Christians and other minorities increasingly vulnerable in Pakistan

Christians in Pakistan

The Christians in Pakistan are paying for being a minority in Pakistan. Incidents of minorities being assaulted and tortured keep coming from across Pakistan. Apart from Balochis and Hindus, incidents of targeted killings of Christians have also surfaced.

Several Christian organizations, including the Action Committee for Christian Rights, the Overseas Pakistan Christian Alliance, and the Global Human Rights Defence (GHRD), held vigils in Europe in response to the recent murder of a Christian priest in Peshawar and the kidnapping of Anita Masih, a 24-year-old Christian from Sindh. She was kidnapped from home in February 2023 by twenty Muslim men and was molested for hours. They were “punishing” the actions of her cousin who allegedly eloped with a Muslim girl, the Baltimore Post Examiner reported.

Recently, on International Women’s Day, the Aurat March brought together Pakistani minorities to raise awareness about crimes against non-Muslim women.

Pakistan’s rulers use religion for national cohesion and claim the constitutional role of guarantor of Islamic tenets. Minorities are becoming increasingly vulnerable as a large number of ordinary Muslims justify church attacks and forced conversions as the means to achieving and maintaining sovereignty.

Christian girls face forced conversions, and those who resist face beatings, acid attacks, kidnapping, rape, or even murder by Muslim men, the Baltimore Post Examiner reported.

A recent report titled ‘Conversion without consent’ lists over a hundred cases of abduction, rape, and conversion of minor Christian girls between 2019 and 2022. An overwhelming 97 per cent of these attacks took place in Punjab and Sindh.

Moreover, the discriminatory attitude of the police and the judiciary adds to the plight. Political and religious organizations support the criminals, making it impossible for the victims to use legal counsel against the perpetrators, the Baltimore Post Examiner reported.

In most cases, conciliators coerced the girls into marrying their Muslim kidnappers and rapists, the Baltimore Post Examiner reported.

The story of 20-year-old Kainat encapsulates the lives of average Pakistani Christians who pay huge costs to preserve their religious identity. Kainat’s mother was kidnapped as a child and forced to convert to Islam by her elderly Muslim abductor, with whom she had four children. While ignoring the risks, Kainat’s mother took her children to church and introduced bible reading at home. At the age of fourteen, Kainat’s father died, and the family forced her mother to remarry her uncle. They had to stop going to church after their secret visits were discovered.

In October 2017, Kainat’s relatives attacked her house, and shot her brother in the ribs and lungs., the Baltimore Post Examiner reported.

According to the records of Lahore’s Madrasa Jamia Naeemia, on average, 55 Christians convert to Islam each month. That is a peek into only one Madrasa in a country with thousands of Madrasas and Mosques. The assistant protocol officer at the Badshahi mosque in Lahore admitted to having converted dozens of Christians on a daily basis.

All of these conversions, in the opinion of Joseph Francis, National Director for the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement, are involuntary.

In Pakistan, Christians have one of the lowest literacy rates. The principal of Jamia Naeemia, Raghib Naeemi said that more than 90 per cent of converts are illiterate. Many Christian girls drop out of school due to vulnerability to kidnapping, molestation, and forced conversion.

In 2019, the media reported three incidents of school staff coercing Christian students to convert to Islam. Similarly, in 2021, a 12-year-old female Christian was kidnapped and taken to a Madrassa in Khankah Dogran, where she was converted.

According to studies, Christian girls suffer acid attacks from Muslim suitors in retaliation for rejection. In February 2023, Kamran Allahbux disfigured Sunita, his 19-year-old Christian neighbour, with acid after she declined a marriage proposal. Sunita’s family tried for months to report Kamran to the police prior to the incident, but the authorities ignored them, the Baltimore Post Examiner reported.

