The ugly face of discrimination
When Pakistan gained independence in 1947, the wish of the founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, was that “the minorities in Pakistan will be the citizens of Pakistan and enjoy all the rights, privileges and obligations of citizenship without any distinction of caste, creed or sect”.
Succeeding generations have largely forgotten his ideals. The growing influence of fundamentalist Islam and bitter disputes with Hindu India, coupled with institutional injustice towards minority religious groups, have left millions marginalised and deprived of privilege.
“Non-Muslims are now forced to live as second-class citizens in their own country, under a system that institutionalises inequality…” Centre for Legal Aid and Assistance and Settlement (2004)
Christians suffer in various ways:
- They mainly derive from the poorest levels of society and become street sweepers, sanitary workers and servants of the privileged majority. Instances of abuse and exploitation of minority groups are tragically common. Watch the video: Pakistan’s untouchables: The Christian Sweeper Community
- The notorious blasphemy law, introduced in 1986 during the dictatorship of General Zia-ul-Haq, prescribes the death penalty for “use of derogatory remarks, etc. in respect of the Holy Prophet” (Pakistan penal Code 295-C). This law has frequently been used to accuse and imprison Christians and members of the minority Ahmadiyya sect. No one has yet been executed, though several accused have been murdered. (according to CSW).
- Injustices are all too common against the poor in Pakistan. In January 2010 a 12 year-old Christian girl, Shazia Bashir, died from multiple wounds in the course of her work as a domestic servant in the home of a wealthy lawyer. It was a high profile case and the evidence pointed to severe mistreatment. The lawyer was quickly acquitted and the case was dropped.
- Many Christians live in fear of mob violence against their community. Muslim mobs upset over an alleged derogatory comment about the prophet of Islam burned down 200 Christian-owned houses, shops and churches in Joseph Town, Lahore in March 2013. Similar attacks against Christian communities took place in Gojra in 2009 (8 Christians burned alive, 100 houses looted, 50 homes set ablaze) and on an even larger scale in Shantinager in 1997 (785 houses and 4 churches destroyed; 2,500 Christians forced to flee). In November 2014 in Kot Radha Kishan, a couple were dragged by a mob from their home and burnt to death in a brick kiln.
- Christians have also been the object of terrorist attack. In September 2013 a double bomb attack claimed the lives of 117 worshippers at all Saints Church in Peshawar at the end of a Sunday morning service. A militant group belonging to the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the suicide bombings. They had also been responsible, in March 2011, for the shooting of Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian politician and Minister for Minorities Affairs, after he spoke out against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. In 2015 there was another double attack by suicide bombers on churches in Youhanabad, Lahore.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan documents many instances of prejudice against religious minority groups. “The State religion of Pakistan is a driving force making Islam the preferred religion through laws and practices… women and religious minorities bear the worst brunt of religious extremist groups.” See their website and reports