Priyantha Kumara was my country’s proud foreign worker. He hailed from Sri Lanka, and practised a faith alien to many of us. Those were his brief but illustrative credentials, as he ably supervised hundreds of workers at a factory in Sialkot.
When people go out to work in a foreign country, they call it their second home, and diligently work hard to make a name and place for themselves. They expect their foreign hosts to be compassionate to them, and in lieu they owe them their gratitude and loyalty. So did Kumara for 10 long years in Pakistan. But his exit at the hands of a misguided and paranoid mob for the self-serving sake of religious bigotry is shameful.
This horrific and unpardonable act of a section of Pakistanis has surely discredited the country, and unequivocally maligned the great religion of Islam. Let this be the testimony of 220 million Pakistanis to nail down the few rogue elements among us. The Sri Lankan was not the first victim of a radicalised mindset, nor will he probably be the last one. Many Pakistani sons and daughters too have fallen victim to extremism and intolerance. People from the minority sects of Islam, and non-Muslims particularly Hindus and Christians have fallen prey to mob violence. Ironically anyone, even a profound practising Muslim, could be lynched or booked under various variants of the blasphemy law.
This is so because a culture of otherness has unfortunately mushroomed in our midst. And none other than the religious elite, community peers, political leaders, teachers and parents are responsible for this mindset. They have failed to learn and unlearn the ethics of rationality, tolerance and benevolence in society. Likewise, the state, the governments and the powers-that-be cannot be absolved of their due share of blame. It is they who furthered the policy of appeasement and succumbed to fundamentalism.
Kumara’s brutal end and its ramifications need to be seriously pondered to, at least, come up with a policy to exterminate the bigoted mindset. This is the least that we can do as damage control. Sialkot’s lynching too is an act of terrorism. But this time the people were not faceless.
If Pakistan has to be saved, then they should be dealt with at any cost. It was sacrilegious to hear religious slogans being chanted at the time when Kumara was being crushed to death. This is a great disservice to the greatest Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), who preached love and forgiveness. In this way, the killers of Kumara are the biggest blasphemers.
A word or two on the tragedy’s international fallout would suffice: did anyone from the mob ever think for a moment that millions of Pakistanis work overseas? What psychological and reactionary impact it might have on them? Their workmates are Sri Lankans, Nepalese, Bengalis and, of course, Indians too.
What if Pakistanis are marginalised and shunned, and discriminated against? Pakistanis could be pushed to the wall. Remember what happened in Australia in the name of racism. Pakistanis and Indians were on the receiving end, and life was no less than a nightmare.
Hats off to the Government of Sri Lanka for exhibiting extreme patience and a sense of accommodation. It has certainly made a difference in keeping a lid on simmering unrest among Lankans worldwide. It is now mandatory to live up to the trust that Colombo has reposed; and justice should be seen to be done. If the Sialkot criminals are punished, it will surely act as a deterrent to such ignominious acts in future. Stem the rot now. And we are sorry Kumara – may you rest in peace.
Note: This article appeared in The News, dated 14 December 2021.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent Institute’s policy.