Pastor William points out the minarets from the balcony of his church, which was burned down in the riots in Gojra. They belong to the mosques that issued calls for residents to attack the Christian Colony.
There is a new mosque being built on the way to Gojra. Its minarets tower into the sky.
On the roof of the pastor’s house, I photograph the landscape. All I can see are minarets and burned down houses. His daughter asks me to take her picture. In the background are the crosses her family salvaged after the fire. One of them was desecrated.
In Christian Colony, I ask to see the houses that were burned down. A resident volunteers to be my guide, offering up a running commentary of the background of each house. He describes how each house was attacked, who lived there, where they hid. I hear about how their belongings were dragged out on to the street and set ablaze.
One burned house is a symbol of how minorities have been systematically persecuted in Pakistan. It belonged to the family of Sajid and Rashid Emmanuel, who were killed in Faisalabad after being accused of blasphemy.
There is resentment and sorrow. There is acceptance; that this is the state of minorities in Pakistan.
I hear accounts of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs who was assassinated in Islamabad in March. I hear about his funeral from residents of Khushpur, his village.
“There wasn’t a dry eye at the funeral.”
I hear about the positions he took on issues that the community felt strongly about.
I hear about their grief and shock.
With Bhatti gone, there is no hope.
There is a terrible sense of foreboding captured in the pages of my notebook. At 2 AM, I awake with a start in Gojra, imagining that there is a mob attacking my room. I peer outside. There isn’t anyone. Yet.
In the morning, two residents talk about a suspect being caught in Bhatti’s assassination case. I refresh Tribune’s website – having recalled the headline – and read out the story. The suspect has been let go for lack of evidence.
They look thoughtful and say nothing.
We go to the Catholic Church’s Sunday service. I am welcomed and introduced.
There is a prayer for Saleem Shahzad and for journalists working in Pakistan.
As I leave Gojra, I look at the minarets looming into the sky. I think of the burned houses and the piles of cash being handed out to witnesses. I wonder, for the millionth time, about what the landscape means.
My story for The Express Tribune: A compromise of life over death in Gojra