Give Pakistani Government a chance says minority rights activist Wilson Chowdhry
|London: March 2, 2017. (PCP) After seven years of no change many campaigners give up and lose hope, but not our Wilson Chowdhry. In 2011, Mr Chowdhry was manhandled by security officers at the Pakistan Embassy in London, after several attempts to apply for a visa for him to travel to visit his family were thwarted. Mr Chowdhry was hit in the face dozens of time by one ex-military officer while the other security operative held his arms behind his back. Fortunately, the security officer punching Mr Chowdhry broke a finger which terminated the hitting prematurely, but not before at least 40 punches had connected with Mr Chowdhry's face. Through God's protection Mr Chowdhry did not even suffer a scratch despite the physicality of the attack. Mr Chowdhry said:
"I knew my face was being hit, but felt no pain throughout the attack. I felt my neck was moving backwards and forwards but in all reality it felt like I was protected by an invisible shield.
"I could tell the security officer hitting me was surprised I was still standing.
"After all I was only 9 stone at the time so this was some feat. God was definitely with me."
Both men tried to force Wilson into a private room but by some miracle whilst jumping around to get free Mr Chowdhry caught his leg in a long bin preventing the forceful transfer. Wilson's wife whilst screaming phoned the police who arrived in seconds.
Mob rule took affect and Mr Chowdhry was accused of hitting Embassy staff but when Police were prompted by Mr Chowdhry to ask for CCTV footage, former High Commissioner Wajid -Ul Hassan agreed to drop charges. Mr Chowdhry had to drop counter-charges, after police made it very clear that diplomatic immunity would make release of the video footage nigh on impossible. By some
His wife who held a Pakistani passport flew out with her children to visit her sick mother and took Mr Chowdhry's thre children with her. In a sick attempt at intimidation, officers from Pakistan's secret services agents the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), visited her home three times. On the third visit they even took a local Imam with them, who for no reason took an inventory of the contents of Juliet Chowdhry's parental home. Meanwhile in London Mr Chowdhry seriously thought about giving up on the BPCA and while sat praying on the floor, he received a call from BBC Asia Network who had heard about the attack and wanted to report about it on their news programme.
The reporter visited the Embassy and asked about the attack and the visits to Mrs Chowdhry home. The Embassy shared 'no comment' but the intimidation stopped. The story was also covered in less detail within the Catholic Herald.
Wilson was formally banned from Pakistan the day after the ban and has missed his mother-in-laws funeral, a dearly loved first-cousin's wedding, and another precious first- cousin's funeral. Heaps of birthdays and other occasions too at the time Wilson, his wife and daughter traveled to Pakistan at least two times a year.
Wilson Chowdhry, had no interaction with the Pakistan High Commission after that until the new regime came in. Ziradari's goons left and in came Mr Shariff's team. After a successful protest for Asia Bibi at which Embassy staff bought all the copies of a BPCA commissioned report that had been written about persecution in Pakistan by genocide expert Desmond Fernandes, Mr Chowdhry started to met regularly with a new First Minister who would hold discussions with Mr Chowdhry over coffee in nearby cafes. Mr Chowdhry was still banned from the High Commission which is officially recognized as Pakistani territory.
These discussion developed and Mr Chowdhry was asked to share ways that the Government of Pakistan could help suffering Christians in Pakistan. One request that the BPCA made was for the installation of washroom facilities at several houses in Jaranwala. This was to prevent vulnerable girls being kidnapped and raped in a similar fashion to Sherish and Farzana who were abducted at gunpoint whilst using a field as a toilet (click here).
Mehwish Bhatti, BPCA's lead officer in Pakistan had already engaged with families there and had agreed that local clusters would share facilities at appropriate properties that were central to each group geographically.
Mehwish Bhatti, said: "The washrooms we had proposed would contain hand pumps, that permitted cleaner drinking water, bathing and toilet facilities.
"This would improve local hygiene and health and provide safety to vulnerable groups such as women and children who had to travel long distances to bathe in canals and streams and were vulnerable at night whilst using fields as toilets.
"At the time many people were drinking water from irrigation fields and streams without any filtering and life expectancy was extremely low."
However, delays meant that BPCA sought separate funding and completed the project themselves. The delays had apparently come about due to the fact that the First Minister was recalled to Pakistan and a new officer was to be placed into post.
Earlier this year the new First Minister approached Mr Chowdhry and called him to the Pakistan Embassy. This was the first time in 6 years that Mr Chowdhry had set foot in the office. Despite a great fear that this was a ruse to entrap him Mr Chowdhry left and asked many members of the BPCA to pray for him. As he entered the building he felt a great fear and panic but fortunately for him, it was lunch-time and Mr Chowdhry was offered lunch at a nearby restaurant. Although Mr Chowdhry declined the meal he was urged to go and accepted for decorum's sake.
Whilst there they discussed a number of issues and the First Minister also informed Mr Chowdhry that 10 toilet facilities had been approved for build, to help the Christian minority in the village of Jaranwala. Apparently, despite being late for the initial programme funded by the BPCA the Government of Pakistan had ratified the programme on the basis of the BPCA proposal - they felt our proposal set out strong arguments for actual community benefit from the project. Moreover they also agreed to use some of the funds to repair a church that had offered to be the location of a grander public washroom facility.
Last week we received a call that the work had been completed and we sent an officer to review the work. Kanwal Amar our Faisalabad based officer visited the developed properties and was positively shocked at the scale of the project. Not only had the washroom facilities been built to a high specification but the government had plumbed facilities into drainage and had in some cases installed electrical pumps instead of hand held facilities. The Washroom facilities in most cases were the strongest part of the property for recipients, they were built in brick whereas most homes in the region are simple mud homes. A hand held pump installation would cost about 3 years wages from a whole family, however an electrical pump for these rural communities would be considered impossible.
Kanwal Amar, said: "I am amazed at the scale of this project it will improve the lives of so many Christians.
"The Christians in the community are looking healthier and cleaner and have gained a huge amount of morale.
"To make sure theses facilities are utilized to their fullest potential I am preparing a hygiene and health course and will deliver it to these villagers.
"Many do have never used a toothbrush and because of previous water paucity need to be taught the value of washing hands regularly."
Wilson Chowdhry, said:"We are excited by the new relationship offered by the Pakistani Government to the BPCA. We hope together to be able to transform the lives of millions of Christians in Pakistan.
"Obviously, we are at a very early stage of what we hope will be a productive team effort and this relatively small project is not evidence of any wholesale reform in Pakistan, but progress is evident and should be commended.
"We have advised the Pakistani High Commission of other areas of concern that if improved could make life for minorities more fulfilling.
"Areas addressed include political matters, policy matters and of course recommended legislative change. Together we have agreed that the BPCA will submit several ground-breaking proposals for projects we believe will help transform Pakistan to a more egalitarian nation."
Mr Chowdhry and the High Commission are working towards the lifting of his ban. The current regime are of the opinion it should not have happened.