August 18, 2023

By Xari Jalil


At almost 40 degrees, the barren town of Jaranwala is already scorching hot to begin with. There is the occasional light but warm breeze that cascades through the narrow lanes, providing a little window of relief to the policemen who are sitting lined up on plastic chairs, mopping their foreheads and fanning themselves. But nothing can beat the oven-like heat that is rising from the black ashes, where the mob has burnt almost everything that the residents of Christian Colony owned.

Pastor Javed Bhatti’s home was ransacked during the Jaranwala attack. Here he sits on the front steps with his broken door behind him. – Photo By Author

To add to the agony, the fires and violence resulted in the power lines being cut off. Now those who have been left behind must tolerate the intensely high temperatures with little hope of relief coming their way soon.

It is difficult to walk in the lanes where the attacks took place. The ashes are still smoking hot, the morning after and white fumes are emitting from within, burning the shoes and slippers of those who attempt to cross it. The air is sticky and a sickly stench of burning hangs like a heavy cloud.

Everything that could have been found in the houses had been dragged outside on the street and set on fire. It was as if a huge bonfire was being lit with the possessions of these poor people – most of whom belong to the working class and do menial jobs like sanitary work.

Pastor Javed Bhatti sits morosely on the steps of his house, the doors of which have been splintered and broken. He points to one of the piles of the burnt possessions. “That’s my motorcycle, there,” he says. “It took me ages to save up for this. Now in a flash, it’s just gone.”

The skeleton of the burnt out motorcycle lies on top of another bike. There is a sofa whose cushions are strewn aside, burnt. There is crockery and entire sets of glasses which were it seemed picked up altogether in the box they were in, and thrown down with full force. Other household items are lying there too, blackened or charred to a crisp.

Parveen Bibi stands mournfully outside her house which has been badly damaged. – Photo by Author

The story is strange with several loopholes.

A local says, that on August 16, as the Muslims of the area were coming back home after Fajr prayers, a woman said she noticed some papers with Arabic script lying on top of her electricity meter. According to the narrative that spread she tried to get hold of the papers but a passing Christian man allegedly tried to snatch them out of her hand, and then ran away.

Mrs Tariq is a relative of the accused Raja Masih and lives right opposite his house. She is looking at the state of her home with tears falling down her cheeks.

A broken statue of baby Jesus lies on the ground amid the burnt rubble. The Catholic church was burnt completely including its computer lab meant to educate the youth of the area. – Photo by Author

“I don’t know what happened, but it was early morning, and we were all sleeping with our beds outside in the lane because of the heat,” she says. “They came after ‘Rocky’. I think he had a pamphlet which they wanted to snatch from him. Before we knew what was happening, a crowd began to collect and there were calls from the mosque. Although the kids are not like this – they are educated and they are sensible. They would never do something like this.”

Raja Masih’s house is in the same lane as Pastor Javed Bhatti’s. A ‘letter’ – allegedly written by Raja is pictured below, where he is shown to have committed blasphemy and desecration of the Holy Quran.

“The point is if this man was accused of blasphemy, there should have been proper investigation into the allegations,” says Imran Qadri who lives nearby. “Raja was a peon at a government girl’s school.”


Soon, the same mosques where calls to prayer could be heard some time ago, could now be heard calling for a mob to gather. It was not long before radical elements -including members of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) – had joined in hordes and led the frenzied crowd.

Qadri- a Muslim – sports a long beard, and a round cap as part of his attire. At the time the attacks were happening, he was trying to save as many Christian lives as he could. But when they saw him, they were scared he was ‘one of them’ until he assured them.

“There was so much panic and fear, I cannot explain,” he says. “Human beings had turned against each other.”

“We have been living together since ages,” says an elderly man, possibly in his 70s, who owns a tiny barber shop located at the beginning of the colony. “We have never fought or had any problems. Those who attacked that morning were not from among us. We have no history of resentment.”

Nearby, a man has kept a large orange cooler filled with cold water to provide relief to those who are coming and going. The police officers stationed there also help themselves to it occasionally.
Bashir is speaking to a Christian resident who has come back to measure the damage done. “Wait here,” he tells him in Punjabi. “I have something that you should take with you.”

He brings out a large oblong frame and takes it over to him. The wooden frame is broken, but the picture inside is somewhat intact. It is a cheap quality print of ‘The Last Supper’.

“I tried to rescue it. It was lying on the roadside. I don’t know who it belongs to,” he hands it over as carefully as if it was a rescued child. “This is the least I could do.”

It is a moving scene, and yet a subtle one that could have been overlooked by anyone. But on close observation, small acts of kindness such as these can still be seen between the Muslim and Christian area residents.

