The Ephraim Memorial Church is the sole place of worship for Christians in the pre-Partition village of Kang Chelokay in Sialkot, Punjab. The village houses around 450 families, of which 45 are Christian families.
The local church, though spread over slightly more than a kanal of land, was operating out of a single room and not using the remaining tract of land. They had permitted the neighbouring Muslim family of police constable Hussain Ali to use their land for grazing of their cattle, with the explicit condition of ceasing the practice when the church says so.
After it had gathered the requisite funds, the church officials began constructing a boundary wall around their property. As one side of the wall had been built, Ali started a ruckus disputing the church’s right to build the wall there. Later, after acquiring a stay order from the local court against any further construction, he not only demolished the wall which had been constructed but also brutally assaulted church officials and members with assistance from the local police — his own colleagues — and a group of hostile villagers.
Master Pervaiz, a local resident and member of the congregation, claimed that they called the police for help but they were not provided any and thus Ali was able to occupy the land in question.
However, in an interesting turn of events, following the incident, elders of the village held a meeting and demanded Ali to vacate the church property and withdraw the stay order from the court. Keeping in line with rural traditions, he had no choice but to comply with the wishes of the elders, who further instructed the locals that Christians of the village must not be hurt and are peaceful, respectable citizens of this country.
Explaining the incident further, Sialkot District’s Human Rights Committee Member Noreen Gill said she was directed by Punjab Minster of Human Rights and Minority Affairs Ejaz Alam Augustine to consult the church officials, Ali and the village elders to resolve the issue once it came to the authorities’ notice. After the head of the village confirmed that the land in question did belong to the church, the matter was resolved at the local level, she added. Gill shared that such occurrences are common in Punjab and the government must take firm steps to stop such incidents.
Reverend Haroon Bhatti claimed that such incidents are rising, and cited the example of the destruction of a church in Kala Shah Kaku, Sheikhupura in May this year.
MPA Tahir Khalil Sandhu, chairman of the Punjab Standing Committee on Human Rights, said it is very unfortunate that the majority of Pakistanis do not respect minorities’ rights or places of worship. He vowed to take up the matter with the provincial police chief and ensure protection of minorities’ places of worship.