In the provincial town of Ghotki near Pakistan’s border with India, Ashok Kumar is packing his bags.
He’s reached breaking point. Like many of his neighbours, and other Hindus in Sindh province, the small trader is fleeing to India.
“I have four daughters and I fear that one day they will be kidnapped and will be converted to Islam forcibly and will be forced to marry Muslims,” he says.
“In such conditions I don’t feel safe here, so I will move to India.”
For many years, Muslims and Hindus lived here peacefully. They share a common culture, language and traditions. But fanaticism has taken root, and increasingly hostile acts are shattering the harmony.
The tensions now forcing Mr Kumar to leave his country were sparked several weeks ago, in the small village of Mehrab Samejo.
There, in late July, when Muslim worshippers arrived at the mosque for morning prayers, they were horrified to find copies of the Koran burned to ashes.
A culprit was quickly identified: a man known as Ubedullah, a Hindu who’d converted to Islam some months ago. He is reportedly a drug addict with a psychotic mental condition.
The following morning Ubedullah was arrested by police for blasphemy, but crucially, he was formally charged under his old Hindu name, Amar Lal.
It’s unthinkable that a Muslim could be guilty of such a crime, and it put Hindus front and centre for blame.
News of the desecration spread like wildfire, inflaming Muslim anger.
Loudspeakers at local mosques relayed the message that night. Shops were shut the following day, and a large, hostile mob drawn from all round the district blocked the National Highway — the country’s most important transport artery — creating a chaotic traffic jam.
They decried Hindus for burning the Koran, and descended on Reharki Darbar, an important Hindu temple complex in the town of Reharki.
The unruly crowd waved religious party flags and chanted slogans against the “enemies of Islam”.
Hindus hid in their homes. Contingents of police and paramilitary were rushed to protect them, and their religious centres, from attack.
The mob eventually dispersed, but the hostility wasn’t over.
That night, two armed men on a motorbike opened fire on a group of young Hindu men sitting at a roadside teahouse. Sateesh Kumar, 17, was killed, while his friend Avinash was seriously injured.
Dr Sheva Ram, the local president of a Hindu community organisation, claims the Korans were burned by accident, after a joss stick was knocked over. He’s outraged police charged Lal using his Hindu name.
“It doesn’t mean Hindus have torched the Holy Koran, but due to this incident, local Hindus are scared for their lives,” he says.
They believe much of the tension stems from agitation at the Bharchundi shrine, a significant Islamic centre in Reharki. Shrine leaders exert a powerful influence in the district, and had seized the burned Korans and buried them in the shrine grounds.
The shrine has previously been mired in controversy after allegations it was responsible for kidnapping Hindu girls and forcing them to convert to Islam. It’s a claim shrine leaders have denied saying the girls were willing converts.
Now the shrine is being blamed for inflaming tensions, and forcing Hindus to flee. However, leaders of the shrine reject these allegations.
Mian Abdul Malik, one of the custodians of the shrine, admits the Korans may have been burned by accident, and claims the shrine does not act against Hindus.
He blames unseen “hidden hands” for stirring tensions between the communities.
Police have assured the Hindu community it will protect them. But Hindus are scared, and many are planning to move….