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Photo Source: Dawn

Pakistan Reader# 651, 23 August 2023

Violence against Christians: Update



The state's new response of solidarity may mark the beginning of a new Pakistan with new norms.

Genesy Balasingam

What happened?
On 17 August, following an alleged case of blasphemy in Jaranwala, in the Faisalabad district of thePunjab province, a violent crowd of hundreds damaged and torched five churches, attacking the homes of Christian community members. Rioting broke out after some neighbours claimed that desecrated Holy Quran pages had been uncovered outside the home of two Christian brothers.
 
Public response
A middle-aged woman who is the neighbour to the victims remarked “I simply want to make sure their church is burned to the ground,”. Despite living next door for years, the aggression is being met with a lack of understanding and humanity. During the rampage, victims claimed that police officers did nothing but watch the mayhem, failing to restrain  the crowd from harming minorities. It is also in direct opposition to the vision of Pakistan's founder. It also breaches the qualities of objective resolution, which grant minorities the right to freely proclaim, practice, and develop their religions and cultures. This is the fast- emerging new Pakistan which contrasts with Jinnah's vision for Pakistan, which claimed that whoever was in Pakistan and pledged loyalty to it was an equal Pakistani, regardless of their religious affiliation. 
 
History
In Pakistan, Christians have always been a minority. Even though the bulk of Hindus in Pakistan separated with the founding of Bangladesh in 1971, Hindus continue to be the country's largest minority. In terms of Christian educational institutions and hospitals, Christian minorities have left a lasting effect on both the state and society. Despite their prominence and common religious components, they were denied equal rights and liberties, contrary to the constitution. Following the partition, a few hundred Christian families relocated and many Christian upper and middle-class people left the country, resulting in the retention of poor, illiterate, and primarily rural minorities, who were subject to religious and caste prejudice. These Christians then attempted to reinvent themselves by doing additional things in order to be accepted as Pakistanis. The outcome of all this patriotism is Shantinagar in 1997, Gojra in 2009, Joseph Colony in 2013, and Jaranwala in 2015. They arenot only discriminated against at the state level, particularly in education, but are also social outcasts in most places. The government failed to provide equality amongst its citizens irrespective of their religious beliefs.
 
Government Response
In contrast to previous situations, the caretaker administration has demonstrated fresh compassionate support for the victims of the rampage. Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar and caretaker Punjab Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi visited the area and distributed compensation cheques to families whose homes and belongings had been burned down. They also attended Sunday services in the area, sitting among the rubble of a ransacked church. The district administration has also requested immediate repairs. This public display of solidarity has instilled in the victims a sense that the state of Pakistan has their back.
 
In Perspective
This violence will end only if the underlying causes of these situations are addressed. Minorities will continue to walk on eggshells, unsure about what misspoken remark or misconstrued notion will bring the mob to their door. Changing the result of decades of state-sanctioned indulgence of ultra-right pressure organisations for political goals is the only way of undoing the harm inflicted. The state's new response of solidarity, as well as their arduous aim to punish violators and intolerance to such activities, may mark the beginning of a new Pakistan with new norms. Only time will tell why the government's response has shifted so dramatically. Will the caretaker government earn a permanent seat in Pakistan politics by reducing communal divisions amid political instability, or will it face severe criticism from the majority and fail as a caretaker government, exacerbating political upheaval in the region?

(Yaqoob Khan Bangash, “From Shantinagar to Jaranwala,” The News International, 23 August 2023; “Show of solidarity,” Dawn, 23 August 2023)

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