Mian Mithu, the extremist cleric whom Hindu families dread in Pakistan’s Sindh

Mian Mithu is evergreen. Electoral losses, public protests mean nothing to him. And now he has been caught leading rioters in Ghotki.

Riots broke out in Ghotki in Pakistan’s Sindh province Saturday over blasphemy allegations against a Hindu school principal. And curiously, #ArrestMianMithoo started to trend on Pakistani Twitter, referring to an extremist Muslim cleric and an influential politician that Hindu families dread in Sindh. Mian Mithu is accused of kidnapping and forcing religious conversions of Hindu teenage girls in Pakistan.

On the face of it, Pir of Dargah Bharchundi Sharif Abdul Haq a.k.a. Mian Mithu had nothing to do with the rioting or the alleged blasphemy complaint. But later a video of him leading the rioters emerged.

Mostly Sindhi Hindu activists and journalists were instrumental in trending Mithu on Twitter. They know the real reason behind the Ghotki carnage — the recent abduction of a Hindu girl by the Mithu mafia.

Ghotki riots

The riots began when a teenage student of Sindh Public School in Ghotki had uploaded a video to Facebook last week accusing his Hindu school teacher Nautan Daas of blasphemy. The student’s father Abdul Aziz Rajput registered an FIR against Daas for blasphemy. The FIR and the Facebook video accusation went viral on Facebook. His account has since been taken down by Facebook. But the damage was already done.

It triggered frenzied crowds on the streets that rioted and demanded the arrest of Nautan Daas and vandalised Hindu temples, his school, and Hindu homes. 

The Hindus, in turn, began asking for Mithu’s arrest. His past record of bullying and persecution of Hindus are well known, not just locally but nationally, since 2012. Now he had been captured at the forefront of the Ghotki riots.

Notorious conversions and political rise

Mian Mithu first became a household name in 2012 when a young Hindu woman, Rinkle Kumari, was abducted and forced to convert to Islam, and marry a young Muslim man named Naveed Shah. Rinkle Kumari, the daughter of a local school teacher Nand Laal, was a mere teenager at the time of her abduction.

The sordid saga of the Hindu teenager’s abduction and marriage was said to be masterminded and supported by Mian Mithu, according to the community. In an interview to the BBC, Mian Mithu denied that he forcibly converted her.  But the Hindus said he was notorious in the area for welcoming Hindu teenage boys and girls, converting them and marrying them off to Muslims, and offering them protection against threats from their families.

After Rinkle declared herself a Muslim in court in 2012, The New York Times reported that “Mitho triumphantly led the new convert from the courthouse, parading her before thousands of cheering supporters.”

The Hindu community accused him of aiding and abetting the abductions and conversions, and threatening the courts into submission with the aid of his extremist/militant following.

“Mian Mitho is a terrorist and a thug. He takes the girls, and keeps them in his home for sexual purposes,” Nand Lal told The New York Times, noting that Mithu’s armed guards had escorted his daughter to court appearances and news conferences.

Rinkle Kumari’s case went all the way to the Supreme Court, but she never gained freedom from her forced marriage. Even her father, Nand Laal, fled to Lahore soon after accusing Mian Mithu of the abduction and forced conversion. “The father found refuge and welcome in Gurdwara in Lahore, in Punjab province, with the rest of his family,” it was reported. 

Mian Mithu meanwhile was vilified by civil society and lost his political ticket in 2013 from the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

One can only assume he leads a lavish lifestyle, given that he runs the Bharchundi Sharif shrine, travels with armed guards, and has been a member of parliament from 2008-2013.

Loss in elections & meet with Imran Khan

After Mian Mithu was thrown out of the PPP in the aftermath of the Rinkle Kumari case, he was forced to fight the election as an independent.

The man who had won with over 59,000 votes in the 2008 national elections, got a pathetic 69 votes in 2013 because of the social campaign against him. Not to be outdone, he played the victim card saying he had been punished for serving Islam, and accused former Sindh chief minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah of asking him to choose between politics and Mullah-ism. “I told him I am a Muslim first, then a Pakistani and then a politician. I cannot quit serving Islam,” said Mithu.

But Lady Luck would shine upon his fortunes again. Clearly. Mian Mithu draws his strength from much more powerful quarters of Pakistan.

In 2015, when a motley crowd was being brought together desperately to prop up Imran Khan as a prime ministerial candidate, Mian Mithu was allegedly presented by the military establishment to the PTI. The PTI extended an invitation to Mian Mithu to join it in 2015. But his reputation was too hot to handle even for the PTI and they had to drop him. His photographs with Imran Khan back then had gone viral on social media.

This is not to say that Mian Mithu’s power diminished. He continued his nefarious activities against religious minorities in the Sindh area, and the protests continued.

Mithu lives near Pannu Akil, a massive military cantonment not 30-40 kilometre from Ghotki. And he is frequently seen in the company of the military, at times allegedly at the firing range practising shots, and even standing with the current military chief Qamar Javed Bajwa at award ceremonies.

Mithu is evergreen, just like the military itself. His subjugation of religious minorities continued despite strong social and political movements against him for years.

A diversion

This is where the current Ghotki incidence figures in. According to reports filed by local Sindhi journalist Ibrahim Kumbhar, another Hindu girl aged 11, Monika Kumari, was abducted last year from the area.

She was recovered by the police, presented in court and released because of her age. Because she was from the unsafe area of Hala (near Hyderabad), Ghotki’s blasphemy accused Hindu school teacher Nautan Daas allegedly gave her protection. It didn’t help that Daas and the Hindu community had supported and voted for PPP’s candidate Ahmad Mahar against Mian Mithu.

So, local people tell me, Mian Mithu had an axe to grind, and a false blasphemy case was made to whip up controversy and deflect from the abduction of the girl. The Mithu gang had allegedly abducted Monika Kumari yet again, reporters told me, two days before the blasphemy charges against Daas emerged. And Ghotki burnt.

18 Sep 19/Wednesday                           Source: theprint.in