Migration of Pakistani Christians,
By Riaz Anjum Advocate
Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, while addressing the First Constituent Assembly of Pakistan said:
“ … You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in the State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State … We are starting with this fundamental principle: that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State. Now, I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not so in the religious sense because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state”
But the Ulema (Clergy) who opposed Jinnah and the existence of Pakistan during Pakistan Movement considered it a betrayal of the cause for which the South Asian subcontinent was partitioned into two sovereign states. The rulers of that time(Liaqat Ali Khan) came under the pressure of Mullah’s and constituted a committee headed by Moulana Shabir Ahmad Usmani and committee prepared a resolution (objective resolution) which was passed on 12 march 1949 and was made part of constitution by a dictator General Zia.
With the arrival of Zia government extremist elements finally found state power. We can say extremism as project was set into motion by Zia Ul Haq. In his regime Islam was used as an instrument. During his dictatorship religious groups/parties were supported by government. In his regime objective resolution was made part of constitution and declares Christians and other non-Muslims secondary citizens. All these demands which were not accepted by Quid e Azam (founder of Pakistan), his companions and Bhutto were converted into laws in regime of Zia.
The religious minorities within the boundaries of Pakistan have always been promised protection along with a guarantee of equal fundamental rights. According to Article 25 of Pakistan’s Constitution (1973) ‘all citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law’. According to article 26 (1) there ‘shall be no discrimination against any citizen on the ground only of race, religion, caste, sex, residence etc. in respect of their access to places of public entertainment or resort’. Similarly article 27 (1) gives ‘protection against discrimination on basis of religion etc. on appointment in service of Pakistan if he/she is qualified otherwise’. Article 36 of the constitution provides for the protection of minorities and states that the ‘State shall safeguard the legitimate rights and interest of minorities, including their due representation in the Federal and Provincial services’. Article 36 is part of Constitution’s second chapter ‘Principles of Policy’ which is a non-operative part of the constitution as the observance of these principles.
Many Christians have found themselves accused of blasphemy on the basis of nothing more than the say-so of one or more Muslim accusers, often with a personal grudge or objective in mind, have then found themselves promptly thrown into jail, often for months or years, where they are subject to violence from other inmates and to torture from police and prison staff. Aside from religious feuds (backed by the law or otherwise) and socio-cultural/economic deprivation, the problem of ‘policy of appeasement’ in favor of the rightist parties and factions has further marginalized these religious minorities. This has led to rise in cases of socio-psychological depression among these communities. Suicide, abject poverty, immensely unhygienic living conditions and a high rate of unemployment are all linked to official policy.
In the latest example of mob violence against Christians, a Christian bonded worker couple was burnt to death by the mob in the tiny village of Chak 59 near Kot Radha Kishan town, 60 kilometres southwest of Lahore. Shama Bibi, 24, and Sajjad Maseeh, 27, her husband, were killed for alleged blasphemy. Christian couple was locked in brick-making factory after their boss thought they would flee debts. It provided an opportunity to the mob to beat them, tear off their clothes and throw them onto a brick kiln.
According to reports, Shama Bibi, a mother of four who was four months pregnant, was wearing clothes that did not at first catch fire, so the mob removed her from over the kiln and wrapped her up in cotton to make sure the material would burn faster. The killings were sparked by misusing blasphemy law. By the time the attack was over, only charred bones and the couple’s discarded shoes remained. Aneeqa Anthony advocate who is head of “The Voice Society”, an NGO which is pursuing this Double Murder case of Burnt Alive Christian Couple in Kot Radha Kishan,said “it is very much necessary to stop misuse of blasphemy Laws for control of mob violence. She kept on saying that brick kiln workers are often subject to harsh practices. Bonded Labor Liberation Front Pakistan estimates there are 4.5 million bonded workers in the country and a large number of bounded workers are Christians.
Christians are visibly rattled over the latest incident and still remember the Joseph Colony disaster in Lahore where an unruly mob had set ablaze the houses of the Christians, besides reducing their belongings to mere ashes. They have not erased the memories of the incident when the prayer leader of a mosque was arrested by police on charges of fabricating the evidence that he had used to accuse a 14-year old Christian girl Rimsha Masih of blasphemy. Poor Rimsha Masih could have faced death, but a timely testimony from an eye-witness in her favor and against the prayer leader saved her from going to the gallows.
Religious minorities like the Hindus, Sikhs, etc, have already voiced grave concern, and so have their sympathizers over the failure of successive Pakistani regimes to protect the rights of minorities in Pakistan.
