What horrors mob mentality entails was witnessed once again yesterday, this time near Quetta, Balochistan—which currently remains among Pakistan’s most insecure territories. Media reports informed that a police station in Kachlak area was raided by a furious mob of locals who were demanding that the police hand over to them a man arrested for allegedly committing desecration of Islam’s holy book, the Koran. The mob wanted to punish the accused immediately and without any legal process or court trial. A clash followed between the mob and the police, resulting in the death of two children and injuries to at least 20 other people as the police fired at the blood-thirsty locals in self-defense after shots were fired from the mob.
Not only is this incident, as reported in the media, sad and condemnable but is indicative of several weaknesses as well as carelessness and neglect that led to the unfortunate death of the kids. The first question, and most important one, in this story is “what the hell were those kids doing in a mob?” Don’t be surprised to hear that the less educated or entirely illiterate people in Pakistan (and most probably everywhere else) have always been fond of dragging children into adult roles (even child marriages are still common among them). They would take little boys, as young as 8 or 10, with them to workplace (child labor), congregational prayers, and other gatherings—angry mobs being no exception. In many cases, parents of boys don’t even know where their kids go or what they have been doing, and these parents or guardians don’t care much. In a family of 7 or 8 kids on the average (often more than this), the value of life drops automatically with each new childbirth in the house.
Another factor that has been all too obvious in such cases of religious frenzy is that of the clergy. Mostly it is this segment of society that is at the forefront of gathering mobs for bypassing laws and taking matters in their own hands. There is no mention of clerics leading the mob in the story referred o above, but in most cases (probably in this one too), one or more fundamentalist clerics are at work in gathering and instigating mobs—a call for defending the honorable name of the prophet or the word of God works well for this purpose.
Not all clerics are chips off this fundamentalist block; quite a few are more tolerant and could be taken into confidence beforehand to diffuse such situations. This is where the government has failed the people, particularly those targeted for alleged blasphemy. After the incident of the mob burning of a church in Gujranwala in 2011, there should have been extra effort on behalf of governments in all provinces to be prepared for such cases since vicious minds are always looking for targeting somebody under the heavily protected “mob umbrella”. But little has been done in coordinating with the more enlightened clerics and through them educating the public against mob justice.
The children who died in yesterday’s incidents should be alive—playing and going to school. They certainly didn’t know or understand deeply what desecration means and what the right thing to do is when such a thing happens. Yet, they became a victim to the mob clash of which they never truly belonged. One would expect the country’s media to put some effort in preventing such horrific incidents—incidents in which we later learn that it was all somebody’s doing to settle some personal score, as happened in the Gujranwala incident where a Muslim man confessed of having burnt the Koran and accusing the Christian community of it. Sadly, media in Pakistan is too obsessed with political scandals, cheap imitations, and cricket. And equally regrettable is the fact that few if any of these heavily-funded foreign projects run in this country by hundreds of organizations have focused on prevention of mob frenzies. This side of the picture is still dark, and red with blood.