BASTI MAHRAN, PAKISTAN
Before 2004, life in Basti Mahran was extremely difficult for everyone but especially for the Hindu minority. Hindu girls were routinely raped by Muslim men, cattle that belonged to the Hindu villagers were slaughtered and attacks on all Hindus were widespread – all of the time.
And then a very ill young Muslim mother arrived at the local clinic. She had lost a lot of blood in childbirth and needed a transfusion. The doctors were helpless, they didn’t have any O-negative blood – until a local Hindu man with the same blood-type stepped forward and offered to give his blood to save this young woman’s life.
“I was afraid, for sure. But it was the right thing to do,” says Bachu Ram, the blood donor. (1)
In spite of his selfless gesture, Ram knew there would be objections to a Hindu giving blood to a Muslim. And he was right. Word spread about his offer and before very long a group of Muslims charged the clinic to find and kill Ram. The group was led by Mahar Abdul Latif.
Latif hated Hindus. For three years in the 1990s he had belonged to an extremist group who patrolled the mountains in Kashmir, killing all Hindus who crossed their path. Latif had previously tried to force the doctors at the clinic to have separate facilities for Muslims and Hindus, so that Muslims were never touched with the same instruments that had been used to treat Hindus.
As Latif and his gang approached the clinic they were stopped by a doctor who told them that Ram was this young woman’s only chance.
“I don’t know what came over me,” Latif says. “I remember thinking that here we were refusing to even shake hands with the Hindus and he was willing to give us his blood. It was a marvelous thing he did. It was the turning point of my life.” (2)
Next morning, Latif visited Ram’s home to thank him. This was another seemingly small event but it is said that it was the very first time that a Muslim visited a Hindu home in Basti Mahran so the impact of this gesture was soon felt. In a short time, word of Ram’s generosity and Latif’s remorse spread and everything in the village began to change.
The women began to talk to each other, the rapes and attacks stopped and a huge shed was built to house all the local cattle.
“That was a big deal,” Ram says. “Before, you would not see the cows near each other at all. A Muslim would not have touched the milk from a cow owned by Hindus.” (3)
Nowadays everything in Basti Mahran has changed. In the past, everybody hated the members of the other community, now they not only like each other, they actively support each other even in their religious practice. It is commonplace today for Hindus to attend Muslim celebrations and vice versa. Latif and other local Muslims contributed time and money last year to refurbish a local Hindu temple and everybody, generally, makes efforts to help each other.
This change has turned out to be of just as much benefit to the Muslim community as to the Hindu locals, as now that they have stopped fighting each other they are using their collective energy to promote the common good.
Women from both communities have joined forces in their cotton selling businesses and nowadays are earning four times what they earned when they were selling separately. Last year the village successfully lobbied the government to build power lines and they now have twelve hours electricity a day where previously they had none. Now they are lobbying for new roads and water supply.
“We’ve been so wrong about the Hindus,” Latif says, watching his 7-year-old son Osama play alongside Ram’s 11-year-old boy Sindhal Ram. “The biggest surprise has been that they are just like us. They want to live their lives the same way we do.” (4)
It takes great courage to give, to accept and to forgive. The people of Basti Mahran showed this courage and are, literally, an example to us all.
The video below is from the Toronto Star and gives a great overview of this amazing story.
(1) Rick Westhead, Gift of blood end Pakistani town’s bloody history
Photograph from the same article.