By Racheal James*
Pakistan, an Islamic republic, is the home of various religious and ethnic minorities and ensures the rights of these groups in its constitution. According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, Christians constitute approximately 1.59% of the population, of which, 2.59% live in urban areas. Many impoverished and low-income members of this community are an oppressed group as the majority mistreat them, and they face discrimination in all sectors of society. As a result, the rights of minorities are only written in the constitution to show that Pakistan values its minorities. Still, in reality, minorities in Pakistan are not treated well. Authorities do not act and are unable to stop forced conversions, faith-based discrimination, harassment, or blasphemy violence.
Pakistan’s Christian community has often shown concerns for employment opportunities. Pakistan introduced a quota of five per cent for minorities in all federal and provincial government jobs in 2009. However, on 26th January 2022, NCHR Chairperson Rabiya Javeri Agha stated that “the annual statistical bulletin of the federal government employees 2017–18 showed that only 2.8pc were hired and most of them were in low-paid jobs”. Furthermore, she stated that as of 2021, there were 29,692 vacant minority posts for recruitment. However, the government’s 5% quota does not work in every department. Well-educated males and females of the Christian community are unemployed, and some struggle hard to make ends meet. The rising economic crisis in Pakistan and the pandemic has added fuel to the fire to the lives of everyone, and more importantly, the Christian families are finding it hard to have meals twice a day. Approximately 25 percent of people lost jobs during the covid19 pandemic, and almost 80 per cent lost their businesses.
So keeping in mind employment as the basic need of life, I witness the traumatic story of a poor male, Haroon Noel*, a 60-year old Christian male, who has been a resident of Rawalpindi and living in a Christian colony for more than 50 years with his family. Haroon has worked as a taxi driver for his whole life and has spent a poor life, meeting his family’s needs. As Pakistan was under the fourth wave of covid19, Haroon lost his driving opportunity after he had tested positive for covid19 in August. Soon after his recovery, he was unemployed and had no earning source, so he decided to set up a small food stall at the backside of his house in a busy auto mechanic market in Rawalpindi where he could have easily earned some money.
On 26 November 2021, Haroon gathered some chairs and tables, prepared daal chawal (lentil and rice) and set up a local stall in the market. The day he set up his stall, a Muslim man who has been having his food stall in the same area for the last 30 years, felt intimidated by the presence of Haroon.
In an interview with Haroon Noel, he narrated, “it was my first day and I only earned 300 PKR. My wife was sick and I had no money to buy her medicine. Since the day I had set my stall, the Muslim guy, who had his food stall near mine, asked me to take away my filthy, impure food”. The man said, shared by Haroon, that “eating from Christians is a sin, which makes us [Muslims] impure, so it is better to put off your food stall”
On further inquiry, he added that “I was busy selling my food when suddenly one of the mechanics passed a comment that he is a Christian and we [Muslims] should not eat from him. Christians are Kaafirs (infidels) and unclean”. Furthermore, he added, “the mechanics from the whole market used to sit for lunch on the stall of a Muslim guy and tried to pass derogatory remarks against me. So, after some days, these people filed a complaint against me to the RCB (Rawalpindi Cantonment Board)”.
With tears in his eyes, Haroon shared his account, “the RCB (Rawalpindi Cantonment Board) members came on 29th November 2021 and kicked away my chairs and threatened me to remove my food stall immediately. I was terrified and I told them I had absolute rights over this place as I had lived in this locality for more than 50 years. The area behind my stall belongs to me, not this Muslim guy who pays bribery to police to work smoothly here”. Instead of sympathizing with me, one of the RCB officers slapped him. “I was utterly helpless and removed my stall after three days”, Haroon informed.
When I met with one of Haroon’s neighbors, Mrs Naila Joseph*, a 45-years old Christian lady, told me that “the Muslim male has his stall right in front of our street from where our young daughters and women come and go, and this guy always stares and pass weird comments when our ladies pass his stall. We have informed the police many times, but no action has been taken ever”.
Another neighbor, Irfan Masih*shared his views, “the incident with Haroon Noel is not a new one. A few years back, this also happened with one of our Christian brothers, Andrew*, in the same market who had also tried to set up a spare parts shop. He too had to face the same discrimination against him by the mechanics in the market”. He further shared that “Andrew opened a spare parts shop and it was doing good. This male guy having a food stall used a conspiracy against Andrew, too, as he did against Haroon…he gathered all the mechanics around Andrew’s shop and threatened to end his business. Similarly, that time too, back in 2019, RCB (Rawalpindi Cantonment Board) members came and pulled out Andrew’s shop cabin with a crane and threw it away in the middle of the road. No one took any action against this injustice”.
Being a Christian girl myself, I want my rights in Pakistan as I am also struggling to get a good job here. The government of Pakistan should take action against such people who used a conspiracy against Christians and take advantage of them. The government should provide proper employment security and opportunities to the Christian community which will help to reduce poverty faced by its members.
*Note: Names have been changed to protect the identities of the Interviewees and Author.