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You read stories of violence and atrocities committed on faceless Pakistanis in your local newspapers on a daily basis. You absorb the news as detached consumers. Empathy and even hints of grief might stir your heart while reading a poignant story every once in a while, but try as you might, you will never be able to relate to the victims and those directly involved – because you were never there. It didn’t happen to you or, anyone you know. And for that, you’re almost relieved. Yet guiltily so.
But what would happen, if one day, you or your loved ones were victims of a cruel, intolerant act of violence? And what if, someone you knew and loved deeply was taken away from you, within a mere few agonising hours?
What then? How would you survive the horror?
Settled abroad with her husband, Irum received a phone call from her distraught sibling. It was the 28 day of May – this year – a Friday. Back home in Pakistan, it was 2:30pm. Two Ahmadi places of worship in Lahore were under siege by terrorists, and Irum’s father was in one of them – Darul Zikar, a place that Irum for many years, used to frequent with her family on Friday for prayers, and over Eid, as a young girl.
Prior to her sibling’s phone call, “Abu” had called Irum’s mother and told his wife that he was injured. He’d been shot in his left foot. After telling his wife to remain calm, Irum’s mother heard a series of gun shots. Then, the line went dead.
Abroad, Irum watched the television in horror – live visuals of the attack were being shown on the BBC. Three hours later, after the attack was over, Irum’s father could not be found. Family members searched hospitals, but to no avail.
Hours later at 10:00pm, Irum’s father had been located. His body was found at a local hospital. “I was half expecting it since there had been no news,” Irum said, “But when my brother-in-law called me, I fell to the floor and wept. God knows how many hours I wept for.”
Irum immediately left for Pakistan. The journey home was wretched.“For many nights which followed, I had haunting nightmares that I was in there too, and that a bullet had hit my leg,” she stated, “A few times I dreamt that I was in there and that I had covered my father and the bullet had hit my back instead of his foot, and that he was safe.”
In the days, weeks and months that have followed after the incident, Irum and her family, in their grief, gain strength from the fact that along with them, eighty-five other families suffer the loss of their loved ones. It is in this grief that they have sought some resilience and patience to endure their personal tragedy.
“After my father’s death,” Irum said, “My first reaction was that I didn’t want to live here anymore. Lahore has always been my favourite place in the world. But now it has become a place where my father was brutally killed. And no one came to help. Imagine how the mother of those two brothers killed in Sialkot must be feeling about her city and her fellow citizens. That’s how I feel. No one helped; they all gathered around their TV sets and watched the show – just like the mob in Sialkot.”
After speaking with an uncle, who was in Darul Zikr at the time of the attack, Irum informed me that there were five to six terrorists in the building. “They first burned the cars outside,” she said, “Then they came inside, opening fire on anyone in sight. One guy climbed up on the minaret and remained there till the end – he would shoot anyone he saw below in the courtyard.”
In the hall where her father was, two men broke in, spraying bullets. Then, one of them went to the hall on the first floor and started throwing hand-grenades from above, into the hall below. At one point, one of the attacker’s placed a grenade at the feet of an old man. “He was sitting on a chair,” Irum said, “My uncle watched from a distance as the grenade went off.”
“This entire incident has scarred us badly,” Irum stated. “Three Ahmadis have been killed since the attack on the May 28. One in Narowal, and two in Sindh. So you can imagine how unsafe we feel.”
After the tragedy, Irum and her family have begun to follow strict safety measures. “There are many Ahmadis in Lahore who are getting threatening phone calls and their homes have been marked with red ink as targets,” she said, “Basically every Ahmadi in Pakistan is practicing his/her faith under the dark shadow of terror, at the risk of their lives…but we’re holding on.”