In yet another incident of religious violence in Pakistan, three members of an Ahmadi family were killed and at least eight others injured when an angry mob set fire to their houses in Gujranwala. The deceased include two children, eight-month-old Hira and five-year-old Kainat, and a woman named Bashira Bibi who was 30. Another woman of the family suffered a miscarriage. Allegedly, a male member of the community had shared a blasphemous picture on Facebook that started the episode which has become all too familiar by now. A member of the minority community is accused of blasphemy, religious zealots gather to deliver justice, the mob loots and plunders while law enforcement agencies watch with indifference, and finally the accused are either killed or forced to abandon everything and leave forever. Those who attempt to defend the victims of religious persecution often fall victim to the same barbarity. The murder of human rights advocate Rashid Rehman two months ago is only one of the many examples.

It has taken a lot of work and effort for the country to discover one low after the other. Its people have undergone decades of consistent state-sponsored radicalisation. Its legislature has passed laws which have directly contributed towards marginalising communities and creating a favourable environment for witch-hunts and mob brutality. Its judiciary has chosen to reserve co-operation and justice mainly for the aggressors. Its law enforcement agencies have not only turned a blind eye towards heinous crimes against Pakistani citizens, but also lend a helping hand to the familiar perpetrators from time to time. Its armed forces have offered patronage to militants. Its media has offered unlimited space to hate-mongers. Its political parties have either provided cover to miscreants to gain their support or played deaf to the plight of targeted communities. When all of this has gone on for decades and is still prevalent, what happened in Gujranwala was inevitable, and it is bound to repeat itself. Editors, academics, human rights activists, judges, law enforcement personnel, politicians – no one enjoys immunity against mindless violence carried out by self-righteous bigots in the name of religion. The state has taken power from people and given it into the hands of their killers. Too many Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Shias, Ahmadis and others have been killed or forced out of the country. Pakistan cannot flourish in a culture of hate and discrimination. Its minorities cannot be allowed to be treated as lesser Pakistanis or lesser human beings. Blasphemy laws must be repealed to prevent further persecution. And those guilty of killing women and children in Gujranwala must be made to pay for their crimes no matter what their motivations or affiliations.