The mosque’s resounding cry to protest against alleged blasphemy by Christians, not the customary Azaan, roused Pastor Javed Bhatti from his sleep. He had a gut feeling that something was wrong. As other Christians began to pour out of their homes and into little passageways, he collected his family and hurried to the street.
Some others fled in rickshaws, while others ran barefoot. A day after hundreds of Muslim men ransacked the streets and set churches and homes on fire, he told the AFP news agency that there was anarchy everywhere on Thursday.
Run, run, the clerics are coming, the kids were yelling. His sister Naila Bhatti added, “They’ll attack us.
Christians make up around 2% of the population and occupy one of the lowest rungs in Pakistani society. More than 5,000 live in the Christian quarter in Jaranwala, most of them sanitary workers on meager wages who occupy cramped homes shared by up to 18 relatives.
As panic spread across the neighborhood, Muslims also rushed to the streets to warn and shelter their neighbors. “The crowd came from outside (this area), but the local Muslims here helped us and tried to save us,” Pastor Bhatti said.
Tariq Rasool, in the same narrow street as Bhatti, said Muslims had quickly pinned Quranic verses on the doors of Christian homes in the hope they would be spared the violence.
There were two women running. They were welcome to enter my home when I unlocked the door for them. They were really distressed, but I comforted them,” the Muslim man, a 58 year old man, stated.
The mob increased in size and rage throughout the day, and at its height, hundreds were rioting in the streets. A news agency crew on the scene said that by the time night fell, at least four churches, as well as a dozen homes and businesses, had been set on fire and ransacked.
Both religions have long coexisted amicably in the community, according to Muslim grocer Imran Qadri: “They are our brothers. They and we both partake in each other’s delight and sadness. He welcomed two Christian women into his home as they fled the predicted devastation.
They continue to be in our home. Alongside Bhatti, Qadri remarked, “My family helped them, gave them food, and they stayed the night with us.
Parveen Bibi, who lives farther down the street, claimed that her young children woke her up by yelling, “Muslims are coming to burn our houses!”
“We used rickshaws to get to our Muslim neighbors’ houses. We entered together because the door was open. My two daughters-in-law and my two granddaughters were with me
They declared: Standing in her home’s ruins, she sobbed as she said, “You are safe here, don’t fear. More than 300 individuals escaped during the first hours of the unrest, according to a few Christians who went back to their homes on Thursday to assess the damage, while hundreds more left during the night and on Thursday to stay with family in nearby cities.
Police are looking for two Christian brothers suspected of desecrating the Holy Quran and have detained over 100 persons allegedly connected to the violence. Although the mob has dispersed and hundreds of police are now policing the area, many residents are still too terrified to go back home.
Pastor Bhatti’s return has only made his family’s suffering worse: “My own house was devastated. Our total lifetime earnings were this. How shall we once more live here?
On Thursday, the second day since the sad occurrence in Jaranwala, police kept watch on the Christian neighborhood separately.
Police are looking for two Christian brothers suspected of desecrating the Holy Quran and have detained over 100 persons allegedly connected to the violence.
All of the Christians have fled their homes and are seeking safety in various locations, according to Fayaz Masih Khokhar, a Christian who traveled from the adjacent city of Lahore to express his support for the group. Government representatives denounced the violence on Thursday, and there were minor demonstrations in a number of places demanding that Christians be safeguarded.
The Bishop of Lahore, Nadeem Kamran, issued a statement saying, “The current sad situation in the country demands that the leadership and religious figures of all religions and faiths play their key and fundamental role in safeguarding national unity.”