Part Two: Shantinagar and Khanewal; Ramifications of Blasphemy laws. By Dr. Stephen Gill

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The attack was initiated from the historical city of Khanewal, known for the activities of the Muslim militants. Khanewal is not far from Shantinagar. Before proceeding further, it is better to have some idea about this city. The name Khanewal was given to the city by Daha Khans, a prominent political Rajput family. Their descendants were in that area for more than a hundred years. This fertile land is free from salinity and becoming water logged. The land of Khanewal stretches almost to Sahiwal to the north. The Khanewal town became important in the 7th and the 8th decade of the 19th century when the British regime laid railway tracks there. This development brought many people from several parts of India, including British officers. In the 80's of the last centuries, Mr. Robert, an Englishman, began to grow cotton here on 25, 000 acres of land that he had leased for 99 years. Cotton is exported from there even now.

 Further migration took place in 1947 when Pakistan was carved out of India. Several Muslim families from India moved there. Some Muslims went there from Rohtak that is in Hissar, India. The land of the Hindus who left for India was allotted to those Muslims. They are called Rohtakis. They are mostly Sunni. They are hardworking and hot tempered. These days, they control the politics and commerce of the area.

 Most Christians in Khanewal are from Punjab. A majority of the Christian villages in Khanewal have their high schools, which have produced lawyers, teachers, nurses and others to serve the country. Christians from 10 to 35 per cent of the population in 25 villages around this area. The area is the hub of the activities of an extremist group known as Harkat-ul-Insar. It was reported that the plan to attack Shantinagar was prepared by Harkat-ul-Insar, a Muslim extremist organization, and the police. The Mirror reported that Sufi Abdul Haq, a Muslim religious and political leader, quoting eyewitnesses, said that some unidentified persons went from mosque to mosque, making those announcements forcibly.4 The Friday Times mentions Rana Latif, Sarwar and Baga who went to different mosques to have those mosques make announcements. It appears that the announcements were uniform in their contents which raises the suspicion that the mosques were supplied with written statements to be announced on loudspeakers.5

 Sensing the impending danger, Father Darshan Theodore, the parish priest of the Catholic Church of Khanewal, went to the Deputy Commissioner at about 10:30 in the night. He was not in the city.  Father Darshan Theodore rushed to the Additional Deputy Commissioner General, Dr. Pevaiz Ahmed, to request measures to avert the impending attack by the extremists. He assured Fr. Theodore that he would do the needful to control the situation. Between 10:30 and 12 in the night, churches, Christian institutions and houses began to be attacked in Khanewal. Thousands of Muslims attacked Civil Lines Christian Basti.  They took the residents by surprise by burning their houses, shops and belongings. Close to this Christian Colony of Civil Lines, there is the Church of Pakistan which was the first target. The next targets included a Catholic Church, Salvation Army Church and a dispensary. The mob stole and broke religious articles and set furniture and books to fire.

The same night, Fr. Darshan Theodore, between midnight and 12.30, again contacted the same Additional Deputy Commissioner General, Dr. Pervaiz Ahmed. He received the answer that they should not worry because the army was asked for help. Deputy Commissioner Haseeb Athar asked the Deputy Superintendent of Police about the number of policemen he had. He said about 40. He asked him to deploy 15 of them at the gates of the Catholic Church.

 In the morning, on the 6th of February, a mob attacked St. Joseph Church again when outside the Church there were about fifteen police officers to guard it.  The crowd was equipped with axes, sticks, guns, knives and other sharp objects. The police did not try to stop the crowd. This church is located opposite to the District Council of Khanewal. The crowd broke down all the windows, doors and then collected all the carpets, mats, religious articles and burnt them. Copies of the Bible were torn and thrown in anger on the floor and burnt. The holy statues of St. Joseph and Mary were smashed, crosses were broken, all the fans and lights destroyed. The tabernacle was also broken and the Holy Eucharist was thrown on the floor. There was fire everywhere in the church.            Hundreds of people rushed to the Father's residence. Breaking all the doors and windows, they entered the house.  All the parish records, registers, dinning room, kitchen and a guest room were totally wrecked.  Everything in his office and bedroom were put on fire.

