An eight-year-old Hindu boy is being held in protective custody after becoming the youngest person ever to be charged with blasphemy in Pakistan.
The child’s “family is in hiding” and many other members of the Hindu community in the deeply conservative Rahim Yar Khan district of Punjab “have fled their homes” amid an outbreak of violence following the boy’s release on bail last week,
Troops have been deployed and 20 people arrested after a Muslim mob attacked a local Hindu temple. Ahmed Nawaz, a police spokesperson for the district, said that “some 70 to 80 protesters” stormed the temple last Wednesday and “smashed the windows”. The mob also “burned down the temple’s main door and damaged statues”, and police are “searching for another 100 suspects” thought to have been involved in the violence.
The unnamed child is “accused of intentionally urinating on a carpet in the library of a madrassa, where religious books were kept”. The penalty for blasphemy in Pakistan can be death.
A member of the boy’s family told the paper that “he is not even aware of such blasphemy issues”, adding: “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. 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.”
Eastern Eye, which is London-based, says the storming of the temple is “the latest in a string of assaults on Hindu places of worship in recent years, including an attack late last year that saw around 1,500 people overrun and set fire to a temple in northwestern Pakistan”.
The stark “uptick in violence comes as leaders in Pakistan and India have been locked in an increasingly harsh war of words”, with both sides accusing the other of inflaming religious sentiments to target minorities in their respective countries”.
Blasphemy legislation in Pakistan has historically been “disproportionately used” to target religious minority groups, according to The Guardian. Muslims represent 97% of the country’s population, while Hindus make up around 2%.
No executions have taken place since the death penalty was introduced for the crime of blasphemy in 1986, but “suspects are often attacked and sometimes killed by mobs”, the paper adds.
Ramesh Kumar, head of the Pakistan Hindu Council, said: “The attack on the temple and blasphemy allegations against the eight-year-old minor boy have really shocked me. More than a hundred homes of the Hindu community have been emptied due to fear of attack.”
Kapil Dev, a human rights activist campaigning for equal citizenship for religious minorities, added: “I demand charges against the boy are immediately dropped, and urge the government to provide security for the family and those forced to flee. (The Guardian, 10 Aug 2021)
My comment: An eight year old boy? Out of all proportion. A good talking-to and a lecture on respect would have been quite enough. Now expect a further ratcheting up of inter-communal hatred. If this is organized religion give me unorganized humanism – and Epicureanism.