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Gift of Blood Ends Pakistani Town’s Bloody History

By Rick Westhead
from Toronto Star

BASTI MAHRAN, PAKISTAN—A single act of kindness, profound because it was so rare and unexpected, transformed this sun-bleached village in a remote corner of the Punjab.

A Hindu man gave his blood to save the life of a Muslim woman who had lost too much in childbirth.

In the seven years since, the 1,600 Muslims and 1,400 Hindus in this town live in peaceful co-existence, extraordinary because sectarian violence has marked the histories of Pakistan and India since the bloody partition of 1947.

“I was afraid, for sure. But it was the right thing to do,” says Bachu Ram, the blood donor. He is smoking a cigarette in the home of a Muslim village elder, who once was so steeped in hatred that he led the charge on the clinic to take Ram’s life.

Hatred and violence once defined life in Basti Mahran. Muslim men routinely raped Hindu girls — “we would have 20 cases a year,” says one local. Muslim men beat Hindus with sticks and fists, seemingly with tacit approval of the local police. Cattle belonging to Hindu families were slaughtered if they strayed too close to Muslim homes.

Mahar Abdul Latif, the host who now pours Ram tea, spent three years during the late 1990s as a member of the extremist religious group Jaish-e-Mohammad. He patrolled the rugged mountain passes and valleys of Kashmir, a region claimed both by India and Pakistan, killing Hindus when they crossed his path.

“I have done much I am ashamed of,” says Latif, a 37-year-old father of three. “But we are friends now. Our kids are friends, too. They study and play together.”

Click here to read the full article and watch the video

September 30th, 2011 at 10:50 am