Julie Aftab, a Christian who fled to the United States, claimed that Muslims attacked her at the age of sixteen for wearing a cross. The attackers grabbed her by the hair and poured acid down her throat. People refused to transport her to the hospital because of her faith, and Muslim doctors refused to treat her. She had lost more than two-thirds of her oesophagus and was missing teeth, gums, an eye, and both eyelids due to acid burn.

The Pakistan government views media coverage of crimes against non-Muslims as an attack on Islam and the constitution.

To avoid litigation, many organizations self-censor and minorities lose important allies while criminals gain impunity and safe havens. A few weeks ago, Pakistan’s censor board banned a documentary on the life of a minor Christian girl from Faisalabad that was scheduled to be released on International Women’s Day. The film which received eight international awards violated Pakistani culture by depicting the abduction, involuntary conversion, and marital rape of religious minorities, the authorities said.

In 2022, conservative Pakistanis were outraged when the British government sanctioned Mian Mithoo for forcing girls from religious minorities to convert and marry their captors.

A few months later, the Islamabad High Court Bar Association invited Mian Mithoo to speak at a seminar titled “Forced Religious Conversion and Its Reality.”

Mian Mithoo claimed during his speech that young Christian and Hindu girls willingly accept Islam and marry the elderly Muslim men they love to which the audience applauded Mian Mithoo for exposing false accusations and thanked him for his selfless services.

The constitution of Pakistan is ambiguous regarding non-Muslim inheritance and divorce rights. The marriage act, inserted into the constitution during the reign of General Zia-ul-Haq, complicates the divorce process for Christians who seek escape from marital cruelty and toxicity.

Christian girls who drop out of school and take employment to help families make ends meet are vulnerable to elderly Muslim employers. In February 2023, 60-year-old Rana Tayab of Faisalabad raped and converted his minor Christian servant, Sitara, and claimed her as his second wife.

Reporting a similar incident, the Baltimore Post Examiner reported that, in 2021, two Christian sisters, Sajida and Abida aged 28 and 26 respectively, were raped and killed in Lahore by their employer for refusing to convert.

Human rights organizations repeatedly request the government to review blasphemy laws, which have become an effective conversion tool. Blasphemy laws are used to settle personal disputes or seize Christians’ property. Many Christians convert to Islam to avoid death sentences in blasphemy cases.

In 2014, a mob burned a Christian couple in the Kasur district in a brick kiln for blasphemy. The police said that the couple was demanding unpaid wages and the kiln owner used blasphemy to get rid of them.

Recently in District Nankana Sahib, a Muslim falsely accused a Christian colleague of blasphemy to secure his job.

The contentious blasphemy laws frequently result in premeditated attacks on Christian burial grounds and places of worship. Denying burial grounds and destroying places of worship is a direct violation of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, to which Pakistan is a signatory.

During riots, villages inhabited by Christian labourers and harvesters face large-scale demographic shifts, cultural regression, and the seizure of assets.

In 2017, a church attack in Quetta killed nine. Likewise, during the Easter celebrations in 2016, a suicide bomber killed seventy Christians and injured 340 others in Lahore. Between 2013 and 2015, four bomb blasts in different churches in Peshawar and Lahore killed and injured over two-hundred Christian worshippers.

Moreover, in 2005, a Muslim mob burned down churches, homes, and schools in Sangla Hills, displacing an entire Christian neighbourhood population. Tens of thousands of Christians have fled to India and Western countries in order to escape the unbearable situation.

Christians are not allowed to cast ballots in the general election or choose their representatives in the parliament. They are also prohibited from holding the positions of president, prime minister, or commander-in-chief of the nation’s armed forces.

In October 2022, six UN Special Rapporteurs wrote to Pakistan’s government urging them to put an end to the abduction, rape, forced conversion, and child marriage of Christian girls. The Rapporteurs accused Pakistani law enforcement of colluding with the kidnappers and chastised politicians for failing to protect the victims. Pakistan, which takes pride in its democracy, should heed international advice and treat Christians with dignity and equality.

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