Rahim Yar Khan, a conservative district in the Pakistani state of Punjab.
The arrest touched off mob violence. The ransacking of the temple led to numerous arrests, and troops were deployed to the region.
The boy’s family, meanwhile, was in hiding.
They had good reason to be afraid, and not just of the mob. Blasphemy carries a potential death penalty in Pakistan. Even if the capital punishment isn’t applied — it hasn’t been since the death penalty for blasphemy was introduced in 1986 — those charged and convicted are often killed by mobs.
“He [the boy] is not even aware of such blasphemy issues and he has been falsely indulged in these matters,” a family member told the Guardian. “He still doesn’t understand what his crime was and why he was kept in jail for a week.”
“We have left our shops and work, the entire community is scared and we fear backlash,” the family member said. “We don’t want to return to this area. We don’t see any concrete and meaningful action will be taken against the culprits or to safeguard the minorities living here.”
Experts were stunned at the charges, given the age of the boy.
“The attack on the temple and blasphemy allegations against the eight-year-old minor boy has really shocked me,” said lawmaker Ramesh Kumar, who’s head of the Pakistan Hindu Council. “More than a hundred homes of the Hindu community have been emptied due to fear of attack.”
“I demand charges against the boy are immediately dropped, and urge the government to provide security for the family and those forced to flee,” human rights activist Kapil Dev said.
“Attacks on Hindu temples have increased in the last few years showing an escalating level of extremism and fanaticism,” he said. “The recent attacks seem to be a new wave of persecution of Hindus.”
What’s more, reports indicated the incident was accidental. According to India’s The Print, the boy was allegedly reprimanded by the cleric who ran the madrassa, Hafiz Muhammad Ibrahim, for loitering. The boy then supposedly urinated on the rug in the library in fear.
When the child was released on bail, a cleric, Razzaq Soomro, began an online anti-Hindu campaign that ended with a pogrom against the local Hindu community.
The attack on the temple was the eighth in 12 months in Pakistan.
1. 100 year old Historic Temple, Rawalpindi, Punjab on 28 March 2021.
2. Teri Temple, Karak, KPK on 30 December 2020.
3. Mata Rani Temple, Nagarparkar, Sindh on 24 October 2020
4. Shri Ram dev Temple, Kario ghanwar, Badin, Sindh on 10 October 2020.
— Parkash Heerani 🇵🇰🕉️ (@parkashpakistan) August 4, 2021
Those asking for proofs:
— Parkash Heerani 🇵🇰🕉️ (@parkashpakistan) August 5, 2021
However, things began to shift once the case began to get international attention. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan called for the arrest of both the culprits behind the attack on the temple and what India Today described as “negligent police officers.”
On Aug. 12, the Guardian reported the charges had been dropped — and the police officers were now the ones in legal trouble.
“The charges against the boy were baseless,” said Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, the prime minister’s special representative on religious harmony.
The officers who had pressed the charges now faced charges themselves for arresting the 8-year-old for blasphemy.
“Minorities are equal citizens and these are illiterate people attacking worship places,” Ashrafi said. “Our Islam does not allow attacking of any other religion’s places of worship.”
In addition, the government paid for repairs to the temple.
However, groups noted that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are often used as cudgels against minority groups — in this case, an 8-year-old Hindu boy who found himself facing charges that could have theoretically led to his execution. Even now that the charges are dropped, the mob might end up lynching the child.
International pressure is the only thing that stopped an 8-year-old from facing one of the most serious criminal charges in Pakistan — and for something that shouldn’t be criminalized.
Imagine the ugliness that would have ensued if the world had looked away.