Hindu Center Burns in Pakistan, Igniting Fury Over Draconian Blasphemy Laws

Washington, D.C. (March 17, 2014) -- On the eve of Holi, a religious festival where Hindus around the world burn pyres symbolizing the victory of good over evil, Pakistani Hindus watched in horror as mobs set fire to their dharamshalla (community center) and temple in Larkana, a city in the southern Sindh province. The Hindu American Foundation condemned the arson attacks as well as other attacks that devastated some 10 Hindu owned businesses. Violence also spread to the cities of Usta Mohammad, Dera Allah Yar, and Sohbat Pur in neighboring Balochistan province.
"The Pakistani government has failed miserably in protecting minorities from rampant violence, as Hindus, Christians, Shias and Ahmadi Muslims continue to be targeted with impunity," said Samir Kalra, Esq., HAF's Director and Senior Human Rights Fellow. "We call on the international community to urgently exert economic and diplomatic pressure on Pakistan to improve conditions for religious minorities."
Police and Pakistani Army Rangers were called in to quell the violence and protect other Hindu temples and properties in the area. Subsequently, the Hindu community in Larkana and nearby cities closed their businesses and remained home out of fear of further attacks. Hindus also refrained from any public Holi celebrations.
The mobs, which were reportedly made up of at least 200 local Islamic seminary students, went on a rampage after rumors circulated that a Hindu man, Sanjeet Kumar, burned pages of the Quran. He was arrested, along with his family, under the country's blasphemy laws. According to police, the man had just moved into a new home, which he was renting from a Muslim family, and may have inadvertently discarded the pages while cleaning out the house.
"This latest incident further underscores the need for Pakistan to revise its blasphemy laws and other discriminatory provisions in the legal system," said Jay Kansara, HAF's Associate Director of Government Relations. "These laws continue to treat minorities as second-class citizens and provide justification for violence and discrimination."
Blasphemy laws in Pakistan, which punish defamation of the Prophet Muhammed or desecration of the Quran, disproportionately impact religious minorities, particular Ahmadi Muslims and Christians. Charges of blasphemy have frequently led to mob violence against the accused. False allegations are common in order to intimidate minority communities, despite being illegal and punishable by death under the blasphemy law itself.
Human rights and religious freedom conditions in Pakistan have rapidly deteriorated in recent years, according to the Hindu American Foundation, which has documented abuses against Hindus and other minorities in its annual human rights report.