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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Hindu school principal arrested & jailed in 2019 for alleged ‘blasphemy’ of Islam cleared of the charges by Sindh HC

The recent acquittal of Notan Lal, a Hindu school principal in Pakistan, by the Sindh High Court marks a significant moment of justice in a case marred by religious intolerance and baseless accusations. In 2019, Notan Lal was arrested and jailed on charges of blasphemy after allegedly reprimanding an Islamic student for neglecting his Urdu studies. The student, in a vengeful act, fabricated a story accusing Notan Lal of insulting Islam’s prophet, inciting a mob to besiege the school and desecrate a local Hindu temple in an eruption of religious animosity.

As reported in OpIndia, Notan Lal received a life sentence from the additional district and sessions court of Sukkur for allegedly making blasphemous remarks and fueling religious animosity within a classroom at the Sindh Public School Ghotki. As per the prosecution’s account, Abdul Aziz, the complainant, filed an FIR on September 14, 2019, alleging that his son, Mohammad Ibtisam, a student at the school, reported that Notan Lal, the school’s owner, entered the classroom during a lecture and made sacrilegious comments in their presence. The appellant’s counsel argued that his client had been unjustly implicated in the case, asserting that he did not commit the alleged offense. According to the counsel, the complainant fabricated the story out of revenge for being denied a job at the school and for being asked to pay outstanding fees for his son.

Despite evidence surfacing through social media indicating Notan Lal’s innocence, the wheels of justice ground slowly. The lower court’s decision in 2022 to sentence him to 25 years in prison underscored the perilous reality faced by religious minorities in Pakistan, particularly Hindus in Sindh. Throughout this ordeal, Notan Lal’s family endured the anguish of uncertainty, grappling with the precariousness of their situation and the relentless threat of religious extremism.

After the allegations against Notan Lal surfaced, an anti-Hindu pogrom ensued, resulting in the destruction of Hindu temples and homes. Lal was placed under “protective custody,” prompting an investigation. In Pakistan, blasphemy charges are frequently wielded as tools to settle personal vendettas or suppress minority communities, as evidenced by cases involving individuals like Ramesh Kumar, Asia Bibi, and Prakash Kumar. However, the motives behind the accusations against Notan Lal appear to be more nefarious.

According to Sindhi social activists, Notan Lal became a target because he offered refuge to 11-year-old Monika and her family following her abduction in Hala, Sindh. Notan’s compassionate act directly challenged the influence of Maulvi Mian Mithu, the head of the Sufi Bharchundi dargah, notorious for terrorizing Hindus in the region and advocating for the abduction and forced conversion of minor girls. Mithu’s involvement in leading and inciting the mob against Hindus following the blasphemy allegations against Notan Lal underscores a broader pattern of persecution against minorities, i.e., Hindus, and those who stand in solidarity with them in Pakistan.

As Notan Lal emerges from this harrowing ordeal, questions linger about his safety and future prospects. Will he be able to reclaim his position as a school principal, or will fear continue to shadow his existence? Moreover, the plight of Hindus in Pakistan remains a pressing concern, with many forced to seek refuge across the border in Bharat, enduring hardships and uncertainties in their quest for dignity and security. The acquittal of Notan Lal offers a glimmer of hope amidst the darkness of religious persecution. Yet, it also serves as a stark reminder of the challenges faced by minority communities in Pakistan and beyond.

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