It is no surprise that, despite constitutional protections and promises to the contrary by the country’s founding father, discrimination against minorities is rife in Pakistan.
Religious discrimination takes many forms — physical, social and institutional — and even seeps into the majority religion itself in the form of sectarian divisions and anti-Ahmadi laws.
A Peshawar-based social activist said Muslims take minorities for granted and are assured that the “vulnerable and weak” minorities will be able to stand up for themselves. He cited the case of Peshawar’s Nadeem Joseph, a Christian man attacked by his neighbours in June this year after moving into a Muslim locality and allegedly developing ‘differences’ with locals. There has been no headway in the case so far.
Children from minority groups also suffer from discrimination from day one, when they start school and are exposed to the bitter and ugly reality of being the ‘other’. Religious minorities in government schools face persistent problems with the content of textbooks. A 2016 report by the National Commission for Justice and Peace said the government had failed to keep its promise to eradicate religious “hate material” from school textbooks.
At Hazro Government School in Attock, Muqadas Sukhraj, a 9th grade Christian student, chose to study the subject of ‘Ethics’ instead of Islamic Studies — an alternative for students from religious minorities. Sukhraj’s Muslim teacher, Zahida Parveen, reportedly expressed displeasure at her for choosing Ethics and disputed the content of the subject book as well. As punishment, Sukhraj was sent out of the classroom and told later that she should be studying Islamic Studies if she is enrolled in a Muslim school. Dejected, Sukhraj soon transferred into a new school.
After completing his Bachelor’s in Education, Babhu Lal* was eagerly applying for jobs and wanted to make a decent living. However, owing to his religious background, he could not land any job reflecting his degree and was instead hired as a sanitary worker at a local school with a promise to be promoted when a position fell vacant. Lal worked there for ten years and never got promoted despite several positions being opened and filled. After toiling away for a decade, he was finally hired as a teacher by the Punjab Education Department and posted in a rural school. However, at present, Lal fears for his life as most of the people around him consider him an infidel and traitor for being Hindu and despite several requests, he is yet to be transferred out.
Similarly, an Attock-based educationist said that after she joined Government College as a lecturer, she noticed that her teacup was different than those of other staff members. She recalled that one day when she hid her cup to gauge the reaction, she was not served tea despite asking for it as it would mean having to drink it in a cup for Muslims. Aslam was devastated at the reaction of her staff members and only found respite when the college principal asked her to have tea in the principal’s office.
Even those at the position of power are not shielded from the malevolence of the majority. Khalil Tahir Sandhu, chairman of the Punjab Assembly’s Standing Committee on Human Rights and Minority Affairs, claimed last year that he was verbally abused by Inayatullah Lak, now a director at Punjab Legal Department, after which the opposition MPA raised a ruckus in the provincial assembly. Sandu alleged that the government official had used the slur choora — a derogatory term for Christians — while they were having an argument over official matters.
“People think all Christians are doing their sanitary work,” he lamented while recalling the incident, and added that he will not be deterred by such acts and will continue to serve the Christian community with all his heart and soul.
*Name changed to protect identity