Pakistan Ghotki
People gather at a temple in Ghotki, Pakistan. Image Credit: Twitter/@Team_Sindhi

Police react to widespread riots in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province following a Hindu school principal being accused of blasphemy by a pupil’s father. Abdul Aziz Rajput, the child’s father, filed a first information report (FIR) against the principal of Sindh Public School in Ghotki district.

The FIR was lodged under Article 295(c) — that pertains to "derogatory remarks in respect of the Holy Prophet (PBUH)" — of the Pakistan Penal Code.

Rioters took to the streets to protest and demanded that the police arrest the Hindu man immediately and issued a call for a shutter-down strike, according to a report by Pakistani newspaper Dawn.

As of now, Ghotki police lodged three cases against rioters who vandalised the area, Sukkur Additional Inspector General (AIG) Jamil Ahmed was quoted as saying by Dawn.

Alleged perpetrator at undisclosed location

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) MNA Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, who is also the head of the Pakistan Hindu Council, told Dawn newspaper that the case has been handed over to Hyderabad Deputy Inspector General Naeem Shaikh who will further investigate the matter. He added that the principal was at an undisclosed location for safety reasons and will be handed over to Shaikh.

"I have talked to Sindh Inspector General of Police Kaleem Imam who has assured me the police will fully protect the accused, therefore, I am going to hand [the principal] over to police either in Karachi or in Hyderabad today," Vankwani was quoted as saying.

According to Vankwani, the protestors vandalised three temples in the area, a private school and multiple houses belonging to people from the Hindu community. He added that he had asked police to register an FIR against people involved in the riots.

The 1998 census of Pakistan recorded less than 2.5 million Hindus in the country. The majority of Hindus in Pakistan are concentrated in the Sindh province. Throughout the years, cases of discrimination and violence against the minority group have emerged.

According to Pakistani media reports, police attempted to control the situation and posted guards to protect Hindus around the area. Reports stated that for support, rangers were also deployed at the scene.

Social media users react

The issue was widely discussed online in Pakistan, and #Ghotki and #Ghotki_burning have become one of the top trends on Twitter in the country.

Videos of protesters armed with sticks were shared on Twitter, in which they were seen vandalising a Hindu temple and damaging the school where the alleged incident took place.

Pakistani social media users were largely outraged by the rioters’ behaviour and called for solidarity with the Hindu community in the country. Many asked the government to take action to control the situation promptly.

Journalist Ali Salman Alvi, @alisalmanalvi, tweeted: “Vandalised Hindu temples in #Ghotki are a stark reminder that minorities in Pakistan are at the mercy of the mighty majority. The state needs to act with zero tolerance against hate crimes.”

Actor Hamza Ali Abbasi, @iamhamzaabbasi, posted: “#Ghotki As a Muslim, a Pakistani, I am ashamed today and I want to apologise to our Pakistani Hindu community. We all must seek forgiveness from Allah for this atrocity. The time has come to launch an organised ideological effort against this mindset which results in such incidents.”

People gathered at temples to ‘protect’ Hindus

According to pictures and posts circulating online, social media users said that some locals arrived at temples in the district to “guard” the area.

User @Team_Sindhi tweeted images and wrote: “A massive crowd of Muslims of entire #Ghotki gathered at Mandir [temple] to ensure Hindus there are safe here. People sit in Mandir whole night and guard the Hindus and Mandir from mobs. Tomorrow many of people throughout the #Sindh ready to go #Ghotki for protection of Hindus.”

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, @HRCP87, also tweeted regarding the issue and shared a video of protesters breaking the infrastructure of the school where the incident allegedly took place.

"Alarming reports of accusations of blasphemy in Ghotki and the outbreak of mob violence," the tweet said.

In a consecutive tweet, the organisation wrote: “#Ghotki The authorities must take prompt action to quell the violence and ensure the safety of the school principal being targeted. The video circulated earlier is chilling: mob violence against a member of a religious minority is barbaric, unacceptable.”

Solidarity march

Twitter user @AbdullahDayo shared pictures of people taking to the streets to march in solidarity of the Hindus: “Ghotki will never let us down. Today, hundreds of citizens from different walks of life marched in the streets to show their solidarity with the Hindu community by holding white flags. They condemned the acts of harming the holly places of Hindus and demanded their arrest.”