Protecting our lesser privileged minorities. By Azra Nafees Yousafzai
08 Nov 2013
A good measure of a society’s health is to simply observe how it treats its weakest and most helpless members. By that criterion Pakistan’s treatment of its Christian minority would indicate an ailing body politic risen by poisonous bigotry and religious intolerance.
Christians, thought to be around 2% of the total population, predate the creation of Pakistan by a couple of centuries. At the time of independence, they were promised equal rights as the citizens of the new country. Christian communities in what was to become Pakistan were particularly active in support of the Pakistan movement. For the first few decades after the independence, various Christian individuals rose to the positions of prominence. Justice A. R. Cornelius, a Christian, became the first non-Muslim Chief Justice of the Pakistan Supreme Court and a number other individuals left their marks on the national life. Pakistan Air Force had a number of famous Christian officers and Group Captain Cecil Chaudhry and Wing Commander Mervyn Middlecoat even becoming household names as war heroes.
However with the increasing trends of religious extremism in the society starting in the late 70’s, Christians became increasingly marginalized and began to face ever-greater persecution and victimization. Things became direr during the military rule in the 80’s when Blasphemy Laws entailing strict punishments including death were introduced. These were often used to victimize the Christians. Several hundred Christians have been persecuted under these laws and death sentences have been handed to at least a dozen Christian individuals. Many of those falsely accused under these laws have been killed by mobs before the courts could decide on their cases, and even those individuals who have been acquitted remain under threat from religiously incited mobs in their areas. Over the last decade or so life has become ever harder for Pakistani Christians with a number of attacks on Churches and about a dozen cases of mob violence against Christian dwellings and properties.
On the 22nd of September of this year the worst ever case of anti-Christian violence occurred at the All Saints’ Church in Peshawar where two Taliban suicide bombers blew themselves up as the congregation was filing out after the Sunday service. The death was at least 85 innocent worshippers dead and scores more injured.
This incidence of wanton barbarity was the culmination of decades of slow poisoning of the society with religious bigotry and a weakening of the state to the point where it could not even carry out its most basic function of providing security to the lives of its poorest and most marginalized citizens. The only ray of light and hope in this terrible tragedy was perhaps the response of some of the Muslims citizens of Pakistan and of Peshawar in particular, who stood up and voiced their anger and resentment at the terrorist attack. BBC reported that the Muslim citizens of the area where the Church was located immediately rushed to the scene to help their Christian neighbors in their time of need. On the other extreme was the callous behaviour of many of the political and religious parties that refused to clearly condemn the Taliban terrorists who perpetrated this heinous crime.
The Voice of Pashtuns talked to Dr. Nazir S Bhatti, the president of Pakistan Christians Congress and he had several things to say about this attack in particular and the state of Pakistani Christians in general. Dr. Bhatti lamented the constant low-level persecution and bigotry that the Christians and other minorities face in Pakistan. He pointed out that while all mosques are provided basic security against terror attacks especially during Friday prayers, Christian churches are left unprotected by the government with no police presence during the Sunday Service.
Speaking about the Church massacre he alleged that the wounded taken to the hospital were not even attended to for four hours as the doctors had been away for their weekend and the skeleton crew at the hospitals was ill equipped to cope with a tragedy of this magnitude. He also alleged that many of the dead bodies were mutilated at the hospitals and their organs were sold in the black market! This is a most serious allegation and needs to be investigated at the highest levels and the culprits involved must be punished.
Dr. Bhatti further told us that the website used by their organization for information sourcing and coordination has been banned and blocked by the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA), while the religious extremists are free to spread their hateful propaganda, the victims are being prevented from even having a minimal voice on the internet.
Beside sharing his views on the church attacks, he also showed his concern about Christian children studying in Pakistani Public and Private Schools. He expressed his reservations that Christian students all over Pakistan have to study Islamic Studies per force since they remain sitting in the classes even if they are exempted from appearing in the examinations for Islamic Studies. He suggested that instead alternative subjects like ethics and Pakistan Movement may be offered to students from minority communities.
We hope the common citizens and the authorities alike will take note of these points and ponder over how we have so completely failed and ostracized the weakest members of our society. The present situation, if allowed to continue odes very ill for the future of country.
(Azra Nafees Yousafzai wrote it for Monthly ‘SAHAR- The Voice of Pashtuns’, khyberwatch.com)