By Naumana Suleman

The suffering of Yuhannabad residents that had started on March 15, 2015, still continues and has only been overshadowed by the lynching incident

Christ Church, Yuhannabad was attacked on March 15, 2015, during Sunday Service. Photo by Jabran Tajwar

Two years earlier, I was in California pursuing my Masters’s degree. It was close to midnight and I was about to sleep when my phone rang. It was unexpected to receive a call from home as I had talked to them only a few minutes ago. Picking up the phone, I heard my younger sister crying. I kept on asking what had happened and after a few moments, she was able to state that two Churches in Yuhannabad had just been bombed.

Oh my God! Where is Mum? I asked immediately, as she happens to be a regular churchgoer, as compared to the rest of the family members. She answered that Dad had gone to look for her. At that moment, my whole world turned upside down. However, I still needed to be strong, if not for me, for the strength of my younger sibling. After almost 10 minutes had passed, my Dad, fortunately, came back with my Mum.

However, the extent of her trauma after witnessing all the bloodshed was unexplainable. This was not an end to her misery as many of her acquaintances had lost their lives. My parents have been settled in the vicinity for nearly 40 years. The bombings had claimed 21 lives, injuring about 100 other residents of Yuhannabad, presumed to be the largest Christian community settlement in Pakistan with more than 100,000 inhabitants.

In July 2015, Centre for Social Justice published a fact-finding report, which portrayed a holistic picture of the incident and its resulting consequences, along with some quality recommendations. These suggestions have, however, not been implemented so far.

Today, March 15, 2017, marks the second anniversary of the blasts. Lent (fasting) season is still being observed by the Christian community, as had been two years previously. The Christian community, specifically the residents of Yuhannabad, are offering special prayers; remembering victims of these bombings; praying for the solace of the victims’ families and friends; and waiting for the end of their sufferings.

They are saying a special prayer for the sufferings of as many as 43 individuals — and their families — alleged of lynching two suspected accomplices of the terrorists. Many of those under the police custody happen to be the sole breadwinners of their families that continue to face financial challenges to make both ends meet. Families of persons under the trial claim that no credible evidence has yet been found against the individuals.

The bomber also detonated explosives near the gates of St. John Catholic Church. Photo by Jabran Tajwar

Of course, mob justice should not be acceptable. The rule of law must prevail and no one should be above the law. However, seeing this lynching incident in isolation from the prevailing trends of mob justice in our society would not be of much help. In fact, it would lead to punitive justice rather than restorative justice, adding to the miseries of the already marginalised community. Unfortunately, the suffering of Yuhannabad residents that had started on March 15, 2015, still continues and has been overshadowed by the lynching incident.

The government’s monetary compensation to the survivors or the victims’ families from the taxpayers’ money is not enough. These compensations need to go beyond this traditional reparatory periphery and should also address the psychological and emotional trauma that the incident had brought to the already marginalized community and the enhanced social breach among the minority and majority faith communities. Damages of this kind need emotional as well as psychological restoration of the victim community, which can be done using restorative justice.

Rigorous conflict resolution and peace building initiatives between Yuhannabad and the nearby majority community settlements would be helpful in rebuilding the trust between the communities and their social restoration. Although some civil society organisations have invested in such initiatives despite limited resources — which, of course, cannot cover the required long-term time frame — the need for government-sponsored programs with extensive resources and infrastructure still remains.

One way to avoid these incidents in future is working towards a comprehensive implementation of the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s orders in its June 19, 2014, judgment. This verdict had ensued in the wake of the Apex Court’s Suo Moto intervention concerning bomb blast in All Saints Church Peshawar (2013).

Albeit, two years have passed but the community of Yuhannabad still seeks justice. It is not only those living in Yuhannabad but all minority and marginalised communities who await justice for being discriminated against — either in the name of religion, sect, ethnicity, gender or language. They are still struggling hard for their rights, largely, educational and economic opportunities, on the basis of equality and equal space in the social and political life.

An immediate opportunity at hand to address the long-standing grievances of these marginalised communities is the population census, which starts from today. An impartial, transparent, accurate and dependable data accumulation, organisation and results would greatly help determine the allocation of socio-economic resources; affirmative action for political representation; educational opportunities; job quotas; set preferences in developmental plans (rural/ urban); and administrative initiatives to address the marginalisation of minority communities.

In lieu of splitting the vote bank or minimising the strength of the already marginalised minority communities, a sensible demarcation of electoral constituencies for the upcoming elections would help include the deprived communities into the socio-economic and political mainstream.

Nearly twenty years ago, I was studying at Kinnaird College for Women in Lahore. My family had opted for a temporary residence at Jail Road so that I could commute easily to and from the college. During our stay there, my mother and an aunt (Muslim by faith) from the neighbourhood gradually developed a bond of sisterhood.

On March 16, 2015, the very next day after the Church bombings, roads were blocked by the protests. Despite the risks that travelling in Lahore then entailed, my aunt and her son put their lives in danger and reached our place to affirm that we all were fine. They even asked my family to move into her place for safety purposes until the situation got settled. There remains no doubt that the bond of humanity, love, and respect stands, always, above all.

The state, definitely, needs to rebuild the fabric of society around the bond of humanity and mutual respect with a clear understanding of equality amongst all Pakistanis in all spheres of life. This can be done through simultaneous initiatives ranging from constitutional, legal, political, social, economic and educational reforms to affirmative administrative initiatives in order to eliminate the discrimination and inequality in letter and spirit.

It is not only Yuhannabad but all the marginalised and minority communities of Pakistan that seek justice.

Courtesy: The Daily Times

Originally, this article has been published in The Daily Times on March 15, 2016.

Author Bio: The writer is a human rights activist, researcher and trainer. She works with Bytes For All (www.bytesforall.pk) and is affiliated with Centre For Social Justice (www.csjpak.org) as a research associate. She can be reached at naumanasuleman@gmail.com and tweets @NaumanaSuleman.

 

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