A poor Bheel farmer and his family were reportedly tortured and held hostage in Rahimyar Khan city, in Pakistan’s Punjab province because they went to get drink water from a mosque. According to news reports, the victim, farmer Alam Ram Bheel alleged that the local police did not register a case as those who attacked him and his family were related to a “Parliamentarian of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party”. The family was reportedly attacked for “violating the sanctity” of the mosque’s place of worship, a media report said on Monday.
According to news reports, Alam Ram Bheel, was picking raw cotton along with his family and had gone to fetch drinking water from a tap, outside a mosque when they were attacked allegedly by “some local landlords.” Later when the victims were returning home after unloading the cotton they had picked, the landlords attacked again and reportedly “held them hostage at their dera (outhouse)”, the poor farmers were allegedly tortured again for “violating the sanctity” of the mosque, stated news reports. It was a group of Muslim residents of Basti Kahoor Khan later secured the the Bheel family’s release, stated news reports.
It had also been alleged that the local police did not even register a case as the attackers “were related to a local Parliamentarian of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party”. Alam Ram Bheel sat on a protest outside the police station along with a clan member Peter John Bheel, who is a member of the district peace committee. According to a news report in The Dawn, Peter John Bheel, said that they approached PTI MNA Javed Warriach who then helped them lodge the FIR under sections 506, 154, 379, 148 and 149 of the Pakistan Penal Code on Friday. The PTI’s south Punjab minority wing secretary general Yodhister Chohan admitted that he knew about the case but had stayed away from it “due to the influence of a ruling party’s MP.” Deputy Commissioner Dr. Khuram Shehzad told the media that he will meet the Hindu community elders before taking any action.
News reports also quoted senior lawyer Farooq Rind, who hails from the Basti Kahoor area where the Bheels had been living for more than a century, explaining that the community comprised mostly of poor farm workers and the “accused landlords were notorious for picking up fights with other villagers over petty issues”. The lawyer has reportedly promised free legal aid for Alam Ram Bheel.
Attacks on minorities are common in Pakistan
The Bheels, or Bhils are a tribal community following animist traditions. In India they are considered Adivasis and designated as a Scheduled Tribe in many states, and are recognised as “one of the largest tribal groups, living in Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan.” The name, as reported by the website tribal.nic.in, was derived from the word ‘billu’, which means bow and the community is noted for their archery skills, and deep knowledge about nature. Like most tribals they often combine tribal traditions with religious worship.
In Pakistan Bheels/ Bhils often survive as landless peasants in areas of Sindh, mostly working under powerful landlords. In Pakistan they are often counted as a part of the Hindus community which is the biggest minority community there. According to official estimates, 75 lakh Hindus live in Pakistan, however, according to the community, they number over 90 lakh. The majority of Pakistan’s Hindu population is settled in Sindh province where they share culture, traditions and language with Muslim residents.
According to the news report Deputy Commissioner Dr Khuram Shehzad added that he needed to meet community elders before taking any action, because of the “Bhong temple issue,” they had also received some complaints from the minority community “which proved fake when investigated.”
What happened in Bhong town?
The Dawn had reported that in August this year, a mob of “hundreds” had reportedly vandalised a Hindu temple in Bhong town and blocked the Sukkur-Multan Motorway. This attack had come in the wake of a bail granted to a “a nine-year old Hindu boy, who allegedly urinated in a local seminary,” stated the news report. The Bhong police had registered a case against the boy under section 295-A of the Pakistan Penal Code on July 24. The Hindu community elders had reportedly apologized to the seminary administration seeking pardon for the child who they said was mentally challenged. Subsequently a court had granted him bail. This had enraged the mob which in turn reportedly attacked the temple “smashing its glass doors, windows, lights and damaging the ceiling fans”.
Rawalpindi Hindu temple was vandalised in March
In March this year a century old Hindu temple was vandalised in Rawalpindi. The temple was under renovation when a group of unidentified people attacked it. According to a complaint registered by the local police, the media reported that the incident occurred at Purana Qila area of Rawalpindi city on March 27. It was reported that a group of over a dozen people stormed the temple at about 7:30 P.M. The vandals damaged the main door, the staircase, and another door in the upper storey of the temple, stated the police complaint. The Dawn newspaper reported that the security officer of the Evacuee Trust Property Board, Northern Zone, Syed Raza Abbas Zaidi, was the one who lodged an FIR at Banni police station of Rawalpindi. He stated that the construction and renovation work on the temple had been going on for the last one month. The EPTB is a statutory board that manages religious properties and shrines of Hindus and Sikhs who had migrated to India after the Partition.
Hindu temple, vandalised in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2020
In January 2021, the Supreme court of Pakistan had said that the attack on the Hindu temple, that was vandalised in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in December 2020, had caused ‘international embarrassment’ to the country. It had directed that the authorities must recover the money required for the restoration from those who attacked the temple. The Pakistan SC had also directed the Evacuee Property Trust Board to submit details of all functional and ‘nonfunctional’ temples and gurudwaras across Pakistan.