Lareb Hashmi, the 20-year-old engineering student who was arrested for allegedly attacking a bus conductor with a cleaver over the ticket price in Uttar Pradesh's Prayagraj, said that he follows the teachings of Maulana Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the leader of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a radical group in the neighbouring country.
According to a video, the accused Hashmi claimed that the bus conductor Harikesh Vishwakarma indulged in blasphemy and engaged in a dispute with him over the fare amount of the ticket. The accused student had boarded an electric bus from Shantipuram Phaphamau to Raymond to go to the engineering college.
Hashmi in the video claimed that Vishwakarma abused Muslims and shouted 'Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!" He also repeated Rizvi's teachings about Islam while threatening the victim. Late in the evening, when the police took him to the place where he had hidden his weapons after questioning, he fired at the police team with his hidden pistol, in response to which the police shot the accused in the leg and arrested him.
Who is Maulana Khadim Hussain Rizvi?
The 54-year-old preacher is the head of the politico-religious party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a radical group of the Barelvi sect among Sunni Muslims, and is known for his fiery speech and Arabic verses from the Quran. Rizvi belongs to Pakistan's Punjab province and was a former Pakistani government employee.
Having memorised the Quran, Rizvi was a staunch follower of Islamic theologian Ahmed Raza Khan Barelvi, who founded the Barelvi school of thought. He was appointed as the Imam of the Pir Makki Mosque in Lahore and earned a reputation as a firebrand speaker while delivering Friday sermons, earning thousands of followers.
Rizvi was confined to a wheelchair in 2006 since an accident near Gujranwala, where his driver fell asleep while driving his vehicle from Rawalpindi to Lahore, reported Dawn.
Rizvi further shot to prominence after he resigned from his government and protested against Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader and Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, who pleaded mercy for Asia Bibi, a Christian woman convicted under the country's strict blasphemy laws. Rizvi called for Taseer's death and was called a 'blasphemy activist'. Soon after, the Punjab governor was assassinated by Mumtaz Qadri, a Barelvi, in 2011.
Taseer's death sent shockwaves through Pakistan and the international community, as well as bringing the spotlight to the country's controversial blasphemy laws. Like Rizvi, Qadri also opposed any changes to the blasphemy law. Rizvi and his supporters launched a movement to shield Qadri for Taseer's murder, but Qadri was ultimately hanged in 2016.
The rise of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan
Qadri's hanging led to the establishment of the TLP, which was earlier a movement to call for Qadri's release. The party saw itself as the 'guardian' of Prophet Muhammad and protested vigorously against any changes in Pakistan's blasphemy law, even calling for the death penalty against anyone proposing an amendment.
The TLP won two seats in the Sindh Assembly in the 2018 general elections. Rizvi, the leader of the radical group, staged several highly-publicised protests, such as the publication of caricatures by the French magazine Charlie Hebdo in 2020. The TLP demanded the expulsion of the French ambassador and a boycott of French products.
Rizvi also led the protest at the Faizabad Interchange which connects Rawalpindi and Islamabad, against then-law minister Zahid Hamid against a modification in the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat (Finality of Prophethood) oath. This led to the Army-brokered Faizabad agreement and the sacking of the law minister - a step that was seen as a complete surrender of the state.
The slogan 'Sar Tan se Juda' was raised by TLP members calling for the release of Qadri and now has become a part of several protests in India as well, such as the demonstrations against suspended BJP leader Nupur Sharma for her controversial remarks against the Prophet.
In 2020, Rizvi died in a Lahore hospital due to an unknown illness. His funeral in Lahore's Minar-e-Pakistan was attended by lakhs of people, marking one of the biggest events in the area in the last 100 years, according to The News International.
Blasphemy in Pakistan
Notably, many religious minorities in Pakistan, including Christians and Hindus, have been frequently subjected to blasphemy allegations and have been tried and sentenced under the country's strict blasphemy law. Accusations of blasphemy provoke people into taking matters into their own hands and embolden 'mob justice' which has claimed several lives.
In August, a mob in the Faisalabad district vandalised several churches and the house of Christian worshippers on blasphemy allegations. While police maintained the police was trying to contain the situation with the help of peace committees, Christian leaders alleged that they remained silent spectators.
Despite several calls to amend the blasphemy laws, the Pakistan Senate passed a Bill earlier that month to ramp up punishment for blasphemy to 10 years of imprisonment. The Pakistani Human Rights Minister had then suggested to former Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif that the state had a duty to protect religious minorities.
The 2023 report of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom noted that Pakistan's religious freedom conditions had continued to deteriorate since last year. "Religious minorities were subject to frequent attacks and threats, including accusations of blasphemy, targeted killings, lynchings, mob violence, forced conversions, sexual violence against women and girls, and desecration of houses of worship and cemeteries," it said.
The Commission further warned "harsh and discriminatory" anti-blasphemy laws had enabled radical Islamists to operate with "impunity, openly targeting religious minorities or those with differing beliefs, including nonbelievers".