Pakistan has descended into an abyss of religious intolerance and Christians are increasingly facing persecution in the country, says a report.
Islamabad [Pakistan], August 18 : Mario de Gasperi, writing in the Center of Political and Foreign Affairs (CPFA) said that discrimination against the Christian community is deeply rooted in Pakistan. The Muslim majority describe them using derogatory terms such as ‘churha’ or ‘kafir,’ which means infidel. A large proportion of the Christian community is from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, poorly educated, and takes up low-paid manual labour such as in brick kilns or the sanitation sector.
Perhaps the greatest suffering faced by them is the underlying societal hostility, the daily discrimination such as denial of services, access to political voice, or limitation to educational opportunities, said Gasperi.
Post-2001, violence and discrimination against Christians in Pakistan have definitely increased. Seen as connected to the ‘West’ due to their religious belief, Christians have at times been made scapegoats for the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, as well as the enormous human suffering, is seen as a consequence of interventions in other countries with large Muslim populations, reported CPFA.
Christians continue to suffer targeted violence and other abuses, including land-grabbing in rural areas, abductions and forced conversion, and the vandalization of homes and churches.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws continue to be a source of controversy and suffering, having extremely adverse effects on the accused and their families. A false accusation can be a punishment in itself since a number of cases have provoked brutal mob violence against the accused and their families, reported CPFA.
According to the latest figures (1987-2018) from the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), a total of 229 Christians, have been accused under various provisions on offences related to religion since 1987, reported CPFA.
Moreover, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in 2020 designated Pakistan as a Country of Particular Concern because of its “systematic enforcement” of blasphemy and other controversial laws against religious minorities.
Forced marriages of girls take place under the majority religious law which deems puberty as a license for marriage. The failure of law enforcement officials to carry out proper investigations further impedes justice for victims and their families.
Police often turn a blind eye to reports of abduction and forced conversions thereby creating impunity for perpetrators, said Gasperi.
According to human rights organisations, as many as 1,000 Christian girls are abducted each year. Many of them are forced to convert to Islam because it is widely believed in Pakistan that marriages under the age of 16 are acceptable under Sharia law if both individuals getting married are Muslim.
Even when abducted children are rescued, their ordeal is often far from over. In many cases, threats are made to abduct them again or kill family members, and the trauma goes on, said Gapperi.
Seemingly to prevent discrimination in employment in the public sector, a quota system was put in place, reserving five per cent of public sector jobs for minorities, and the other 95 per cent of jobs being on the basis of open merit including minority candidates.
However, in practice, this system does little for positive action because many municipalities fill their five per cent quota by employing only minorities in undesirable positions such as sanitation workers, reported CPFA.
Christian religious freedom activists continued to report widespread discrimination against Christians in private employment. They say that Christians have difficulty finding jobs other than those involving menial labour; some advertisements for menial jobs even specified they were open only to Christian applicants, said Gasperi.
Christians in Pakistan are also victims of land-grabbing. Some powerful landowners, with political support, arbitrarily confiscate the lands of poor and vulnerable farmers.
The education system in Pakistan is both discriminatory in its content and the level of access to education given to members of minority groups. It helps fuel hatred against minorities through the propagation of negative stereotypes in school curricula.
The curricula, notably those of public schools, has been thoroughly examined by several organisations that have concluded that they portray a society that is not protective of minorities, said Gasperi.