According to police, a man recorded himself threatening, dragging, and forcing a child to use sacrilegious slurs against Hindu deities in the Tharparkar district of Sindh state in Pakistan.
The accused, Abdul Salaam Abu Dawood, also bullied 13-year-old Mukesh Bheel into chanting the Islamic declaration Allah Hu Akbar which means “God is greatest.”
Pakistani Twitter erupted in an outcry and made #ArrestAbdulSalamDawood trend, while the bullying was also promptly condemned by President Arif Alvi along with other government officials.
Sindh is the president’s home state, and the city of Mithi, where the bullying happened, has an 80-percent Hindu population. Most cities in Pakistan are predominantly Muslim, and the country’s population is 97 percent Muslim.
Shortly after the video went viral, Dawood was arrested by the Mithi, Tharparkar police and booked under section 295-A of the Pakistan Penal Code for deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings. He has also been charged under section 298, which criminalizes remarks that deliberately intend to wound religious sentiments.
The swift justice surprised many.
In recent years, Pakistan’s religious minorities have been at the receiving end of a swelling tide of religious intolerance. The country’s Hindu population of approximately 4.5 million is especially vulnerable to forced conversions, abductions and targeted misuse of local blasphemy laws.
Tharparkar has the largest Hindu population in Pakistan, and the district is unique for its long-standing history of peaceful coexistence between Hindus and Muslims. In Mithi city, Hindu and Muslim residents celebrate most of their religious festivals together. This may explain why the Muslim community in Tharparkar rallied to support the Hindu community to have Dawood arrested.
“Tharparkar is known for exemplary inter-faith harmony. Incidents like this don’t happen here. It was a cultural shock for us to witness this,” said Hindu rights activist and Mithi native Kapil Dev.
Bheel’s father told VICE World News that the incident took place 20 days before it started trending on social media. Mukesh Bheel was travelling from his aunt’s house on his motorcycle when Dawood drove up close behind him in his car. He proceeded to honk the car horn and eventually accosted the minor.
“My son was sitting on his motorcycle when he grabbed him. He fell from his bike on the road,” said the teenager’s father, Raja Bheel. “First [Dawood] hit and dragged him. After, he questioned my son on his background, to which he responded that he is from the Bheel, Hindu community,”
The video depicts Dawood forcefully yanking Muskesh Bheel’s collar and demanding him to repeat “Allah Hu Akbar” after him. He then compels the boy to use profanities against Hindu deities. Dawood goes on to say, “you people have polluted Pakistan.”
Mukesh Bheel’s cousin Gomoon Mal Bheel said Dawood blackmailed the boy with threats of abduction to keep him quiet about the episode.
The boy is still greatly traumatized by the incident. “Since it happened, fear has settled into his brain. His mind has become fragile,” said Raja Bheel. The teenager is still undergoing medical treatment for injuries on his face and leg.
In his statement to the media, Dawood denied saying anything hateful about any religion and claimed that the incident was an isolated event. However, an older video making the rounds on Twitter shows Dawood hurling abuses at the Hindu goddess Sita.
While the authorities’ swift action did offer some hope to Pakistan’s Hindu population, the respite is guarded. “The blasphemy tool can be applied at any moment, and therefore we are getting killed. We already don’t have much space for freedom of expression, and then to add on to that the tool of blasphemy is really dangerous.” said Dev.
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