Christians Left Voiceless Amidst Land-Grabbing in Pakistan
03/15/2019 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Christians in Pakistan have a history of being discriminated against and treated as second-class citizens. This takes the form of limited job opportunities, social barriers, and preventing believers from engaging with society. Because of this mentality, some Muslims believe that they have more rights to a plot of land than the Christian who owns it. Occasionally, this leads to violence against Christian landowners as a ploy to force them off of their property. Although this practice is illegal, Christians often do not have the option to retaliate through force or legal measures because of the threat of additional persecution.
In 2018, at least seven cases of land-grabbing against Christians were reported; however, it is suspected that there are even more cases that people failed to report.
A church run by the Gospel of Jesus Mission was set ablaze in Shahdara Town, Lahore, in April 2018. The attackers were motivated to attack because they wanted to gain possession of the church property. Under similar motivations, a Catholic church in Faisalabad was attacked in July 2018.
In August 2018, a mob attacked local Christians in order to control a parcel of land that was under construction for a church.
In September, a group of Muslims beat a Christian family in Gujar Khan and set part of their home on fire, as well as their van. The group was notorious for wanting possession of the Christian’s home. A group of Muslims claimed ownership of a church property in Lahore in September as well. The court declared that the property belonged to the church. In retaliation, Muslim motorcyclists opened fire on a group of Christians, which resulted in one of the Christians being injured.
In December, church leadership of “Gosha e Aman” (Peace Center) in Lahore managed to reclaim church property that was seized by local Muslims the day after it was overtaken.
In some cases of land-grabbing, the victims are accused of blasphemy in order to make the task of seizing the land easier. Joseph Colony, a neighborhood of approximately 200 Christian families, was attacked and set on fire when a young Christian, Sawan Masih, was accused of committing blasphemy. The victim said that he was in a property dispute with an acquaintance that resulted in him being accused.
More recently, four Christian girls were accused of blasphemy over a property dispute in Karachi. David Masih’s Christian school building has been seized three times by land grabbers.
This practice of land-grabbing is not a new endeavor either. In 1975, a Catholic priest, Fr. Derick Muskeeta, relocated approximately 900 Christian families to a village in Muzafar Ghar in a desert to make it livable. The Christian community named the village after the priest: “Derickabad” (Derick Town). After years of hard work, they made the barren ground into a fertile piece of land; however, most of the village was later seized by an influential Muslim landlord.
Stunzabad, a Christian populated village in southern Punjab was allotted to local Christians by the British government between 1910 and 1912 to cultivate; however, over time, Muslims have captured most of the land. The influential Muslims reportedly obtained a Christian’s thumbprint on a piece of paper to extend a loan to them. Later, it was revealed to the landowner that he had been tricked and unknowingly sold it the Muslim man.
Regardless of whether the property is a church, a house, or a school, Christian property in Pakistan has the potential to be seized by Muslims, anywhere and anytime. Christians are voiceless in this regard and can do nothing to protect their land. Even the judicial system can’t help the victims and, as a result, Christians continue suffering.