Humanitarians discuss plight of minorities residing in Pakistan.
Recently the chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA), Wilson Chowdhry, was invited to a Washington DC event ‘The Future of Religious Freedom in Pakistan’ hosted by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on 18th July 2013, and the main focus was on the issue of Pakistan's flawed and discriminatory education system. The BPCA were one of few Pakistani Christian groups who were invited to take part; the parties met in a US government office to hear papers and exchange views. Peter Bhatti, brother of the martyred Christian politician Shahbaz, gave a general synopsis of the situation of minorities in Pakistan, particularly Christians, and also some general suggestions for improvements.
The Ahmahdi representative; Rashid Qasim, National Spokesperson, Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, who is a practising lawyer, reported on the desperate situation of the Ahmahdi’s. In the last year, a dozen were murdered just for their Ahmahdi faith, with no-one arrested,. The police and government permit the desecration of Ahmahdi mosques and cemeteries, and their literature is banned – the sentence for possession is three years in jail. Police regularly succumb to pressure from extremists, for instance in warrantless raids and arrests for blasphemy, including children. Police even pointed extremists towards the victims of their bombings in hospital. In one case, an unarmed Ahmahdi managed to stop one suicide bomber despite being shot by the bomber. The police released the bomber without charge, but the hero who stopped him has been forced to flee the country. The government has banned Ahmahdi peace conferences since 1984, but allows and even encourages anti-Ahmahdi hate-fest gatherings regularly. Not only that, but Ahmahdi’s are the only religious minority to be actually disenfranchised in voting. They are required to either tick a box saying they are not Muslims, or a box saying their leader is a false prophet.
The Hindu paper read by Jay Kansara, Associate Director, Hindu American Foundation, focused on education, noticing how Hindu’s were particularly nastily portrayed in textbooks, as well as how the vast majority of teachers believed that religious minority persons should never be allowed in a position of power. On top of that, non-Muslim students were still – after supposed anti-discrimination reform supported by hundreds of millions of dollars in US Aid – being forced to attend Islamic lessons in the Sindh province and the southern half of Punjab.
The USCIRF presented the findings of their investigation on textbooks and teacher attitudes, which backed up the Hindu presentation. The textbooks present Pakistan as for Muslim’s only, denigrate all religious minorities, and promote a victim mentality in which all the world is against Islam and Pakistan and its citizens must unite to defend Islamic Pakistan, with violent jihad if necessary. Very little has been done since the supposed reforms of 2006. The majority of text-book material, even ones that were not religious in subject matter, had strong Islamic content, including sermons. There were some surprising results. For instance, Madrassah (Islamic religious school) teachers, were more likely to see jihad as more of an internal struggle, whereas almost 100% of public school teachers saw it as physical violence and obligatory, with discretion in the hands of the individual. Many public school teachers believe hostility against minorities is justified because minority members blaspheme against Muhammad. Not only that, but all Madrassah teachers correctly said that religious minorities were Pakistani citizens, but only 60% of public school teachers did. The report made a number of carefully thought out and practical suggestions for improvement in the area of anti-discrimination in education, which should be taken very seriously. For public schools they recommend that all Islamic content by reserved just for the Islamic course. They also called for an effective and confidential reporting system for religious discrimination incidents in schools under the National Harmony Ministry, with the latter having disciplinary powers in the matter. They also recommend that the ‘ethics for non-Muslims’ course should be compulsory for all, and that public-private partnerships be sued to raise diversity, with links to various religious groups to help train teachers in anti-discrimination. For Madrassah’s they recommend facilitating official co-operation and engagement with the government and putting in place accreditation and official standards, textbook reform, the encouragement of critical thinking and religious tolerance.
Wilson Chowdhry, BPCA chairman, said after the event that ‘It was good to meet up with others who are being oppressed for their faith in Pakistan. People should know that the persecution of Christians continues to be very bad, and may be worsening. The kidnap, rape, forced marriage and conversion of Christian girls continues on a daily basis. There has recently been another spate of false allegations of blasphemy against Christians, which has made life even more dangerous for Pakistani Christians. Unlike Rimsha’s case, who was lucky to gain international recognition for the injustice, these cases go under the radar.’
BPCA researcher Nathanael Lewis pointed out several recent incidents that, whilst not as immediately serious as murder, rape or blasphemy accusations, indicate the ongoing discrimination against Pakistani Christians in their home country. He said ‘Last year – and this was not an isolated incident, just one that caught the news to an extent – a government department issued a job advert that said ‘Christians only’ for a cleaning job. In Pakistan it is socially widespread to refer to Christians as ‘sweepers’, something akin to the phrase ‘dirty niggers’. Recent controversy was stirred by the comments of a provincial government minister on the issue, when he said that only Christians should get sanitation jobs. In this case it was a favourable response to the pleas of Christian sanitation workers to deal with politically appointed Muslim sanitation workers who didn’t actually do the work they were paid to do, but left it all to the Christians, because of the widespread assumption that only Christians and minorities do cleaning work – an attitude that is pretty much a caste system in all but name.’
Chowdhry added ‘The issue of education has been a major concern for the BPCA for some time. We are currently seeking funding for a study specifically on educational discrimination in Pakistan against women / females and against minorities. As with our last report, it will be academically rigorous.’
Join James Maidment-Fullard from TWR UK as he looks at a new report published by the British Pakistani Christian Association. You can tune into this broadcast at 12:15 on Thursday (15th). To listen to the programme tune into Freesat channel 790, Sky 0138 or log onto twr.org.uk.
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Only a handful of guests present?
Wilson Chowdhry and Knox Thames (USCIRF)
Knox Thames, Policy Director for the "United States Commission for International Religious Freedom."
Handing over our information pack to a US Police Officer.
Just a handful of Pakistani Christians were present, but our input was significant.