Footprints: A community under attack

CHAKWAL: Much time has elapsed since Dec 12, which registered as the most critical in Dulmial, a sleepy village some 37 kilometres from Chakwal city. But life has yet to return to normality. That was when a place of worship belonging to the beleaguered Ahmadiyya community was attacked by a furious mob; the venue is now sealed and under police guard, while police personnel are deployed at every entry and exit point to the village. 

The area’s shops, more than a dozen of them, mainly remain closed — of the only two that are open, one is run by an old man and the other by a youth who has distanced himself from the Dec 12 attack. Almost all the Ahmadi families living here, numbering between 70 to 80, fled the village during the night of Dec 12 and 13, while the young men that are not from this community have also fled, fearing arrest. The main square of the village is filled with policemen, with nary a resident in sight. 

In this tense atmosphere, a 68-year-old Ahmadi woman walks the streets. Maqsood Begum refused to flee with her family members, despite their pressure. “Death is bound to come,” she says, talking to Dawn at her house. “Why flee it? I told my family members that I could not leave my village as it is very dear to me. However, I sent my ailing husband even though he did not want to go.” She spends her day tending her cattle, while her grandson — the 28-year-old does not share her faith — stays in her house during the night.

Maqsood Begum represents a reality out of which is woven the very social fabric of Dulmial. She was born Sunni-Muslim, but was married into an Ahmadi family at a time when there was no conflict between the two communities. But things changed drastically during the Zulifkar Ali Bhutto government, when Ahmadis were declared non-Muslim via a constitutional amendment. A cleric in the village started a campaign against the village Ahmadi community, but Dulmial survived thanks to its strong social fabric: the close blood relations between Muslim and Ahmadi families. 

In the case of Maqsood Begum, for example, her parents and all other relatives are Muslim, while her husband and in-laws are all Ahmadi. She has four daughters, two of whom were married into Muslim families while the others were married into Ahmadi families. Of her three sons, one was married to a Muslim woman while the others were married into Ahmadi families. Her youngest daughter was married in 2003 into a Muslim family from a nearby village. “The in-laws of two of my daughters and a son knew very well that they were going for marriages with an Ahmadi family,” she says, “but they weren’t perturbed.”

Many other families in the village count Muslim and Ahmadi members both as their own. “We are interlinked due to blood relations like these two fingers,” says a police official from Dulmial emphatically as he entangles the index fingers of his hands to explain his point.

Unfortunately, though, over the years, all has not remained well in the village.

When in 1974 the Ahmadiyya community was declared non-Muslim, it affected this village too. Nevertheless, residents here like to point out that amongst those raised in their ranks here were five lieutenant generals, 23 brigadiers and scores of other lower-ranking military officers of the Pakistan Army. Dulmial sent 460 and 730 sons to fight in the First and Second World Wars respectively, and has been characterised by an Ahmadi population since the 1970s, which provided men who served at key posts in various government departments. 

As a Muslim who serves in the police department says, “Families divide up their land and other family assets but we in Dulmial divided our close blood relations.” 

Maqsood Begum recalls that in the wake of the 1974 amendment, some Muslim men divorced their Ahmadi wives. A cleric, Munir Shah, spearheaded a campaign against the Ahmadiyya and was joined by some other influential men, with a social boycott against the minority being announced years ago. 

He recalls that tensions rose in 1996 when a mob led by Munir Shah demolished an under-construction Imambargah of the Shia community as well as the funeral place of the Ahmadiyya. However, despite this hate campaign, most of the common villagers sustained the social boycott for only about a year and a half, and soon reverted to normality. Both communities are accustomed to attending each other’s marriage and death functions. 

But this time, Dulmial’s resilient social fabric looks as though it is under pressure. 

“On Thursday [Dec 22], my daughter went to buy vegetables from the village shop but the shopkeeper refused to serve her,” says Maqsoon Begum in anger and distress. “All of this has occurred due to the actions of some troublemakers.” She foresees a tense future ahead.


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