By Kamran Chaudhry
Two Christian nurses were rescued by policemen from an enraged mob after being accused of blasphemy by their hospital’s staff in Pakistan.
Staff nurse Mariam Lal and student nurse Newish Urooj were detained by police after a first information report (FIR) under section 295-B of the blasphemy law was made by Dr. Mirza Muhammad Ali of Civil Hospital, Faisalabad.
“Labbayk ya Rasool-Allah [Here I am at your service, O Messenger of Allah]” and “Beheading the only punishment for blasphemer” chanted protesters gathered on April 9 in the emergency department of Civil Hospital. One of them kicked Lal as she entered a police van.
Muhammad Waqas, a ward boy in the hospital, confessed to wounding Lal in a knife attack.
“That filthy daughter of a bitch, a Christian staff, tore away a sticker inscribed with Durood Shareef [a salutation for Prophet Muhammad] from the cupboard,” he said during a meeting with hospital officials.
“I asked her why she did it. A Muslim can’t keep quiet against blasphemy to his prophet. You are all Muslims. I attacked her with a knife, wounding her arm. I would have killed her. My life is to serve.”
Section 295-B of the blasphemy law stipulates that defiling a copy of the Quran is punishable by life imprisonment.
“During the ward visit at 10am, I learned that a third-year student, Newish Urooj, scratched the sticker with a pencil on April 8. Lal hid it in her fist and couldn’t give a proper reply. All staff returned home as their duty was over. We formed an inquiry committee the next day which proved that both nurses intentionally tore the Durood Shareef,” Dr. Mirza stated.
Both nurses are in custody at Civil Lines Police Station. Videos of a mob at the hospital were quickly shared by Christian social media users. Most of them requested prayers for the victims.
The Catholic family of Newish Urooj, a member of Holy Rosary Parish, held an emergency meeting with Bishop Indrias Rehmat of Faisalabad and a group of priests at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul on April 9. Bishop Rehmat later led a delegation, including staff of the Catholic bishops’ National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), to the police station.
Father Bonnie Mendes, former executive secretary of the NCJP, was anointing the sick in Civil Hospital on April 8.
“I was asked to leave early that evening. Two Christians, one of them a doctor, were removed from the hospital inquiry committee amid mounting tension,” he told UCA News.
“The incident occurred in a psychiatric ward. The sticker was already half torn by a mentally challenged patient. The nurses were trying to clean the cupboard. They were not interested in blasphemy. It is very difficult to proceed in such cases.
“Blasphemy allegations always follow a pattern. Two decades ago, Christians were usually accused of drinking water from a cup that was reserved for Muslims. Now our nurses are being targeted. There was planning in advance to gather people in the hospital following Friday prayers. The conspiracy continues.”
Sister Genevieve Ram Lal, national director of the Catholic Women’s Organization, condemned the arrests.
“We are hopeless and helpless. Christian nurses are popular for their commitment and service. The patients are usually drawn to them. Such allegations threaten their career. We expect doctors to be life savers. Christian people respect all religions. The government should protect them,” she said.
Members of Minorities Alliance Pakistan (MAP) also visited the deputy superintendent of police shortly after the arrest of the nurses.
“We requested them to launch an inquiry on merit before registering the FIR. The lives of such victims are destroyed once the blasphemy case is registered. We tried to argue with police officials that both nurses showed up for duty the next day. They would have gone into hiding if they were guilty,” said MAP chairman Akmal Bhatti.
“We also urged arresting [Muhammad] Waqas for the murder attempt. Mariam Lal is already divorced and was trying to bring up her 18-year-old daughter.”
Blasphemy is a serious allegation in Pakistan, where a mere allegation of insulting Islam has led to mob attacks and the murder of religious minority members.
According to the Lahore-based Centre for Social Justice, the highest number of blasphemy accused (200) was reported last year. Since 1987, Punjab province has experienced the highest ratio of abuse of law and religion (76 percent) followed by 19 percent in Sindh province.
In January, Christian nurse Tabitha Nazir Gill was slapped and stripped for alleged blasphemy at a hospital of Karachi in Sindh province where she had worked for nine years. She remains in hiding.