A recent incident has made us contemplate the state of interfaith harmony and respect for each other in Pakistan. Despite the presence of a religiously diverse community, interaction with which can ‘make a difference’ by way of giving respect to each other has lost its meaning as reflected in several recent incidents in Pakistan.
The Sialkot mob lynching incident resulted in a Sri Lankan citizen who was tortured to death leaving most of progressive Pakistanis speechless and contemplating the democracy in Pakistan. The vague evidence of the reasons behind the incident makes things worse; while some regarded it as an outcome of the blasphemous act of the 49-year-old Sri Lankan factory manager (Priyantha Diyawadana), others investigated the prevailing hatred against him amongst his fellow workers. The critical response was based on diverse contemplation about the political regimes, socio-cultural contexts, and the response from the current government that impacted the public opinion. There are some who blame the Zia regime for instigating such religious fervor while others found the incident exemplifying a ‘normal’ public response (Defence Minister, Pervez Khattak). As a response to the criticism on the PTI government, the CM Punjab suggested that the matter is being investigated in a ‘scientific manner’, whereas Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry acknowledged the public condemnation of the event as a ray of hope for Pakistan. The irony is an award announced for the person who tried to save the victim despite the ambiguity of the real cause of this incident. The event sadly concluded with the victim’s ashes being sent to his aggrieved family back in Sri Lanka to be buried in his native village while his brother struggled to share the news with their old mother.
Evaluating the sensitivity of the matter, a Sri Lankan academic, Professor Sasanka Perera (South Asian University, New Delhi) concludes the religion vs politics debate instigated by this event as follows:
“The ironies in this situation cannot be missed. Blaming Islam for what happened in Pakistan is as unintelligent as blaming Buddhism for not being able to stem the violence in Lanka. This is not a matter of faith or scriptural positions but how faith has been misinterpreted and misused by those who can, simply because they can – often with the protection of the state […] . All I can do now is simply offer the words of the Buddha instilled in me at a very young age: ‘Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal’ (Dhammapada).”
Creating a vacuum based on various interpretations/misinterpretation of such traumatic acts of violence boil down to questioning the law and order situation in the country as we also witnessed a parallel incident that took place in Faisalabad. A few women were disrobed and paraded based on the allegation of stealing at a local shop. The patriarchal system thriving on performing acts of public violence deserves an explanation from the state about where the legal authorities were when these men decided to teach a lesson to these women in the middle of a public space where no one was able to stop them. This is not the first time that we have witnessed such incidents. Just a few months ago, a young tik-toker was molested while making a video at Minar-e-Pakistan.
The reality is that the gruesome images created through these incidents have traumatized the young minds filled with multiple convoluted questions about the state, society, and culture in Pakistan while there is no way of stopping the media from accessing these young minds in this age of digital reliance. At the personal level, some people may remain in favour of faith-based identities or resisting gender bias in Pakistan, nevertheless, harmony may not be possible for us to promote at an individualistic level unless we develop a unanimous consensus about our responses and promote a culture of peaceful coexistence. Despite all the explanations from the authorities, such incidents in no way create a positive image of the country while shaking the hope of a positive future for our upcoming generations.