There are also times when tempers run a little high. Parveen Bibi who tearfully recounts how much her house was destroyed suddenly bursts into rage upon a group of nosy children, and tells them to get out of the area. She scolds them long after they have left, her voice chasing them out of the lane.

“I don’t know who these kids are; some outsiders have come in and stolen whatever they can from us while we weren’t there.”

Her neighbor shows a bag full of things and says he had caught some kids trying to sell the items which were stolen from their homes.

When Mrs Tariq is asked if she is safe living there again, she says, “It’s home, where else can we go? Even our Muslim brothers and sisters who live here are not like this. We have been born and raised here, we have never ever fought. Even they have seen this for the first time – how aggressive they had become. No one from here did this. Those who had come from villages on the outskirts – the uneducated types – they have done this.”

Her husband too says the mob comprised people from the outside.

“They took away our LCD screens, all the valuables. What they couldn’t they broke,” they say. “They broke our ceiling fans, they took away our food.”


Several churches dot the area of Jaranwala tehsil, which is home to at least 100,000 Christians. Reportedly, around 21 churches, both large and small, were ransacked and burnt. Some of them were completely burnt, including Presbyterian Church Essa Nagri, (Pastor Rizwan), Major Mashuq church, the FGA Church in Farooq Park, Major Amjad’s Salvation Army Church, Church of Pastor Umar Shahzad Sahib. FGA Yasir Town Church, The Salvation Army Church was burnt down as well as the pastor’s house, while one other church whose name is unspecified was also completely burnt down. Others were also badly damaged

While this is not the first attack on religious minority’s place of worship, Pakistan has yet to see any solid plans for the protection of these places.

In 2014, then Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Tasadduq Hussain Jillani took suo moto notice of the All Saint’s Church blast in Peshawar carried out by the Taliban. It prompted an entire list of recommendations that he issued in order to protect minorities.

Below is an observation made in his judgment:

“We find that the incidents of desecration of places of worship of minorities could be warded off if the authorities concerned had taken preventive measures at the appropriate time. The Court also found that the inaction on the part of law enforcement agencies was on account of the lack of proper understanding of the relevant law. For instance, the Court was surprised when the learned Additional Advocate General, Sindh, on Court query submitted that the desecration of places of worship of minorities was not blasphemous and not an offence under the Pakistan Penal Code. When he was confronted with Section 295 PPC he had nothing to say but to concede that desecration of places of worship of even a non-Muslim is an offence under the PPC.”


“A Special Police Force be established with professional training to protect the places of worship of minorities. In all cases of violation of any of the rights guaranteed under the law or desecration of the places of worship of minorities, the concerned Law Enforcing Agencies should promptly take action including the registration of criminal cases against the delinquents.”

Peter Jacob, the Executive Director of CSJ spoke to Voicepk and said that while the verdict did not specify ‘all’ places of worship, the provincial government at one point did draw a security plan. “They do deploy police on special days,” he said.

Yet that still does not protect any of the worship places from attacks. The Catholic Church in the Christian Colony here was a large and busy enough building to be given security measures.

CSJ’s findings regarding the implementation of the judgement reveal that there is a great deal of lethargy among implementing bodies; policy vacuums, and an imbalance of resources, and allocations.

The administration as well as political leadership in federal and provincial governments did not proactively engage in implementation efforts until applications were filed in the Supreme Court or One Man Commission persuaded with regards to the compliance of the judgment. The Punjab government developed an implementation plan for compliance which was not followed properly.

One of the recommendations CSJ has made in its report is:

The task force with a specific mandate to promote religious and social tolerance ought to be an empowered, independent, well-resourced, and permanent federal body that should include individuals representing social, cultural, and religious diversity, and having expertise and experience in various fields, particularly in peace-building and conflict resolution. (b) The Special Units developed for security should be trained involving conceptual training about conflict prevention and conflict resolution, besides the physical training for managing security.

But as the government is still tangled in its administrative cobwebs and red tape, such incidents have only served to increase xenophobia and distance between communities.

Blasphemy allegations and mob attacks started early this year when on February 11, 2023, a man was lynched in Nankana Sahib by a violent mob over allegations of blasphemy. In Punjab, blasphemy allegations have been levelled against the Ahmadi community all year round along with having their places of worship and graveyards being desecrated. Mob attacks especially in Punjab have been occurring with frightening regularity.

A 2022 study by the Centre for Research and Security Studies shows that between 1947 and 2021, around 89 people have been killed over allegations of blasphemy. There were estimated to be 1500 accusations between these years, with over 70 percent from Punjab.

Till May 2023 according to data compiled by CSJ, there were around 57 cases reported across Pakistan of blasphemy allegations. None of the cases were proven to be true. Four of the accused were killed (two of these killings took place in Punjab).


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here