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.
According to Pakistani media reports, 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.
According to ‘Pakistan Today’, 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.
Imran Khan condemns
Prior to Chishti’s arrest on Sunday, the prime minister had personally condemned the incident, taking pains to prove it was dissimilar to the ongoing oppression of minorities in neighboring India. In a series of tweets, he said the mob that gathered outside Nankana Sahib was against his vision.
“The major difference between the condemnable Nankana incident and the ongoing attacks across India on Muslims and other minorities is this: the former is against my vision and will find zero tolerance and protection from the government, including police and judiciary,” he said.
“In contrast, Modi’s RSS vision supports minorities oppression and the targeted attacks against Muslims are part of this agenda. RSS goons conducting public lynchings, Muslims being violated by mobs are all not only supported by Modi Govt but Indian police leads anti-Muslim attacks,” he added.
Indian envoy summoned
The Foreign Office (FO) summoned Indian Deputy High Commissioner Gaurav Ahluwalia to convey Pakistan’s rejection of India’s allegations concerning the maltreatment of the Sikh community and attacks on Gurdwara Nankana Sahib.
During the meeting, Director General (South Asia & SAARC) Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri conveyed Pakistan’s denouncement of the Indian government’s allegations of “vandalism and desecration” of Gurdwara Nankana Sahib and the “targeted killing” of a Pakistani Sikh youth in Peshawar.
The Indian allegations had surfaced after police had to step in on Friday amid rising tensions in Nankana Sahib after a heated debate at a tea stall threatened to blow into a big law and order issue.
Reports said four customers, while taking tea at Zaman’s stall in front of Gurdwara Janam Asthan, started a conversation about his nephew, Muhammad Ehsaan who, just a few months ago, came into the limelight for marrying a Sikh girl after allegedly forcing her to convert.
Zaman reportedly reacted with anger, which led to a confrontation between two groups. A small crowd gathered to raise slogans. A team of Nankana Sahib police had to intervene briskly to control the situation.