Last month, a Christian student in Pakistan’s Punjab Province was beaten to death by his Muslim classmates. According to the Christian student’s parents, this brutal killing was motivated by widespread religious discrimination against Christians in Pakistan. In almost all walks of life, Christians in Pakistan feel the weight of daily discrimination that comes with being a religious minority. With this discrimination being discussed the the highest halls of power in Pakistan, is there any hope that this situation will start to change?
09/21/2017 Pakistan (Dawn) – Shagufta’s tuition class is busy studying, the only sound being that of the whirring fan above and the steady hum of the students reading in a low voice. Two of the children are recent school dropouts — brothers Sahil and Sajid — and till they find another school to go to, they will be studying here.
“They were being ostracized in school to the extent that it started to become mental torture for them,” says Shagufta. “They would often either skip school or not go at all. Then their mother took the help of her employer, who requested me to teach them so they don’t waste time while they look for a different school.”
This wasn’t a case of regular bullying. This was religiously motivated. Being the only Christian students in the school, the boys say they felt isolated.
“When the others realized we were different, they openly showed their disgust for us,” says 12-year-old Sajid. “One of them came up to me one day and said, ‘Get out of this school, we don’t want you around here.’ They would never talk to us.”
This is not a one-off case. Discrimination has been there in schools for decades, it seems.
Nazia, 34, remembers how she dropped out of her school in her small village of Hardai Pind near Sheikhupura. “It was an all-girls school and on every occasion possible they insisted on calling me ‘choorhi’ [pejorative term] and to say bad things about my religion. For this reason, I stopped studying and today I can only read a little and write my name.” Nazia says that other Christians in her village also faced the same issue, because they were in a minority. More of them dropped out from school.
The issue has come to the forefront after Sharoon Masih from Vehari was allegedly killed by his classmates. Although new reports say that their fight had been over a cell phone, his parents maintain that he had been bullied because of his religion and was eventually killed because of it.
Sharoon was the unlucky one, says a member of the Christian community.
“There are many Sharoons out there, who luckily survive their ordeals. Most of us are treated the same,” says Wilson. “Actually, the students mirror what their parents think, and though the problem starts at school, we are never actually left alone even when we grow up. Often, even at my workplace, the Muslim religious groups come and ask me to convert.”
Wilson says that a few days ago, a Christian schoolteacher complained to the head of their community that the manager of her school — an elite one at that — asked her to change her Christian name to a Muslim name so she could ‘fit in better’. “First she wanted us to raise the issue but then she stopped us because she was afraid of losing her job,” he says.
Wilson says that his father was in the armed forces, but that did not stop him from being called a ‘choorha’.
“This is the most common word people use to refer to us,” says John, 75. “Many people believe it isn’t even derogatory. Others think that we are dirty people.”