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Signs of shift on blasphemy decree

Islamabad, Oct 1: In a rare development, Pakistan police booked at least nine people in a blasphemy case for attacking and ransacking a Hindu temple in an impoverished neighbourhood of Karachi during recent violent protests against an anti-Islam movie.

The attackers also ransacked nearby houses of Hindu community and looted jewellery and other valuables besides, as they assaulted the Shri Krishna Bhagwan Mandir, ocated in the Gulshan-e-Maymar area of Karachi.

The local police registered a case using section 295-A of the blasphemy law and nine people, including one Maulvi Habibur Rehman and his accomplices and men from nearby residential areas have been nominated in the case, police official, Jaffar Baloch said.

The section 295-A brings to net those indulging in deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs along with other charges of looting, vandalism and theft.

While no one has been arrested so far because the accused are at large , security has been beefed up in the Hindu locality.

The blasphemy law had been introduced by former military ruler Zia-ul-Haq to punish people found involved in insulting Islam, Prophet Muhammad, his companions and holy books. Christians, who make up four per cent of Pakistan’s population of 180 million, have been especially concerned about the blasphemy law, saying it offers them no protection. But registration of a case against Muslims for ransacking the temple is rare in Pakistan where nobody has ever been prosecuted for attacking a place of worship for minorities.

The Hindus of Pakistan are a religious minority in an overwhelmingly Muslim society, constituting about 5.5 percent of the population of 170 million. They live primarily in the urban areas of Sindh in the lower Indus valley and over half are concentrated in the south-east district of Tharparkar which borders India..

Since partition of Indian sub-continent, significant steps have been taken to provide opportunities in jobs and education but some rights groups in India and Pakistan claim that there is still discrimination against them. Things further complicate when issue of forced conversions surfaced

In the single-room temple, destroyed sculptures of Hindu gods lay scattered, local English-language newspaper , The Express Tribune said.

Too devastated to pick up the smashed pieces, its caretaker Maharaj Sunda told the newspaper. “I devoted my life to serve the gods, and seeing them like this makes me wish for death.” When the attack took place last month the Maharaj was tending to animals near the temple. Frightened screams from within the temple brought him running back.

When he entered the temple, a scene of chaos greeted him. An infuriated mob of 150 people, carrying rocks and sticks, had barged in and took away gold adornments from the four-foot statues before smashing them to the ground. Worth more than Rs100,000 each, the sculptures were brought from India when the temple was built in 2000.

The locals had no idea what the protestors were rallying about before they entered the area. All they knew that they were angry with ‘the Americans’. “We are not Americans. We have no link with them. Why were we attacked?” said a resident. This was not the first such incident in the area.

The mob finally ran away when Sikh men in the locality reached the spot with their traditional daggers, kirpans. Since the incident, no prayers have been held at the temple. Men have stopped going to work. Children are afraid to play outside, the paper said.

The nationwide protests against the low-budgeted highly blasphemous movie,"Innocence of Muslims" last month left at least 17 people dead and more than 200 injured mainly in clashes with police when the government announced to observe "Lovers of Prophet" day on September 21.

 
 
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