By Mohamed Harees –
“A society with lynch culture needs a big zoo, not for the animals definitely, but for the very people themselves!” ~ Mehmet Murat ildan
What happened in Pakistan few days ago, was inexcusable and a terrible tragedy. The nation was shocked and devastated by the distressing news of Priyantha Kumara, a Sri Lankan factory manager working in Sialkot, Punjab, Pakistan being set upon, lynched, killed in barbaric and inhumane manner and body torched by a set of insane psychopaths, allegedly blinded by hate and extremism. This awful news about this lynching episode broke the heart of not just Sri Lankans; it was also widely condemned by Pakistan’s military and political leadership, prominent social and religious figures ,the civil society as well as the world at large. It not only shamed Pakistan; it also reflected a failure of humanity as a whole as well. Our sincere condolences go to the family of this innocent victim.
In general Sri Lankans are held in high regard in Pakistan. The relationship between the Sri Lankan security forces and the Pakistanis is very close, and it has time and time again proved to be a friend in need. Thus, according to social analysts, this was not an attack directed at Sri Lankans or Sinhala/ Buddhists in particular. Similar mobs have attacked innocent Pakistanis before. Kumara was thus not killed because he was a Sri Lankan or a Sinhala Buddhist. He died as any other person living in that country would have, if there was a hysterically murderous crowd bent on harming someone at that time for whatever reason.
Initial prima facie investigations revealed that the incident was a case of enraged religious extremists committing this crime on grounds of blasphemy, but there are other conspiracy theories too floating around , including office issues and the involvement of a third country. In fact, some social media activists on Reddit have commented that the so-called poster incident bordering on blasphemy never happened and that Kumara was targeted for another issue that investigators are yet to reveal. That claim is yet to be confirmed. Be it as it may, the fact remains that this sad episode is not forgivable, condonable or justifiable by any standards. Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special representative on religious harmony said “Ulema(theologians) of all sects have condemned the killing. This is a test case. We ask for forgiveness from the people of Sri Lanka and the victim’s family.” PM Imran Khan too tweeted: ‘The horrific vigilante attack on factory in Sialkot & the burning alive of Sri Lankan manager is a day of shame for Pakistan. ‘I am overseeing the investigations and let there be no mistake all those responsible will be punished with full severity of the law. Many arrests have been made are in progress.’. Admiringly, a man called Malik Adnan was to be awarded a Hero’s medal for his moral courage and bravery for trying to shelter Priyantha from his attackers, endangering his own life.
Back in Sri Lanka, his grieving wife has pleaded for justice for her slain husband from both Pakistani and Sri Lankan leaders. We all join in reiterating her call for justice and that all perpetrators of this horrific crime be brought to justice. Due compensation should be paid to the victim’s family too. PM Khan has unequivocally assured that justice will be done and the Sri Lankan people hope that impunity will not be case.. Already around 230 arrests have been made and main culprits are already in custody and measures are said to be in progress to sue and punish those responsible. Pakistan owes it to their Sri Lankan brethren as well as to the world at large to show in deed that their assurance and resolve to ensure justice will be a reality.
PM Khan has also a greater responsibility to fight the increasing religious extremism in his country; a subject which has been causing havoc in Pakistan. This incident highlights the issues that Pakistan is facing in its struggle with extremists and fundamentalists. Amnesty International said it is deeply alarmed by the “disturbing lynching” and killing of Kumara due to alleged blasphemy.Also as writer Asif Hussein says , ‘Blasphemy Law of Pakistan has nothing to do with Islam, but was the creation of Zia Ul Haq who bred the most virulent form of extremism the world has ever seen and which that once beautiful country still continues to suffer with mob rule being the order of the day’. Besides., it has been used frequently as a tool to spread anti-Muslim hatred by the powerful Islamophobia industry. It is heartening to note that many front line Muslim organizations both in Sri Lanka and beyond have not only severely condemned this un-Islamic act, but also joined the call for justice for the aggrieved.
Sri Lankans are well accustomed with impunity and religious extremism. They know what it was it like to allow the culprits who commit hate crimes to go scot-free and to make some sections of the people immune to crimes. They know quite well how impunity has been a curse to the body public and how law works in favour of and unofficially grants immunity to certain categories of people -politicians, those in saffron clothing and even law enforcement authorities themselves. They have lived through the 1983 pogroms against the Tamils where their neighbours and relatives were set upon and murdered in broad daylight in the presence of law enforcement authorities, because overnight, they were perceived to be enemies. They saw how a hate rabid monk Gnanasara (Thero) incited mobs and made them to destroy neighbourhoods, businesses and people. They knew how mobs incited by local politicians attacked their Muslim neighbours in Digana and in North Western province, just a few years ago. A young Muslim man was burnt alive in Digana when petrol bombs were thrown into his house, and he could not escape. No-one was prosecuted for any of these crimes In fact, the hate Thero was rewarded in contrast making him the Chair of ‘One country -One law’ commission -a comical development indeed. Sadly, people have been politically manipulated to hate their neighbours – Tamils, and the Muslims, by petty political leaders, time and time again., at different times.
