LAHORE: A mob targeting the Gurdwara Nankana Sahib on Friday has offered a test for the incumbent Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government less than two months after Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan inaugurated the Kartarpur Corridor.
The sizeable mob threatened to vandalise the holy Sikh site, vowing ‘not to spare a single Sikh’ and ‘rename Nankana Sahib as Ghulam-e-Mustafa’. Gathered around the shrine, the aggressive demonstrators demanded the release of men under custody in a case of forced conversion involving a local Sikh girl.
While protestors, vowing ‘revenge’ over the arrests in raging demonstrations, were duly dispersed following swift action from the police and government officials, the incident has brought the government into the spotlight at a time when its energies have been entirely dedicated to highlighting the crimes of its counterparts in India.
The Federal Minister of Human Rights Shireen Mazari was busy tweeting about ‘fascist Modi’ as the mob had besieged the Gurdwara, following up with another tweet on ‘Islamophobia in EU states’ the next day.
Similarly, PM Khan’s Twitter feed is entirely dedicated to India, with the premier having also tweeted a now deleted post sharing a video from Bangladesh as an incident targeting Muslims in India.
Critics argue that while the plight of Muslims in India should be underlined by Pakistan, the fact that the state leaders are so conspicuously failing to address the blatant targeting of religious minorities in their own country hollows their condemnations across the Line of Control.
The incident in Nankana Sahib was rooted in a forced conversion case with one Muhammad Ehsan marrying a local Sikh girl after allegedly forcing her to convert in August 2019. Six people were named in a First Information Report (FIR) filed in the Nankana police station.
After a police raid on Ehsan’s family members, and a heated exchange involving his uncle at a tea stall near Gurdwara Nankana Sahib, protestors led by Ehsan’s brother Muhammad Imran gathered around the holy shrine chanting slogans synonymous with the cleansing of the entire Sikh community from the town.
Earlier, a resident of Nankana Sahib, Meena Kumari, who has been married to a Muslim for the past 20 years told Pakistan Today that said she had not faced any discrimination in the past. Commenting on the matter, she said that the locals had created an issue out of nothing. Locals further maintain that an incident of such a scale against the Sikh community hadn’t taken place since Partition.
With the next hearing on the conversion case set for January 9, Jagjit Kaur – since renamed Ayesha Bibi – had earlier submitted a written statement that she had converted out of her own free will. However, officials and observers note that the statement could’ve been written under some form of coercion, which is the norm in forced conversion cases in the country.
According to the latest Human Rights Commission of Pakistan report, at least 1,000 girls have forcibly converted to Islam annually, with the exact data unknown given that a significant number of the cases aren’t reported.
Many of these cases involving young girls from the religious minority groups, in a country where the only conversion to Islam – not from – is allowed. Legal experts note that this clause in itself puts question marks over the ‘free will’ underlined in conversion. However, given that many of the victims are actually kidnapped and forcibly married, their will is often more than just compromised.
In this regard, the mob besieging the Gurdwara Nankana Sahib has brought multiple questions for the PTI government. These include the protection and safeguard for the religious minorities, the fulfilment of its obligations as custodians of holy sites of other religious communities, and curbing the menace of forced conversions which remains one of the greatest human rights challenges in the country.
“Sikh community [was held] hostage in the houses for hours. The mob [demanded] that they will change the name of the Holy place Nanakana Sahib and will not let any Sikh live [here]… We Pakistani Sikh strongly condemn the attack on Gurudwara Janam Ashtan Nankana Sahib and the stone pelting on the Gurdwara. Requesting the government of Pakistan to take strong action,” noted actor, director and journalist Taranjeet Singh.
“It is important, not to overreact to the unfortunate and shameful events, or to blame Pakistan as a country. At the same time, it has caused a great deal of concern in the Sikh community in India and overseas. The [Pakistani government should] punish the culprits, and assure the Sikh community with regard to their safety,” said India-based analyst Tridivesh Singh Maini, the author of Humanity Amidst Insanity: Hope During and After the Indo-Pak Partition.
While human rights activists and members of the Sikh community have urged the Pakistani government to react strongly to the incident, Islamabad’s retort has been to downplay it.
“Attempts to paint this incident as a communal issue are patently motivated,” noted a Foreign Office press release on Saturday.