Hub city’s Hindu locality in the lanes off Laasi Road is dark with fear.
Last week on Tuesday, Vijay, 24, a shopkeeper in Resham Gali, was accused of blasphemy by an enraged mob. He was taken into police custody, presented before the sessions court and quietly sent to jail.
On that fateful day, Vijay had received an offensive photograph in a WhatsApp group. According to Chanda Ram, an elder of the community, the image came with a voice message replete with expletives for Hindus. It urged all recipients to spread it far and wide to deter the circulation of odious content that could cause communal conflict.
“This was sent from Karachi to over 58 people in Lasbela, including Muslims,” says Ram. “On impulse, Vijay forwarded it to another group on the message service.”
As one heard the message, the mission seemed as stark as this tragedy – a trap for uneducated minorities, and thereby hangs a tale.
The alacrity, shown by an incensed pack as it descended on his store, was unusual. “Within 30 minutes of the message, there was mayhem in the market; armed boys went wild.”
As luck would have it, the boy had closed for the day and gone to a barber. But they hunted Vijay down, another elder, Krishna, elaborates, and began to bludgeon him with sticks and weapons.
“We are grateful that the police arrived in time,” he says. “Amid tear gas and shelling, they took him away or he would be in shreds.”
Krishna describes the scene as a snippet of the backlash witnessed after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in India. “There were some 1,000 people but hardly a 100 belonged to Hub,” he says. “It was a horde of extortionists, miscreants and gangsters. Here, we have all lived as one for decades.”
Ram adds that while Station House Officer Attaullah Nomani, Deputy Superintendent of Police Jan Mohammad Khoso and Additional District Commissioner Tariq Mengal did not escape the blows, a 13-year-old boy perished in the fierce exchange.
Hub spent the next day in silence. At Vijay’s home, his young wife, two toddlers and siblings were distraught but oblivious to the aftermath of a blasphemy charge. They awoke to a dark future on Thursday morning. His elder brother returned to open their shop and seven boys turned up to pummel a physically impaired man. The landlord then cleared out all items to halt a hapless family’s sustenance.
Vijay’s small clan has since been moved to an undisclosed town.
Surprisingly, the community sees a hero in the new SHO, dubbed SHO Dabangg, who they claim is fearless and impartial. “He has allocated security to all four Hindu and Sikh worship places and to our areas,” says Chanda Ram.
But in person, the slender, inarticulate Nomani has little in common with his image. “Vijay is in judicial remand as we found the offensive image on his mobile,” is his blank response. “There is no voice message with it. We are investigating the origin of the photo.”
He also believes that the affected family is still in Hub, and claims to be unaware of the assault on Vijay’s brother and of the shop’s closure. Nomani expects a community deadened with fright to register a complaint.
When asked about future prospects of a routine life for the young family, he says, “This is my first blasphemy case. I can’t say. The challan is under Sections 295-A and 295-C.”
The Hindu community knows well that these sections and a lack of axiomatic evidence in blasphemy cases repress legal aid. Lives are in the balance in jail and after acquittal.
As maintained by older residents of Hub, new settlers stirred recent clashes to dominate money-spinning centres. Incidentally, the majority of the mob reportedly comprised supporters of migrants.
The furore, however, was led by Saleem Shahzad Solangi, joint secretary of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz youth wing, who, unmoved by Vijay’s pleas and explanation, went ahead with filing the FIR. At daybreak, Solangi took off for Jhal Magsi.
Nomani denies the popular allegation of a migrant ascendancy and is noncommittal about Solangi’s political affiliation. When informed that the Hindu community’s hopes for a fair settlement hinged on him, his reaction was saddening: “I hope their praise does not turn Muslims against me.”
Conversely, police officials say that, if reported, the brutality inflicted on the victim’s brother and subsequent closure of his outlet can go a long way for Vijay. The incident can bring suspicions of a conspiracy into focus.
Both Krishna and Chanda Ram say that Solangi’s was the sole political influence. “Even Maulana Abdul Qadir Qasmi, president, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F), Lasbela district, has expressed immense support for us.”
Cut to Resham Gali where Vijay was last seen. The dark, taut alley is saturated with sweat and fumes, unstirred by the calamity.
At the end of a gory week in Hub, the shutter on Vijay’s more spacious shop, near the market entrance, seemed like an allegory for his fate.
Some names have been changed to protect identities
This article first appeared in Dawn.