Plight of Christians in Pakistan
By Riaz Anjum Advocate
Christians have contributed more to the social sector development of Pakistan other than any non-Muslim community of Pakistan. Both missionaries and local members of the Christian community have built splendid educational institutions, hospitals and health facilities throughout the country. Christians have been peaceful even in the face of the worst provocation, attacks on Churches and assassination of their leaders. Poor Christians have faced social exclusion and discrimination in both the urban and rural areas of the country. They have endured social inferiority and humiliation with grace and patience, hoping things would change with modernization and development. Christians have been struggling hard to achieve social and economic stability. In Pakistan Christians and other non-Muslims have never been enjoying equality of social or religious status. Due to constitutional discrimination Christians have been deprived of their fundamental rights.
In Pakistan, the voice of Christians and other religious minorities has never touched the heart or mind of main stream politicians. In the bouts of political struggle for power, even liberal politicians remained silent on the issues of Christians. What could be more discriminatory than the classification of the citizen along religious lines? Reserved seats for Christians and other religious minorities in national and provincial assemblies have been kept in constitution to ensure the representation of religious minorities in assemblies but the heads of mainstream political parties have snatched this right through firstly in Mushraf regime and secondly in eighteen amendment and gave system of proportionate representation. Now minority representatives are selected by mainstream political parties which is unconstitutional and against democratic values. Christians and other religious minorities are demanding right of vote and right to elect their representatives on reserved seats.
The socio-economic conditions of the Christians present a dismal picture. Christians are deprived of due representation in public employment even at the lowest level. Five percent quota has been fixed for religious minorities in constitution but practically it is not being implemented. Christian candidates who qualify the written tests lose badly in viva. The representation of the Christians in various departments is approaching to zero. Number of Christians and other religious minorities in class I and II jobs in various Ministries only below 1 percent while their representation in the Parliament is below 5 percent. There is big difference between representation of Christians and other religious minorities in assemblies and civil services.
Christians are also denied equal opportunity in the private sector. Their representation is indeed very poor in the law and order machinery, whether state police, armed constabulary or central Para-military and armed forces. Church leaders and Heads of Christian educational institutions are running institutes commercially and Christians are not in position to pay heavy fees of these Church based institutions that’s why above 90 percent students of Christian institutes are Muslims. As a result, the literacy level of the Christian community is below than the average level of Pakistan. The school enrolment level of the Christian children is also very low because of the hurdles at the lower level of education; the share of Christian students at higher and professional level is also much below the national level of Pakistan.
In Islamic democratic Pakistan, schools and other educational institutions are being systematically Islamized. Islamic culture incorporating glorification of Arab, Turk and afghan culture and stories of Arab, Iranian, Afghan and Mughal invader characters form part of the syllabus pursued at various schools to university levels. Christian leaders and other minority leaders who contributed in independence movement have never been kept in Syllabus.
A large number of Christians live in poverty and they are the majority of the poorest of the poor living in slums. Christian residents of these slums live in congested areas with virtually no civic services of any kind. These slums provide cheaper housing alternatives for people who migrated to these cities in search of better lives. The condition of Christians in many of the slums in Karachi, Hyderabad, Rawalpindi and Islamabad etc has not improved over the last few decades. The fact that most of the elite community among Christians moved to Western countries due to security reasons, might have made them devoid of leadership. Thus, for many years, there has not been any particular development in their lifestyle.
Rev Rana Youab stated “The problems and challenges of Pakistani Christians are linked with the overall situation of society of Pakistan .When rule of law, equality, tolerance and Justice will prevail in Pakistan, then Pakistani Christians and other religious minorities will get rid of the prejudice, injustice, extremism and discrimination”
Aneeqa Anthony advocate and Head of “The Voice Society” said “Education, Awareness and Unity is the only way to get rid of all sorts of Discrimination. No matter what in the whole world, all nations are successful due to their Education, awareness about the issues, and Unity among their fellow brothers and Sisters. Christians are discriminated, and hated because of their unethical and uneducated approach. It is a duty on each and every educated Christian to work positively for the well-being and awareness of their brothers and sisters especially the teachers, Priests and pastors. It will not be done in one day but slowly and steadily our society will change and our positive approach will change the attitudes of Majority towards us”
Adan Farhaj council member of PMRO UK said “we should start from the formation of our children, se need to get them active agents on the macro-social problems of Pakistan, without, however, forget that the first pedagogical action passes in their homes, in the family micro system and gradually spreading to all those that revolve around them. We need to create spaces for dialogue, training, workshops, ecumenical meetings of awareness, knowledge and two-way exchange already abroad, bringing, as a result, the attention of the Western community about our country. He on kept on saying that we should form a worldwide network of unity among Christians of different political parties, associations, NGOs, Christian denominations to meet the needs of the Christian minority and to move in a path of ecumenism. The leitmotiv present in all countries sees the urgent need to involve all communities in foreign pectoral acts to bring down poverty, illiteracy, to promote a political, social, economic and cultural”
Napoleon Qayyum a minority leader of PPP believes that blasphemy laws, discrimination, prejudice, and social injustice, Christians have become victim of inferiority complex. Unity is the only way by which Christians can become powerful and attain social dignity and economic prosperity.
