By Rabia Ali
Their hands tied. Their mouths hushed. Their eyes moist. Their identities lost. They are the religious minorities. They are part of our country.
In the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the religious minorities, who had once dreamed of living a peaceful and secure life, are increasingly finding life insecure and looking for ways to protect themselves.
With problems of illiteracy, discrimination and poverty already plaguing them, the minorities have to deal with incidents of kidnapping and rape, illegal encroachment of their land and properties, social and employment discrimination and new wave of extremism and intolerance directed towards them.
With the rise in discriminatory incidents, and the number of cases registered against them under the blasphemy laws increasing, the community is forced to look for better ways and means to safeguard their endangered lives.
A Christian, Farrukh Harrison, is the only one amongst his family who has decided to stay back in the country. A year ago, his family moved to Holland and sought political asylum there.
ÒI see no future for the religious minorities in Pakistan. My relatives moved abroad, and they keep on pressing me to leave as well. The way the extremists are taking over the country, it seems that very soon all the minorities would be forcefully converted or would be killed, he says emotionally.Ó
He continues, saying that a number of well-to-do Christians have left for safer abodes, and others are in process of doing the same.
Running a small non-governmental organization for Christian rights, he said that it is a viable option for those who have money in their pockets to leave the country.
ÒHundreds of our community have left and seek asylum abroad. It is sad that despite being the sons of the soil, and playing a major role to progress in health and education, we are the ones who are forced to pack our bags.Ó
Harrison feels that the cloud of extremism which blanketed the country was formed when General Ziaul Haq took the country towards a new path of Islamisation.
While the more affluent have made arrangements to leave, for the poor, there is no choice exist to stay within their four walls, and restrict their activities. A sanitary worker in a government office, Asif Masih, feels that they have no option but to stay behind and be more conscious of their surroundings.
ÒThese days, not many people of my area go to church as they fear that the worship place might be attacked. In these troubled times, it seems as if extremists are going berserk against the minorities.Ó
At work too, Masih faces frequent discrimination, and is not allowed to mingle freely, talk or eat with his Muslim colleagues, said this resident of old Golimar.
Hankook Khan, a member of the Christian community, believes that the religious leaders and representatives are now scared to demand rights for their people, and are avoiding being vocal on their issues. ÒThe way our leader Shahbaz Bhatti was gunned down has sent a message to our leaders and us that we should remain silent on our issues and remain suppressed. When our leaders are not safe, how can a common man be?Ó
The Hindu community too is facing the heat from the upsurge in extremism. Amarnath Motumal, a Hindu lawyer, says that his community is now afraid to tell anyone that they are Hindus. ÒForced conversions and kidnapping have increased amongst our community since last year. To avoid such a fate, people are now reluctant to reveal in public that they are Hindu.Ó
He said that Hindu businessmen are being threatened and those who can afford to leave, are going away. He cited the example of a Hindu parliamentarian who recently moved to India.
Motumal feels that his community often feels that no justice even in the lower courts. Court. On issues such as forced conversion, the judiciary often sides with the converting party, out of fear or conviction. .
Apart from the two largest religious communities in Pakistan, others are also feeling the heat of growing bigotry. A member of a Sikh community which has 3,000 people in Karachi, says that it is better to keep mouths shut and talk less in such circumstances.
ÒIn these times, where every word can be used against us, we believe that a less-talk policy should be followed. For years, the community has been living in peace but now feel threatened that our words might be manipulated and used against us,Ó says Sardar Ramesh Singh said
Meanwhile, commonly considered to be as the most vulnerable community, the Ahmadis are now opting for self-defence. An annual Persecution Report by the JamaÕat Ahmadiyya states that as many as 99 Ahmadis were killed in sectarian attacks and around 67 cases were registered against community members on religious grounds in the year 2010.
Chaudhry Muneer said that although their religion forbids them to seek revenge and become violent, they have been forced to go for ways to defend themselvesÓ. Apart from the everyday violence, such as mobile snatching, we have to face targeted killings, hate speeches and discriminatory stories against us in the media.Ó
Since their places of worship were attacked last year in Lahore, they now look after their religious places deploying their own security.
Those who can afford to, prefer to go abroad. ÒFor the last few years, several doctors have been gunned down therefore those who are going abroad and settling in UK, Canada and other countries comprises doctors and their families.Ó He said that doctors are targeted as the terrorists wants to demoralize their community by targeting educated people.
The dilemma of being a Pakistani Ð a letter from a Christian
A Christian faces a painful dilemma: should he stay on in the country he belongs to? Or should he fly away to greener pastures?
I am on the verge of taking a very important decision in my life. It will definitely affect the life of my loved ones. On one side, I have family members who have migrated from Pakistan and on the other side I donÕt have a single person in my family or friendsÕ circle who favours my decision to stay in Pakistan. I see them all happy and satisfied with their lives, having comparatively ÔokayÕ jobs, a better standard of living, a life which has made them able to do things and exercise all their rights. They have given me millions of reasons to leave Pakistan and they are right. But I have one reason not to leave: I am a Pakistani.
Good or bad, whatever Pakistan is, or whatever it has made me, is mine.
In the mid Ô70s and early Ô80s many Pakistanis left Pakistan. At that time, there was no Talibanisation, the price hike was non-existent. Lives were being lived not just spent. Still, even in those times, people chose to leave and those people, trust me, are much better off now.
Today I fear speaking my heart, I am compromising my standard of living, I face discrimination every day. Still, there is something that is stopping me from going: the fact that I belong here.
Please help me decide, if I stay in Pakistan, I intend to fight for my country, my right to be a Pakistani for I feel it is no use to be a part of a country and not participate in its growth and development. Ultimately, I fear that if I do, I might make a lot of enemies, possibly face death at the hands of the extremist and corrupt elements in our society.
If I leave Pakistan, then I have nothing to lose. Let this place go to hell. Let the people die they way they are. It is not my responsibility but my heart will be broken.
Should I let Pakistan go to hell or try and make it heaven? Should I think about my wife and children or should I just worry about my motherland? Should I worry for the responsibilities on my head rather than worrying about the people who donÕt even care if I survive to make this nation a better place?
Your advice matters!
Terrance A. Francis