VIEW: Religious bigotry and Pakistani Christians —Adil Shahzeb
If you dare to raise your voice against the hostilities and ill-treatment Christians are enduring, it would either be declared as ‘blasphemous’ or you would be labelled as an agent of the firangi
I have received tremendous feedback for my last article, “Pakistan, the game of religious bigotry” (Daily Times, November 10, 2012), but one email in particular has compelled me to touch on the challenges faced by the Christian community in Pakistan. I had mentioned Christians just once in my last article, but not enough about the biased and highly unfair treatment that they face throughout their lives. In Pakistan’s religious bigotry, the most deprived of all are the Christians, the ‘minority’ that only gets media attention if accused of ‘blasphemy’ or as a Muslim convert. According to the UK-based Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement, “Christians in Pakistan are illiterate, suffering in extreme poverty and unemployment among Christians has increased to an unprecedented level.” The statistical data indicates that only six percent have primary school education; four percent of Christians have high school education, one percent of Christians have college education, and next to no presence in higher studies and professional education.
I had no idea that my article in Daily Times would take me right back to my childhood to reflect upon the ills of our society. Now that I am writing I am reminded of a classmate, the most bullied child at school, who was not even allowed to sit with the other children or to be precise, no other pupil would prefer to willingly share a desk with him unless as a punishment by the teacher for not doing his homework. He was the only Christian child in the entire school who would stand with his lunch box in a corner of the playground during recess and was never allowed by the other children to play with them. For obvious reasons he failed all of his exams three years in row until he was forced to leave. Back then I never understood how deprived he was, but now I really feel for the mental torture and the traumatised childhood he endured. Of course it does not matter at all in Pakistan what Article Five of the Universal Declaration of Human Right states: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
It is not only how an underprivileged Christian child is treated at school. When he grows up in our highly radicalised society he is told: the only job that suits you is to clean the streets of Pakistan as that was how your forefathers served this country. And it does not stop there; you also will not have a say in the country’s mainstream affairs including politics; you would hardly be considered for any white-collar job, and last but certainly not the least, all your life your ‘non-Christian’ friends would look down upon you, and you would most probably be the victim of bullying forever. Even though your educational institutions and the broken society would only groom you as the next generation of lowly worker, if you somehow manage to grow up with a good education and competence, most of the jobs that you would opt for would be for non-Christians. However if despite that, you do manage to secure a decent job, you could face a similar hostile work environment that you went through at your school.
So what if Article two of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly states, “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” Despite that, if you dare to raise your voice against the hostilities and ill-treatment Christians are enduring, it would either be declared as ‘blasphemous’ or you would be labelled as an agent of the firangi (white Christian). It would also be good to advise your Muslim friends who are brave enough to speak up for your rights that if they get killed for daring to feel your pain, society would not only be scared to condemn their killing but would also hesitate to attend their funeral or even offer Fatiha (customary Islamic prayer).
Even if you are aware of Article eight of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that states, “Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law”, do not bother knocking at the door of the courts. This would put the life of your lawyer and court judge at risk — that is if you are lucky enough to find a brave lawyer who would take your case.
Section (1) of Article two of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.” But do not be shocked if from day one you are considered guilty within your society for daring to speak up against those who have deprived you of your fundamental and basic human rights.
The very first Article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”, but be aware that you do not deserve dignity because you were never born free but a Christian of a non-Christian radicalised society. More so, if you have come across Article one of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states, “All human beings are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”, do not be disheartened if you are still treated as a deprived and degraded citizen.
So dear human being, oops sorry, I meant dear Pakistani Christian, keep your head down and carry on living your life with no rights in Pakistan.
The writer is a London-based international broadcaster and writer. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @adilshahzeb