NEW DELHI: Pakistan’s Christian minority continues to languish and suffer under extreme socio-economic conditions while the Imran Khan government focuses on building its narrative on Kashmir globally.
Pakistan’s Catholic archbishop, Sebastian Francis Shaw, recently claimed that discriminatory treatment was meted out to Christians despite their contribution to defence and welfare, according to people familiar with Pakistan’s minorities who did not wish to be identified.
Besides false blasphemy cases, Christians in Pakistan are often at the receiving end of forced conversions, with girls abducted and forced to marry. The community remains among the poorest in Pakistan, claimed one person.
Comprising 1.6% of Pakistan’s population, Christians are primarily concentrated around the cities of Lahore, Faisalabad and Karachi. Some are based in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
The most high-profile victim is Asia Bibi, a Christian from a Punjab village who was accused of blasphemy after an altercation with some Muslim women in 2010. The case highlighted the misuse of anti-blasphemy laws to settle personal rivalries and claimed the lives of then Punjab governor Salman Taseer and federal minister Shahbaz Bhatti for defending Asia Bibi.
A recent investigation revealed the trafficking of poor Christian girls to be married off to wealthy Chinese grooms. Some of them had been subjected to torture and domestic abuse.
Scores of churches have been targeted by terrorists and mobs in Pakistan. The Shias and Ahmadis have faced similar attacks. This is the result of the stranglehold of religious extremists on Pakistan’s socio-political life, according to one person.
On August 21, a group of religious minorities submitted a 10-point memorandum to the Pakistani government, demanding recognition of their human rights. They sought an increase in the minimum marriage age to 18 from 16; creation of a federal ministry for religious minorities; a 5% quota for scholarships; protection for houses of worship; laws to prevent discrimination in employment, education and society; designated prayer locations in public places; removal of books promoting hate against religious minorities, and protection of women from daily violence, abductions, sexual violence and forced conversions.
Meanwhile former Pakistani MLA from from Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party, Baldev Kumar, has sought political asylum from Delhi over atrocities on minorities by Islamabad. The former MLA from Barikot (reserved) seat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly, reached India along with his family on Monday. Baldev told news agency ANI, “Not only minorities but even Muslims are not safe there (Pakistan). We are surviving in Pakistan with a lot of difficulties. I request the Indian government to give me asylum here. I will not go back.”