 Another group attacked St. Joseph's school building and the boy's hostel where 150 borders were sleeping at that time. When the crowd started breaking everything, some boys ran away and saved themselves. Terrified, about fifty to sixty small children hid themselves under their beds. The zealots burnt the cotton mattresses and blankets in the dormitories. Children jumped from the roofs to save their lives. In the boy's hostel, the crowd destroyed the desks, tables, chairs and all that was usable.  Several children saved their lives by running away from the attackers.  The children were taken out in unconscious condition.  

The residence of the Father who was in charge of the dormitories was reduced to ashes. The father himself saved his life by hiding. In the school, the crowd burnt class room furniture, doors and windows. All the school records was burnt. The school laboratory was completely destroyed. Fr. Darshan saved his life by hiding himself behind the wall in his sitting room. Because of the smoke in the room, the attackers could not see him.

 Close to the Catholic Church is the Salvation Army Church. They damaged and burnt this church.  The crowd went to the Church of Pakistan again. They destroyed the church and also the adjacent house of the pastor. Pastor Elvyn Wilson, his wife and children, were inside the house when their house was set on fire. They saved their lives by locking themselves in a store room. They were rescued by their neighbor, Habib Ullah Niazi. The same crowd destroyed the Salvation Army Church and dispensary.

 The crowd proceeded to a Christian establishment in Civil Lines. They set several shops and houses to fire. Those members of the families who could not run for their lives were treated violently. Five shops of Christians in Christian Colony, Civil Lines of Khanewal, were set to fire. Four Christian houses were attacked. The members of five families were beaten and their belongings destroyed. This area was attacked twice. The second time, the Christians took preliminary steps for their protection. They collected bricks and stones on the roofs of their houses.  The police was already there but did not stop the crowd. The zealots beat up several Christians. They ran to other houses for protection. The Christians who were already on the roofs of their houses, started throwing stones and bricks on the crowd. Consequently, the crowd went back. This way, they did not let the crowd proceed further.

The mob proceeded to Khurampura which is mostly a Christian settlement. The Christian youth of Khurampura were ready to meet any eventuality. The mob passed them by for fear of a confrontation. Meanwhile, the mob went again to the house of the parish priest and burnt the household items and church records in front of the policemen who did nothing to stop them, not even to discourage the mob. The policemen said that they had no authority for any action. The Muslims kept raising anti-Christian slogans going from village to village on motorcycles, asking Muslims to congregate at a certain place that was not far from Shantinagar. About six in the morning, on the 6th of February, a mob started gathering there, while destruction continued in Khanewal and in the surrounding villages.

 On the 5th of February at 9:00 in the night, Kalim Din was stopped near the bridge of Shanti Nagar when he was returning in his car with his wife and children. He was a witness in the case of Baba Raji concerning defilement of the Bible on the 17th of January.  To remove him from the way, the police were alleged to have hired gangsters. Kalim Din was badly injured. He came to a village for help. Thousands of persons from the surrounding villages came to kill him, but they failed because they were not organized. Around seven in the early morning on the 6th February, a police party headed by Habib Ahmed Ghuman, the officer who had threatened the Christians earlier, went to the residents of Shantinagar to inform them that a mob was gathering outside their village. The police party had Mohammad Aslam, a magistrate, with them. They asked the Christians to hand over their arms to them and shut themselves in or go out. They should not retaliate. The mob would shout slogans and go away. The magistrate guaranteed them safety and the villagers assured the magistrate and the police that they would remain calm.

 A few minutes before the attack, Latif, Sarwar and Baga from Ariah Nagar entered Shantinagar on motorcycles. They asked Christians to move out of their homes and churches because a massive procession was marching toward the village. They also assured the residents that the procession would be peaceful. They should go out of the village. Before proceeding toward Shantinagar, the mob went to the Brook Bond packing factory on the outskirts of Khanewal and forced the workers to go on a strike and join them. The crowd was made up of people from the surrounding villages and cities of Khanewal, Kabirwallah, Main Channu and Multan, and was led by the police and the Muslim clergy.

The crowd ransacked and burnt three churches in Khanewal, including the Salvation Army Church, and the Church of Pakistan, together with their dispensaries.  On the way to Shantinagar, they attacked Tibba Colony, and blew up all the houses there, including the house of Dr. Mushir Alam, a hospital run by him, his two tractors, one car and two motorcycles. A Salvation Army Church and the school run by it were blown up with a special incendiary powder distributed by the police.

(Continued in Part Three)

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