Today is the 16th anniversary of the sacking of Shanti Nagar. In memory of this, we publish the relevant section of a new report on Pakistan we plan to publish quite soon.
Shanti Nagar is a predominantly Salvation Army village in the Punjab province, founded in 1916, of around 25-30,000 people. Apart from about 15 Muslim families – for whom the other villagers built a mosque - the inhabitants are Christian. Hard work in farming meant the village was relatively prosperous. On 17th January police raided the house of a 60 year old Christian, claiming intelligence of alcohol-drinking and gambling going on. The police regularly raided the village on such pretexts – usually about every fortnight, probably because of jealousy over the Christian village’s prosperity. They would harass the villagers, and because the villagers were rich enough to bribe the corrupt police, they always came back for more. Anyway, despite, as ever, no gambling or alcohol or anything else illegal going on there, they searched his property, and amidst the ransacking a box with a bible fell out. The police deliberately kicked and desecrated the bible, and took the man to the police station, even though they had found nothing illegal, and were trying to get a large bribe from him. The residents of the village protested the raid, the false arrest and the desecration of the bible, and also the numerous false blasphemy accusations that had been made against villagers. They asked for charges under article 295 to be brought against the policeman responsible. Even after police investigations found the charge to be true, the police refused to act until sustained pressure resulted in a promise to suspend the officers responsible and take them to court. Then the police pressured the village for the matter to be settled out of court, but they refused and the senior police officer threatened to act in way that meant they would not be able to stand on their own feet for at least 50 years. On 3rd February, a general election day, he posted the policeman who had kicked the bible to Shanti Nagar as security officer. This made the villagers even more angry as it proved the promises by higher police officers to take action was a lie, and they protested even more, so the police hatched a plot. Two days later, a Muslim man went to an abandoned mosque 2km from Shanti Nagar and found – so he said – torn pages of the Quran with blasphemous words and the name and address of the Christian from Shanti-Nagar who complained about his bible being desecrated, along with several others. He took it to the police station of the nearby city of Khanewal, a stronghold of an Islamicist group with ties to Bin Laden called Harkat-ul-Insar. Within 30 minutes of registering a case (and several Christians being arrested), mosque loud speakers from the city and all the Muslim villages around about were calling all faithful Muslims to wage jihad against Shanti Nagar, using word for word identical language. City church priests rushed to warn senior officials of the impending attack, and were promised that all appropriate measures would be made, but that too was a lie. Late that night, mobs started attacking churches, Christian homes and shops and medical dispensaries in Khanewal, setting them and their contents on fire. The next morning, the mob attacked the Catholic church just outside the city Council buildings. Bibles and other books were gathered from churches and burned, and the Holy Communion bread thrown on the floor, statues and the like were systematically smashed. 100’s attacked the priests' house and burned all the parish records. Pleas for police help went unheeded, they just stood by and watched. The mob attacked a Christian boys school. Many fled, but about 50 of the youngest hid under their beds. The mob set fire to mattresses over them, and they had to flee for their lives, several being carried out unconscious. They burned all the school records and furniture. They then attacked the Salvation army church and pharmacy, and re-attacked the Church of Pakistan building they had attacked the night before. Christians in local shops and homes fled for their lives, but those who were caught were severely beaten. Again the police did nothing. The mob only retreated when Christians started throwing bricks and stones to defend their homes.
At the same time, Muslims on motorbikes went from one Muslim community to another, asking them to assemble close to Shanti Nagar, and they started to do so. One of the original complainants from Shanti-Nagar and his family were stopped in their car and he was beaten badly. The police officer who threatened the village arrived with a magistrate, warned that a mob was coming, that the residents should hand in all their guns, and stay inside, and that the mob would just shout slogans and then leave. This was all a lie. Those few who kept their weapons were the only ones whose houses survived untouched.
The mob went to a nearby factory and forced the workers to strike and join them, and then launched an all out assault, led by some estimated 400 police in plain clothes who handed out grenades to the militants, and Muslim clerics. On the way to the village they blew up Salvation army hospitals and buildings, and many homes. When they reached the village, the mob, bearing placards saying ‘Kill the Christians, blasphemers against the Koran and the Prophet’, cut both the phone lines and the electricity. The mob was at least 30,000 strong, armed with homemade bombs, pistols, grenades, some kind of incendiary powder, metal rods, knives and the like. Then they attacked in three waves. The first rushed in and grabbed all the money and jewellery, fridges, TV’s and other valuables from each house. The second drove away and stole all the village’s livestock. The third were terrorists, aided by police, who put down incendiary powder in each house and ignited them by firing shots from their guns. Whatever was used, it burned so fiercely that iron rods in the houses melted. All the personal legal documents were burned, the mango orchards were destroyed. It was quite evident that the offence was Christians prospering, and the goal was to totally break the village’s back economically. They also forced the villagers at gun and knifepoint to recite verses from the Quran, and those who refused to say the Islamic creed (ie convert to Islam) were beaten badly. Meanwhile, the army was called in, and given control, against the wishes of the police, who deliberately gave faulty directions and obstructed the army as they could, saying the smoke was from tyres set on fire by the demonstrators, and that everything was under control. When the army finally arrived, the mob fled, but only after taking all water taps and destroying all means of getting water to fight the fires. The army was able to arrest a few looters, but the police then let them go.
The Churches were left totally destroyed, most homes had only walls left. The Christians had no bedding, no utensils to cook and eat with, no spare clothes. All that had not been taken, had been burnt. Several married women were ‘persuaded’ to leave their husbands and marry Muslim men right there and then, and only the arrival of the army stopped this happening to more women. The mob also attacked and destroyed churches and homes in several surrounding villages. In at least one village the women were forced to work in the fields for the mob.
Estimates of the extent of the destruction vary – depending in part which townships and villages you include in the statistics, but it seems like over 2000 homes were destroyed, 13 churches, several schools and medical facilities, many shops, tractors and other farming equipment, in what was systematic economic and religious warfare. It happened at a time of local political strife and increasing economic difficulty, and it appears that jealousy of the relative prosperity of Christian communities was a large part of the motivation.
Estimated losses to the Christian communities were about (minimum) £632 million. The local government gave a very small amount of compensation to only some 200 families affected. Despite repeated appeals, the Federal government, after rebuilding the houses destroyed, after international pressure, has given precisely zero compensation to date.
In addition, when Christians in Karachi peacefully protested outside the state governor’s house there, they were tear-gassed and shot by police. 100’s were knocked unconscious by the gas, dozens were injured, and nine were shot, and one of those died of his injuries, handcuffed to the hospital bed, as he was also one of over 1,000 Christians arrested.
Local Muslim shopkeepers refused to sell food to Christians in the immediate aftermath of the attack. There were no deaths, thankfully, but the psychological damage has been extensive and long-lasting. Christian children who played with their Muslim neighbours, who attended each other’s family weddings and funerals, saw those same playmates and neighbours loot and burn down their houses, and now have a great fear of meeting with Muslims. In at least one case, Muslim school children at a Salvation Army school burnt down their own school. To forgive was a struggle, and for a number of years, the Christians decided to give the Muslims a taste of the medicine given out to minority Christians elsewhere, by giving Muslims their own separate utensils for eating and drinking (a practice common in Pakistan, where Christians are ‘unclean’ and anything they touch unsuitable for Muslims). Young children developed schizophrenia, or have been afraid to go outside their houses ever since. Some old people died soon after from shock. All of the villagers tremble and cry when remembering the attack, and all admit they now distrust Muslims in general, and that 15 years later, if they have to travel to Muslim villages, they are paranoid and afraid.
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