A great deal has been written about minorities by many people both within and outside Pakistan. It is unfortunate that we are now a buzzword in the news and in ‘chai-shop’ conversations for infamy and not grace.
Better writers, journalists and bloggers have highlighted the martyrdom of those courageous souls Salmaan Taseer & Shahbaz Bhatti, and my words are poor compared to the greatness of their own, so I will refrain from continuing on this thread, save saying God bless you, Mr. Taseer and Mr. Bhatti. We are poorer as a country without you.
Instead, I want to focus today on a lesser known aspect of Christian minorities in Pakistan: the non-stereotypes.
In 1994, I read an article in Dawn newspaper about the murder of a Christian Pakistani. The accompanying photograph had the following caption, which I quote verbatim, as I have never been able to get these words out of my mind: ‘the victim was a sweeper (Christian)’. Complete with parenthesis.
Today, similar to that morning 17 years ago, I still find it insulting that the only recognizable stereotype of the Christian minority being propagated by media both in and out of Pakistan is of the Punjabi-speaking, downtrodden, poor sweeper or ‘jamaadar’. In a BBC report yesterday, a reporter from the UK did a voiceover in the accompanying vodcast speaking about how Christians usually take up jobs cleaning Pakistan’s streets. The vodcast itself showed barefooted, trash-filled wheel-barrow pushing old women and slum-dwelling men.
Don’t get me wrong, these people ARE included in the many Christian communities of Pakistan. But aren’t we insulting the many other Christians out there who suffer discrimination and violence in other circles of life? PR professionals, engineers, bankers, trades-men, doctors, teachers, scientists, even those of us in the armed forces ought to be counted among the ‘minority’ which has suffered daily since the time of Zia’s reign.
In asking our opinions on the discrimination we face, how many reporters have spoken to the English, Sindhi and Konkani speaking Christians of Pakistan? Where in the media has the discrimination faced in the corridors of industry by Christians been documented? Remember, my friends, there is a world out there that is not downtrodden but no less violated. This discrimination is not one practiced by the so-called jaahil awaam, but by the self-proclaimed liberals and religious elite who should know better. What kind of discrimination, you ask?
I have seen Christian doctors in hospitals being refused by patients because of the doctor’s faith. I have seen a passport officer throw Christians’ and even Ahmadis’ passports across the floor. I have witnessed teachers being overlooked for promotions and told it was due to performance, and later discovering the preference of the principal for another propagator of ‘the true faith’. I have witnessed employees in one of Pakistan’s leading establishments in the 90s (it is thankfully defunct today) who – despite being MBA, BBA, M.Com and MSc holders – refused to share a table with a fellow Christian during lunch. I was that Christian employee. In fact, I have seen discrimination of the highest degree in our very own bastion of hospitality to foreigners: Jinnah Terminal. I was returning from Dubai to be with my father for Christmas, and a fellow passenger who is also a Christian was carrying a bottle of Chivas Regal for his father, whose 70th birthday was that weekend. The customs official who happened to stop the passenger did not take the bottle away because it was illegal to bring into Pakistan. Instead, his words were: ‘le ja bottle ja kar andar rakh de, yeh Issai log Pakistan mai bas yehi kaam karte hain, sharab pee kar tamasha kharra karna in ki aadat hai.’ In translation: ‘take this bottle away and keep it in the cupboard, this is the only thing Christians in Pakistan know to do, drinking alcohol and making a scene everywhere is their habit.’
If we are to recognize and own this discrimination in order to wipe it out, we have to start being honest with ourselves. Step one: please let’s not console with ourselves with the idea that we have only to improve to the lot of the ‘poor Christian jamadaar’.
No, Pakistan. The discrimination affects you. And it affects me, a Christian Pakistani whose identity ends there.