By Lubna Thomas Benjamin
‘The land of pure’ is the meaning of the name of my native country, Pakistan. The country’s population is 97% Muslim while the remaining 3% is divided into Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis and other minorities.
Ever since the inception of Pakistan in 1947, the country has gone through various political turmoils, which always posed a great challenge towards the stability of the country.
Quaid-I-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the country’s founder, emphatically described in his 11 August 1947 speech what kind country he wanted Pakistan to be:
“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”
This excerpt of the Quaid’s speech give a vivid message about his vision of Pakistan, which unfortunately is missing in its letter and spirit looking at the state of minorities in Pakistan today.
The foremost challenge that minorities in Pakistan face is about their identity, as my personal account demonstrates. I was born and raised in Pakistan, got my education there and then spent eight years in journalism. I would ask these question many times to myself: “Who am I?” “Am I different from majority in any way besides my religious beliefs?”
It’s the emotions and the feelings of the people around you who lead you to ask such questions about your identity. Being Christian or Hindu or any other minority member doesn’t banish you from being Pakistani. Yet, the way religion and the nationality is mixed can be disturbing in so many ways.
This identity crisis leads to other problems such as education, employment, residence and even targeting for conviction with blasphemy laws. It’s true that education as a field was long considered to be dominated by Christians as most of the high-standard educational institutes were run by missionaries. However, the problems which Christians face now is not only problems with getting admission but also with paying fees which are higher than they can afford. Poverty can be a dominant factor in the lack of educational opportunities, and ironically the Christian institutes have not come up with a plan to offer asistance to Christians so that they can at least get even basic education.
With the exception of the Christians who have leading roles in the area of education, Christians also face problems in getting employment and as a result, they often end up getting a job which is lower than their education status and further impedes their progress in the life. Its pertinent to mention here that for a long time cleaning and working as a sweeper was considered to be the trademark profession for Christians. Christians have started to get good educations using their limited resources, and have been coming up on merit to get good jobs. Unfortunately, however, the churches and the Christian institutes don’t have enough funds to help Christians living in poverty to avail themselves of a better standard education.
Therefore, the lives of Christians in general doesn’t improve, which lowers their self esteem and exacerbates their identity crises.
The Christians in Pakistan have given so much to their country. They are no less patriots than any Muslims. However, what they now face in the guise of blasphemy laws puts their lives in danger.
The blasphemy laws introduced by the former military dictator Zia-Ul-Haq in 1978 still haunt the lives of minorities and particularly the Christians in Pakistan. Every time there has been a call to amend the blasphemy laws, it has always met with strong resistance from opposing forces making it difficult to even talk about this matter, which has led to so many deaths. The implication of Christians in the blasphemy cases is no longer a surprise in Pakistan.
One of the most astonishing cases in this regard is that of a young Christian girl, Rimsha Masih, who has Downs syndrome. I covered this case as a journalist in August 2012; I talked to her neighbours and saw hatred for Christians within them. So much so, I have met people who were denied a home to rent just because they were Christians.
The barriers raised for the Christians in Pakistan are making it tougher for them to survive there. As a result, those who can’t face it more or want to live a secure and threat-free life, are leaving the country and are searching for new homelands. However, wherever they live their identity and love for their country remains the same.
The government in Pakistan is already loaded with challenges and thus has a simple excuse of not giving heed to any of the matters of discrimination related to minorities. Consequently, the challenges for the Christians keep increasing and will remain unresolved until addressed with a strong and practical approach by the government.
The Christians of Pakistan love their motherland and their love will never end despite all the hardships and challenges they have to face. They are as true a Pakistani as any other Muslim. They have proven it in the past and will keep doing it in the future as well.
Lubna Thomas Benjamin is a freelance journalist who was a Hubert H. Humphrey fellow in 2011-2012. She currently lives in California and tweets at @.