Kashif Nemat advocate believes that Education is key to progress and education has played a very vital and important role in development of nations, communities and societies throughout the history. Now regarding the critical condition of Pakistani Christians in respect of socio economic development, it is major responsibility of all socially active personalities like politicians, clergy, NGO,s , ministries and societies to play a vital role in educating Christian community at every possible level.
Dr Riaz Aasi Coordinator, Pakistan Christian Movement said “Pakistan Christians need to be united for solution of all problems which they are being confronted. We all will have to pay our duties for attaining political power, social dignity and economic prosperity.
I think Pakistani Christian politicians will have to struggle for political power, social dignity and economic prosperity of Pakistani Christians. They cannot be succeeded without the support and cooperation of pastors, Bishops and other clergy persons. Wise nations make their present better than their past. Christian politicians and clergy will have to struggle together for bright future of Pakistani Christians. If the clergy does not extend their support towards Christian politicians it would be a difficult task for them to attain the destination of social dignity, political power and economic prosperity of Pakistani Christians.
I personally feel that the government has a huge part to play in terms of development of Christians. This can lead to a better harmony that our nation craves so much at this moment. I think government with a new mandate should review all the discriminatory legislation; uphold the principle of equal citizenship enshrined in Pakistan’s. In Pakistan original constitution and take effective measures to curb sectarian violence. Every government must priorities to defend the principle of equal citizenship and non discrimination and to disallow the use of religion to violate the rights of Christians and other non-Muslims. This is perhaps the only way to protect Pakistan’s ethnic and religious diversity, and the security of future generations. Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s speech, delivered on August 11, 1947 in the first Constituent Assembly, should be made an integral part of the constitution. Government should provide equal opportunities and equal rights to all Pakistanis including Christians in order to bring the marginalized to a level of equality.
The government should ensure adequate and meaningful representation of Christians and other religious minorities in the National and Provincial assemblies, proportionate to their population. Christians and other religious minorities should be given right of vote so that they may elect their representatives on reserved seats for Christians and other religious minorities.
Articles like 2-A, 31, 227 and 228, in the constitution that promoted religious segregation should be repealed. Legislation should be done to discourage hate crimes. The textbooks should be revised, delete sections that fanned religious hatred .It should be replaced by course material that promoted religious harmony. There should be a provision for religious minorities’ students to attain marks, the way hafize-Quran is given extra marks or there should be no concession made on the basis of religion for the candidates. Measures should be taken to rehabilitate bonded laborers working in agricultural sector, small industry and at brick kilns where most of workers are Christians. Christians and other minority tenants and peasants in Pakistan should be granted land ownership rights. Christians should be granted due representation in the government, civil services, defense forces, police, judiciary and other organs of the state through implementing a quota in jobs and admission in colleges and universities. Government should give Control of Waqaf properties of Christians and other religious minorities to respective communities.
Government should nominate qualified Christian individuals against discretionary appointments in the Higher Judiciary, Public Service Commissions, Universities, Public Sector undertakings, including banks and insurance companies, Authorities, Corporations and in other statutory bodies. Governments should nominate outstanding Christian persons as diplomats in foreign countries. It should set up Institution of scholarship for Christians and other minority students at all levels. Government should do legislation against practice of untouchability at public places and does effective implementation of laws. The Constitution of Pakistan and statutory laws (article, sections) that discriminate against Christians and other religious minorities and are source of disharmony must be repealed.
Christians are outside social and economic planning and developmental programs. Government should take measures for enhancing credit to Christian youth in certain sectors. Government should start Special residential schemes to ensure housing for those Christians who live the dingy localities below humane conditions without ownership rights to their residences. In this way we can promote equality, justice ,patriotism and nationalism among all segments of Pakistan.