Tuesday, August 28, five days after the tragic events that led to 35 people getting injured, the village Ghaseet Pura RB-69, wore a desolate look. About 45 minutes short of Faisalabad on the Sheikhupura-Fasialabad road, there were policemen deputed at every nook and corner of this 1000 household strong village.
It was late morning, the atmosphere was tense with virtually no villager in sight. The few that we came across were reluctant to talk.
According to various accounts of the villagers and the SHO of the local thaana, the altercation started between two groups of boys on the evening of August 23. A group of Ahmadi boys was busy having a chicken fight, a favourite pastime in the area, when a Sunni boy interfered and hit the chickens. This led to an exchange of harsh words which soon degenerated into a menacing fight between the two religious groups.
The accounts suggest that the group of Ahmadi boys chased the Sunni group, hit them close to their house and then went to their worship place usually called Bait-ul Zikr (Ahmadis are barred under law from calling their worship place masjid). According to the RPO and CPO’s accounts, Maulvi Muzammil, elder brother of the Sunni boys and imam of one of the local mosques, aroused religious sentiments among the Sunnis in the neighbourhood, asking them to attack the Bait-ul Zikr where the Ahmadi boys were still present.
Locals suggest that as the fight between the two groups intensified, amid gunshots and sticks, the Sunnis being in the majority managed to enter the worship place. They burnt different parts of the building. Meanwhile, the police reached the spot, brought the situation under control, sent the injured to two different hospitals, Sunnis to the DHQ Faisalabad and Ahmadis to Allied Hospital Faisalabad, to avoid the possibility of a further conflict.
Of the 35 injured in the fight, 19 were shot by bullets and splinters. Of them, five were children. The rest needed first aid so they were sent to nearby Khararianwala Hospital.
Most of the local Ahmadis have already left the village. The worship place called Baitul Hamd and its surroundings are cordoned off by security forces. The remaining Ahmadis are now using their Murabbi’s house in Ghaseet Pura for worship.
Rana Amir, an Ahmadi boy, told us that the police was informed soon after the fight started and four policemen did arrive on the scene “but did nothing when the mob entered Baitul Hamd and set everything on fire.”
“Even the children weren’t spared. We requested the policemen present there but they refused to interfere saying they were helpless and were waiting for more force.”
“Certainly, this incident did not occur just because of one man hitting a chicken. Religious hatred has been promoted by some religious scholars in the village, especially the Imam in the mosque next to our worship place. His Juma khutba (Friday sermon) has been arousing hatred for Ahmadis in the people of the area,” added Amir.
At present, four different security forces are present in the village to keep the situation under control. These include Punjab Constabulary, Elite Force including lady constables, City Police and Balochni Police Station’s policemen. According to officials, around 250 policemen are deployed in the village. DSP G.A. Cheema and SHO Thana Balochni, Zahid Abbas, were found patrolling in the area and giving instructions to the forces.
When asked about the severity of the situation, both the officials tried to downplay the tension and expressed satisfaction. The DSP stated the presence of forces was “a precautionary measure”.
The State is the complainant in the FIR registered in Balochni Police Station in which 16 people have been nominated; eight from each side, under charges of Article 7 ATA, 295 A (Tauheen-e-Mazhab) and five other charges. Seventy anonymous people too have been nominated in this FIR.
“Twelve out of 19 injured people are under arrest because of their nomination in the FIR. We do not want to give an opportunity to anyone to misuse this situation; that is why the State is the complainant in the FIR,” said City Police Officer (CPO) Ashfaq Khan. “A Peace Committee has been formed to resolve the issue and the police are facilitating them to reach an agreement acceptable to both sides.”
The history of residents and the reason behind naming this village Ghaseet Pura is also interesting. According to the Numberdar of Ghaseet Pura, Muhammad Idrees, “the residents of this village had migrated from Ghaseeta village of Uttar Pradesh, India at the time of partition. 95 per cent of the population is Rajput by caste. When we settled here, we named the place after our old village and got 1500 acres of agriculture land here as ‘claim’.”
At the time of partition, these migrants were blood relatives and about half of them were were Ahmadis. As time passed, more Ahmadis converted to the Sunni faith. The recent clash was, therefore, among relatives. At present, Ahmadis own only about 150 out of total 1000 houses in the village and 625 acres of agricultural land.
The Sunnis have placed name plates of Allah and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) at the entrance of their houses to distinguish themselves which is otherwise not normal in village culture.
Muhammad Idrees is the head of the Peace Committee in Ghaseet Pura. At his dera, one of the locals showed negative feelings for Ahmadis by commenting “the Ahmadi worship place should not have been burnt rather these people should have been eliminated”. Another said, “The Ahmadis who have left the village after the incident must not come back again.”
“Six months ago, a fight was averted on the construction of a new worship place for Ahmadis. Sunnis, especially the relatives of the Ahmadis, were not ready to allow such a construction”, said Arif Bholla, another man sitting at the dera.
Muhammad Idrees as the head of the Peace Committee is hopeful for a positive outcome but shows annoyance at the reluctance of the Ahmadis to resolve this issue in time. “The Ahmadis turned their backs twice to the committee because they did not want to get the issue resolved as soon as possible.
“A few of them have settled in Germany and become rich. The youth living here want to be settled there as well. That is why they are always in search of a moment which can be misused to seek asylum in foreign lands.”
Spokesperson Jama’at Ahmadiyya Pakistan, Saleem ud Din, condemns this statement while talking to TNS. “We don’t need to get ourselves killed or our worshipping places set ablaze to seek asylum in any western country. The laws of Pakistan are enough to present our case in front of civilized nations. Besides, how many people from Sialkot have applied for asylum after a mob attacked and vandalised an Ahmadi place of worship in May?” he asked.
“Initially, the occurrence seemed like a normal fight; however, the role of the Sunni religious scholars was irresponsible. They turned the incident into a religious conflict which usually happens with the Ahmadi community”, he added.
Media was not allowed to enter the village during and after the incident leading to much speculation. The role of social media was both negative and provocative for both sides. Various groups used this incident to flare up sentiments by giving fake casualty tolls.
Regional Police Officer (RPO) Faisalabad, Ghulam Muhammad Dogar, told TNS that “he had referred social media’s case to the Federal Investigating Agency (FIA) and the culprits would be behind prison soon so that no one can dare do such a thing in the future.
“I am personally keeping a close eye on this case. Several meetings with the District Peace Committee have been conducted, the issue must be resolved in a peaceful way. Strict actions would be taken against those who get involved in any kind of hate speech or acts like these in the future.”