Pakistan Muslims accused of blasphemy after Sikh brawl

By Aamir Latif

KARACHI, Pakistan (AA) – Police in Pakistan’s northwestern Punjab province have charged six Muslims with “blasphemy” after they allegedly desecrated the Sikh religious code, local authorities said Monday.

The accused — the owner and employees of a local transport company — allegedly threw the turban of a Sikh passenger on the ground during a quarrel in the town of Cheechawatni, located some 200 kilometers from provincial capital Lahore.

The turban is central to the Sikh religion. Forcibly removing it from the head of a practicing Sikh — or throwing it on the ground — is tantamount to blasphemy.

Mahindar Pal Singh, the plaintiff and a practicing Sikh, reportedly told police that the accused had assaulted several passengers after they had complained about the slow pace of the bus.

In the ensuing scuffle, Pal Singh alleged, one of the accused threw his turban on the ground.

Pakistan’s Sikh community is estimated at between 30,000 and 40,000 of the country’s total population of some 180 million.

Blasphemy is a highly sensitive issue in Pakistan, where in recent years many of those accused of the offense have been killed by angry mobs, both Muslim and non-Muslim.

Rights groups, for their part, say the country’s blasphemy law is often exploited to settle personal scores against religious minorities and should be annulled.

Supporters of the law, however, believe that without legislation to deal with the highly sensitive matter people will take the law into their hands.

In late 2014, a Christian couple was publicly lynched by a mob in Lahore for allegedly making “blasphemous” remarks about the Muslim Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Currently, nearly 600 blasphemy cases are pending in the Pakistani court system, of which over 400 involve Muslims.