The history of persecution of Christians in Pakistan is of relatively recent vintage. Just 15 years ago, a Christian, Ayub Masih was the first to be convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death. Though the lower court had upheld Ayub’s conviction, his lawyer was able to prove before the Supreme Court that the accuser had used the conviction to force Masih’s family off their land and then acquired control of the property. Masih was resultantly released.
On October 28, 2001, an attack on a Protestant church in Bahawalpur had resulted in 16 deaths. The casualties were all Christian worshippers except a policeman. This was the worst ever attack on Pakistani Christians till that time.
On March 17 the same year, an attack on a Protestant church in Islamabad’s Diplomatic Enclave killed five, including a US diplomat’s wife and daughter. OnAugust 9, three nurses and and attackers were killed in an attack on a church in Taxila’s Christian Hospital. In August 2002, gunmen stormed a Christian missionary school for foreigners in Islamabad, killing six.
On September 25, a Christian welfare organization “Peace and Justice Institute” was attacked in Karachi. The attackers tied seven office workers to their chairs before shooting each in the head. On December 25, assailants threw a grenade at a Presbyterian church near Sialkot, killing three young girls on Christmas.
In November 2005, Roman Catholic, Salvation Army and United Presbyterian churches were attacked at Sangla Hill (near Lahore). The attack was over allegations of violation of blasphemy laws by a local Christian, Yousaf Masih. On June 5, 2006, a Pakistani Christian, Nasir Ashraf, was working near Lahore when he drank water from a public facility. He was assaulted by the locals for his ‘sin.’ A mob developed and thrashed Ashraf.
In August 2007, a Christian missionary couple, Reverend Arif and Kathleen Khan, were gunned down in Islamabad. In August 2009, six Christians were burnt alive and a church set ablaze in Gojra.
On March 2, 2011, Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian minister in Pakistan government, was mowed down for opposing the blasphemy law. Then is the case of a Pakistani Christian Safdar Masih, who was allegedly shot to death in Pakistan on October 6, 2011 for defying the local land mafia’s “order”. The local Church had bought some land to build an orphanage, but the local land mafia had laid claim to it. The police were vehemently criticized for giving protection to criminal elements in the country and for turning a blind eye to the plight of the Christians in minority.
In September 2013 two attackers struck at the end of a service at All Saints Church in Peshawar, the main town in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province which has borne the brunt of a bloody Islamist insurgency in recent years. In this suicide attack more than 100 Christians got injured and about 90 Christians
At least 22 Christians were killed in and about 70 injured in suicide attacks before two churches of Younaabad Lahore on 15 March 2015.
Due to security threats Christian brilliant brains like Imtiaz Stephen , and a well known Evangelist Anjum Javed and hundreds of Christian families have migrated from Pakistan to different countries. Their lives, property and Churches have also come under attack or been subject to unlawful expropriation by the local Muslim community. The authorities have been unsuccessful in taking adequate measures to protect this community from acts of violence and to bring the perpetrators of law to justice. Moreover, the blasphemy laws have been used against the religious and sectarian minorities. The allegations on basis of blasphemy are often motivated by personal vendettas and have often resulted in the lengthy detention of, and occasional violence against Christians. Christian women in particular have been subject to sexual and gender based violence. Christian Women and young girls are reportedly subject to abductions for the purposes of forced conversion at the hands of extremist Muslims. Such abductions are often accompanied by sexual violence and may result in the forced marriage of the victim to her abductor. Until recently, Pakistan didn’t have any law to protect the Christian women from the pretext of forced conversions using marriage as a ruse. It has also been reported by different international and national sources that public school textbooks include some derogatory remarks against minority religious groups. Religious intolerance, which is the root cause of acts of violence and discrimination against Christians and other religious minorities, is still widespread in our country’s education system.
Mr Napoleon Qayyum a minority leader of PPP said “Christians are very loyal to Pakistan but now they are migrating from Pakistan. Migration of Christians can only be stopped if GOVT takes measures to stop misuse of Blasphemy Laws”
Shahid Anthony a well known social worker and human rights activist said “There is long series of cases where Blasphemy Laws have been misused against Pakistani Christians. Now it is time for GOVT to take initiative to enact laws for protection of Christian and religious minorities. He kept on saying, if we wish to develop our country and make Pakistan great and prosperous we all should condemn extremism and terrorism and should adopt tolerance rather than extremism.”
If state Establishment and GOVT wish to stop migration of Pakistani Christians they should take measures to stop misuse of blasphemy laws, to do enactment to stop forced conversion of Pakistani Christians and provide security to Christians and other religious minorities.