On February 5, 2024, a day when Pakistan was observing Kashmir Day to show solidarity with the Kashmiri people, a tragic incident occurred in Mandiala Warraich, Gujranwala. A Kashmiri boy named Zaman Butt killed a 14-year-old Christian boy, Sunil Masih, an 8th-grade student, due to ongoing religious strife in the area. The murder, driven by religious conflict, has sent ripples of fear and outrage through the Christian minority.
Mehboob Gill, an eyewitness and the uncle of Sunil Masih, told Pak Christian News (PCN) that the incident occurred around 5:30 pm in the Christian settlement of Mandiala Warraich, near the Ludhiana store. Zaman Butt, along with his companions Ans Yaseen Malik, Adil Abdul Rehman, and Ashraf Inayat Ullah, arrived on motorbikes, armed with pistols. They entered the area with violent intent, shouting threats and causing alarm among the residents. Zaman Butt brutally shot Sunil Masih in the chest, causing him to collapse. Another resident, Jamshaid, narrowly escaped a bullet fired by Ans Yaseen Malik. The assailants then fired at other residents, who managed to avoid injury by clinging to the walls, before fleeing the scene.
After the attack, the injured Sunil Masih was rushed to Gondal Medical Complex in a rickshaw. However, upon arrival, medical staff declared that he had already succumbed to his injuries, as recounted by Mehboob Gill. The family, immersed in grief, held Sunil’s funeral service, while the culprits remained at large. Despite the registration of FIR No. 226/24 at the Cantt Police Station in Gujranwala under sections 302, 149, and 148 TP, police have yet to make any arrests.
George Masih, the victim’s father, who works at a motor garage, has three sons, all of whom were students. Sunil, the middle child, was 14 years old and studying in the 8th grade. The family has been living in the Mandiala Warraich community for 35 years, alongside about 400 other Christian residents.
This incident has reignited concerns about the longstanding dispute between the Christian and Muslim communities in the area, which dates back to May 2023. During a marriage ceremony, Muslim youths allegedly tried to disrupt the event and later attacked a church. The Christian community took to the roads in protest, but the matter was temporarily resolved through local intervention and police mediation.
However, Mehboob Gill believes that the animosity harboured by the Muslim boys since the previous year's incident led to this tragic outcome. He asserts that if the police had taken appropriate action then and penalized the accused, Sunil’s murder could have been prevented. He now demands justice for his nephew and protection for the Christian residents of Mandiala Warraich.
The incident is a stark reminder of the vulnerabilities faced by religious minorities in Pakistan. It underscores the urgent need for effective law enforcement and judicial processes that not only bring perpetrators to justice but also work towards fostering peace and harmony among different religious communities. The community’s plea for justice and protection echoes a broader call for ensuring safety and equality for all citizens, regardless of their religious affiliations.