Tears trickled down the cheeks of a young man, Abdullah, as a group of small-eyed and fair-skinned devotees recited from the Holy Quran in a large prayer hall.
His elder brother, 26-year-old Mohammad Jan, was amongst the ill-fated passengers who were dragged out off a bus near Mastung last month and were lined up only to be sprayed with bullets in an execution-style mass murder.
In a brutal incident on September 20, extremists shot dead 26 Hazara passengers near Balochistan’s Mastung district from where they were heading towards Iran.
On Thursday morning, many grief-stricken members of the Hazara community mourned the loss and held prayers for their “martyrs” at an Imambargah in Karachi.
“My brother was going to Iran for a month’s pilgrimage. He had just returned home four days ago. But he decided to leave again as he had found spiritual solace in that country. When he boarded the bus, he called my mother and just two hours later, we got to know through a news channel that he had been killed,” said Abdullah.
Mohammad Jan was a tailor and used to sew Burqas in Karachi’s Manghopir area. He has left behind a widow and a three-year-old daughter.
Extremist militants have stepped up attacks in recent months against the minority Shia community, especially Hazaras, in Balochistan. In a similar attack, gunmen killed 14 people on October 4 in Quetta when they opened indiscriminate fire on a bus carrying Hazaras who are believed to be descendants of Mongols.
But it is not only in Balochistan where they are being targeted. The community says that six of their men have been gunned down on the basis of their ethnicity and sect in Karachi since the beginning of the current year.
Over 13,000 members of the community are living in Karachi. Around 600 live in Hussain Hazara Goth, where the Imambaragh is located. Rickety roads and mud-plastered houses surround the slum where men sip at their tea outside their shops and women and children roam around freely on the roads. However, after living without fear for years, the community has now realised that danger is lurking just around the corner.
“We are being targeted because extremists want to eliminate Shias. Also, our community, especially in Balochistan, is among the most literate and educated. They envy us,” said Syed Mirza, Vice President of the Hazara Mughal Yekjehti Forum, an apolitical organisation working for rights of the community.
“Our people are in the police, government and everywhere. Out of the four female pilots, one is from our community.”
Sitting cross-legged on a patterned carpet, the man continued: “Today, the situation is bad. Two men were recently killed in Manghopir, while a youngster, Jaffar, was shot dead in Ramazan in the same area. Also, the general secretary of our party, Qurban Ali Hajiz, has been murdered.”
Around 600 Hazara Shias have been killed in Pakistan since 2007. But still there is no news of the community members fleeing the conflict zones in Balochistan and seeking refuge in Karachi. “Our people will never abandon their homes. We don’t want bloodshed, but we will pick up arms if the need arises,” said another defiant man, Mohammad Zahid.
Rage seems to be building up amongst the younger members of the community. “Obviously, we get angry when our community is targeted. At the moment, we are patient. If the killings do not stop, we know how to defend ourselves,” said a young man in his early twenties.
The beleaguered community is frustrated over the fact that despite the Sunni militant group Laskhar-e-Jhangvi claiming responsibility for the killings, no action has been taken against them. “What else do the police want? Nothing is being done for our protection.”
For the time being, they have stopped travelling to and from Quetta. A Karachiite — who was on board the bus in Mastung but was luckily saved — is still in Quetta as he believes that travelling back to his home can cost him his life.
“Things were never like this before. Our people were never taken out off buses and massacred like that. I am just left with my brother’s bloody and bullet-riddled passport,” said Abdullah in a frail voice.