There was also the cases of law delays in bringing justice to foreigners too . Example in our recent memory was a Briton Khuram Shaikh Zaman who was murdered and his Russian girlfriend gang raped on the Christmas Day 2011, in a resort in Tangalle. The trial of the guilty was delayed for over two years amid allegations of interference because of the culprit’s political connections. This case showcased the widespread lawlessness in the country fuelled by political meddling with the judiciary. Them Sirisena caused outrage by pardoning a death row Army criminal who murdered a Swedish teenager in 2005. To Muslims in particularly, the burning of Priyantha’s body brings them m=nightmares and ugly memories of their Covid bodies being mercilessly cremated on racist grounds, despite lack of evidence both medical and public health. This is the reason why Sri Lankans hope that Pakistan’s assurance to bring justice will be a reality.
Mob lynching is a crime against humanity and generally the fundamental principles of the law of the land. It is a flagrant violation of the constitutional rights guaranteed in many countries. Moreover, since lynching is targeted against a particular identity and discriminates the whole community, thereby violating the mandate of non-discrimination.
Even for many of us living and growing up in the West in the 20th and 21st centuries, the threat of lynching has unfortunately become commonplace. The popular images of an angry white mob stringing blacks in America was only half the story. Lynching, an act of terror meant to spread fear among blacks, served the broad social purpose of maintaining white supremacy in the economic, social and political spheres. Lynchings were frequently committed with the most flagrant public display. Like executions by guillotine in medieval times, lynchings were often advertised in newspapers and drew large crowds of white families. They were a kind of vigilantism where Southern white men saw themselves as protectors of their way of life and their white women. By the early 20th century, the writer Mark Twain had a name for it: the United States of Lyncherdom. Lynching was covered in local newspapers with headlines spelling out the horrific details. In Occupied Palestine too, lynching by Zionist Israeli is commonplace.
Closer home, not just Pakistan, the incidents of mob lynching in India have specifically received global condemnation. In particular, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom [“USCIRF”] has released many statements condemning the lynching of Muslims and Christians. Lack of accountability only encouraged those RSs gangs who believed they can target religious minorities with impunity. Consequently, per UNCIRF’s recent report, India has been placed in Tier 2 for engaging in religious tolerance violations. There has been a rise in the number of incidents of cow vigilantism since the election of a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) majority in the Parliament of India in 2014. The frequency and severity of cow vigilante violence has been described as “unprecedented”. This has posed a serious question as to the reality of India’s secularity. In fact, Modi’s government only gave extraneous or rhetoric justifications for their failure to act against these vigilantes.
As Amnesty International says about appalling lynching of Priyantha, “(Pakistani)Authorities must immediately conduct an independent, impartial and prompt investigation and hold the perpetrators accountable. Today’s event underscores the urgency with which an environment that enables abuse and puts lives at risk must be rectified”. The survival of Pakistan depends on making its citizens humane and peaceful.
True, people are becoming helpless in front of ignorant and religious fanatics as in Sri Lanka when rulers use them as political tools. Political and religious leaders as well as security establishment should learn from this tragedy and endeavour for a liberal and secular Pakistan. As Imthiaz Bakeer Markar says, we need to fight extremism in a world where extremist thought is both growing and is profitable for those in power. Extremism is growing because idiocy is growing and intelligence is declining with time. This would also have serious implications for democracy as we know it.
In the greater context of larger historical trajectory of sectarian violence in the South Asian region, and the role of the rising majoritarian state ideology in facilitating and celebrating sectarian hostilities, it is important to understand the social and personal harms of mass violence and the phenomenon of lynching. This calls into focus the contentious question of legal reforms needed for ending impunity in hate crime cases. Specifically, it is noted the problem of state complicity in violence and the failed attempts to legislate and implement anti-communal violence laws. Then there is also the protracted challenges of building viable strategies of litigation in the aftermath of sectarian violence and also failure to fight impunity too.
“What should move us to action is human dignity: the inalienable dignity of the oppressed, but also the dignity of each of us. We lose dignity if we tolerate the intolerable.” – Baltasar Gracian.