Rural Punjab has gone through a subtle, but certainly very conspicuous, change during the last two decades. The 'new' Punjab doesn't resonate with its traditional and historical composition, as it used to be known for its friendliness, open-mindedness, easy going and secular attitudes of life. The emerging trends reflect the geopolitical developments taking place around its periphery. These trends encompass the rigid attitudes, intolerance of dissension and cynicism. Though change is a compulsory human trait, but the problem with this change is its unnatural progression and non-indigenousness. The new ways of life almost entirely are caused by the outside factors and alien forces whose thoughts still remained foreign to the local mindset.

Another unfortunate factor is the involvement of the state to permit and encourage the new values which are placed under the banner of purification of faith or indoctrination of the belief-set to the extent of dragging it towards orthodoxy. Even though change was primarily designed for urban areas of Pakistan in general, and Punjab in particular, however, as time and events proved later, its pervasiveness remained limited in urban centers and city-dwellers couldn't appreciate the new and vigorously disseminated ideals. But the case of rural Punjab against this onslaught turned out otherwise. It proved more fertile in this regard and subscribed to the new ideals more easily. This change wasn't difficult to feel, but as most of the intellectuals mainly stayed focused on the developments in the urban areas, they ignored this mini-revolution that turned the existing ways of life in Punjabi villages and the inhabitants of small towns.

To cater to nostalgia I must say that the Punjab we find in the pictures of Usataad Allah Bakhsh, and the Punjabi movies of the 1970s decade, is no more. (Please don't mix the films of 70s with the 'gandasa' style movies of 80s). The new culture and its values have completely replaced the old ones. It has overshadowed Punjab's traditional softness, its folklore and the message of the great Sufi poets. Now, the imaginative visualization of the new Punjab doesn't hold any more traditional sweet melodies of the pipe (bansri not fiddle), rather it has been replaced with the resonating sounds of boom and sensation caused by the passing Kalashnikov bullets. The sweet 'mahia and tappa' culture has swapped with the loud sectarian and jihadi sermons blasting from the powerful loudspeakers of the newly and rapidly constructed mosques and madrassas.

These new realities are pointing towards the similar dangerous and emerging trends as the ones already set in motion in the tribal and settled areas of KP, whereby life has been confined to the ‘my way or highway’ hypothesis. The state of Pakistan seems powerless to undo new and painful realities of tribal mindset blended with religious orthodoxy, despite a visible policy shift from its erstwhile, so-called 'strategic assets'.

To understand this phenomenon, please read through this story of a small village in Punjab as it has been narrated to me. We’ll examine the set of painful changes that it has gone through.

The village Kot Ratowall in district Sialkot was a similar kind of village where soft Punjabi traditions as described above, prevailed. As per legend, this village was started by two Hindu brothers Ratta and Paal almost three hundred years ago. After the partition of sub-continent, this village became part of Pakistan by a narrow margin of 200 yards. Till 1990 there were 77 Muslim, 23 Hindu, eight Christians and one Ahmadi family living there. Among the 77 Muslim families there were 60 Sunni Barelvi and 17 Shia families. This village had exemplary peace and religious tolerance. Among the Hindu families, one family were landholders, while the remaining 22 Hindu families would work for the Muslim landowners. Some of the Hindu men would go to the nearby Sialkot where they were employed by the sports goods manufacturers. For three hundred years of its history nobody has witnessed any event which can be counted as religious intolerance or hatred.

In 1992, for the first time Hindu families of the Ratowall were made to realize that their village, where they lived for centuries, is no longer a safe place for them. This happened on Feb 5, 1992 when Kashmir Solidarity Day was observed. Almost 200 people under the lead of a local religo-political party (name withheld) leader from neighboring Sialkot, invaded the village and asserted that Hindus don't belong here and they should leave for India. The local Muslim population of the village didn't like the demands of hooligans and defended their non-Muslim village mates. A fight ensued and outsiders were made to run. They were told that Hindus are as much dwellers of that village as any Muslim. But this event left a deep scar on the secular face of Ratowall's history. Please also allow me to interpret the word 'secular', as in Pakistan a vast majority considers it equivalent to 'atheism'. Secular attitudes are, in fact, true teachings of Islam, whereby you allow every individual of the society to spend his/her life according to the belief he/she is imparted with. At the same time it is the responsibility of the society to defend and protect the non-Muslim minority population and their places of worship. But for the sake of record, Ratowall didn't have any Hindu temples or Christian churches.

As the story goes, by the end of 1992, the Hindu population of the village got scared, because after the first attempt to eliminate them there were a couple more events of the same nature. But after the destruction of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya by hooligans across the border, the Hindu men who would go to Sialkot for the employment quit their jobs as they were afraid that someday they will be killed by somebody. As of now, only five Hindu families are left in that village and that too because their financial situation didn't permit them to migrate to India, while 18 other families quietly moved across the border and are currently living in Jalandhar. There are so many emotional tales that have emerged from the migrated families and how they missed their native land, but I want to remain confined to post-migration chain of events

What is also important to note is that Hindus that moved to India might not have done so had the threat remained external, however their prime concern was the local jihadis who after getting trained from Afghanistan and Kashmiri training camps were on the mission to eliminate Hindus from their own village and neighboring villages of Harpal, Anola, Cylum, Beni Sulehrian, Jodhay Wali, Krishna Vali, Bajra Garhi, Mendowaal, Ramo Chak, Akhnore, Bhalore and Chobara. Their message was simple: convert to Islam or move to India.

Because of a relatively thicker Hindu population Ratowall was the prime focus of the militants. One night three Hindu girls of this village, Kamlesh Vanti, Lajwanti and Ganga were abducted. The local police station failed to register a case against perceived kidnappers. Three days later the news was broken that abducted girls have converted to Islam. On this occasion, one of the militant group distributed sweets in the village and aerial shots were fired. But this was not true. The unfortunate reality of this episode, almost two weeks later ended with a sorry ending. Two of the abductees committed suicide and one of them escaped to Peshawar with her husband.

Now something about the the only Ahmadi family of Ratowall, which faced a different fate. The head of that family was a school teacher and a widely respected person of the village. The day he died a member of one of the jihadi outfits, obtained a fatwa and distributed the literature in the village that an Ahmadi cannot be buried in a graveyard for Muslims. In favour of this, another jihadi group staged an armed protest and declared that if the deceased was buried in the local graveyard, he will be exhumed (out of the grave) and his body would be set on fire. Seeing this, his grieving family quietly took his body and moved to Rabwa where he was buried and the family got a house on rent and opted to settle there.

After seeing this, the most poverty-struck Christian families had other reasons to worry about. They were especially scared because of the events of Gujranwala and Sumandri, where some Christians were murdered by the crowd because they had allegedly committed blasphemy. Also they had seen the fate of Hindu and Ahmadi families of their village already. Hence, majority of them, who could afford to, moved to urban centers like Lahore and Faisalabad.

Currently there are three mosques and one Imam Bargah in Ratuwaal and the young khateeb of main mosque gladly tells everyone that, Alhamdolillah, Ratuwaal is now almost a complete Muslim village and most of the minorities have left the village while the remaining will follow the course. But here is the problem, this purification process never ends. Given some more time, and you’ll see further exodus of a new set of minorities.