ONE EVENING IN THE SECOND WEEK of March last year, Larkana, in Pakistan’s Sindh province, was visited by an uncharacteristic burst of violence. It had begun with a rumour that a man, a Hindu, had been seen burning some pages of the Quran—a crime under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, for which the punishment can range from a fine to life imprisonment. Through the day, the rumour spread across the city via text messages, from one house to the next, and from one madrasa to another. By a few accounts, the news of the alleged act and perpetrator was announced over the public address systems of some mosques in the city.
By that evening, a mob wielding flaming torches had gathered in Dari Mohalla, outside the home of the person they believed had committed the offense: Sangeet Kumar, a resident of Larkana in his early forties, who was unemployed and subsisted on odd jobs such as sweeping his sister’s beauty salon, which she ran out of the same house the family lived in. Kumar, his brother and three of his six sisters sat in the main bedroom, huddled together in fear, watching the mob’s torches flicker through frosted windows. “We could hear them screaming,” Veena, one of Kumar’s older sisters, told me. “We could see the fire through the windows. We were terrified. We didn’t know what they wanted.”
After about two hours, the crowd left, and marched towards Jinnah Bagh on Royal Road, about half a kilometre away. That area is home to a significant Hindu population, as well as a revered Shiva temple—the largest of Larkana’s three Hindu shrines. Dileep Kumar, the owner of a sweets shop beside the temple who was present when the crowd gathered—one thousand strong, by his estimate—told me that he “saw young boys with the devil in their eyes.” “I had never seen these people before,” he said. “Larkana has never been this violent. Can you imagine one thousand people on this small street?”