Islamabad – Things have gotten worse for the Pakistani Christians since the last time Naila Joseph Dayal, a Christian political leader and human rights activist, ran for elections in 2008.
The 2009 Gojra massacre, the 2011 murder of minorities leader Shahbaz Bhatti and last year’s burning of Joseph Colony, Lahore, by a mob of Muslim men have increased the fear and insecurities faced by Christian communities nationwide.
Dayal, who lost miserably in the 2008 elections from the two constituencies she contested, is running for the National Assembly on a general seat again this year from the platform of the party she founded some seven years ago — the Christian Progressive Movement (CPM).
She has built her current election campaign around the message of interfaith harmony, inclusion of oppressed communities in society’s mainstream and a representative’s accessibility to her constituents.
Dayal is aware of her own individuality and the change she wants to see in the society.
“Women and Christians are both considered half-citizens in our country, so does that make me a quarter-citizen?” she asked, earnestly. Then, answered herself, “This is not the Pakistan Quaid-e-Azam created. Women and religious minorities had equal status in the country he envisioned.”
But every time the discussion moved to problems faced by Christians, she deflected the talk to issues of national-level interests and constituency matters, which is no surprise given that her constituency, like the rest of Pakistan, has a Muslim-majority population.
“I say that for every vote I get from a Christian, I have to get 20 votes from the Muslims,” she said. She is banking on her previous work with Muslim communities, under the CPM’s banner, to gain the support of Muslim voters. She claimed CPM runs 13 learning institutions in Narowal where 1,800 children, most of them Muslim, are taught on volunteer-basis.
“Christians should care for Muslims and Muslims should care for Christians,” she said. “That’s interfaith harmony right there.”
Dayal also believes in the power of women to transform Pakistan.
“The electorate needs women leaders,” she said. “Women are passionate about improving the living conditions of their communities. They are innate social activists.”
She is unequivocal in her opposition of the 10 seats reserved for minorities in the National Assembly.
“We, Christians, have the right to contest on general seats,” Dayal said. “We are equal partners in the electoral process.”
She is fine if people do not vote for Christian candidates — Dayal only secured less than one per cent of the votes polled in NA-48 and NA-129 (Lahore) in 2008 — but said Christians should not be sidelined through the “dau number tactic of reserved seats.”
For the 2013 elections, she is running from NA-48 and NA-49 in Islamabad and NA-127 in Lahore.
Dayal thinks only a “miracle” can get her to win in Islamabad’s two constituencies where, pitted against experienced politicians, she has not campaigned actively.
She has, however, focused on NA-127 (Lahore X) where she thinks she has a chance against mainstream political party candidates, most of who did not run for elections from this constituency in 2008.
Her uniqueness as a Christian woman candidate is reduced somewhat by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s woman candidate, Basma Arif, and an Independent Christian candidate, Daniel Masih.
In 2008, after her loss, she said she went to her few voters and consoled them.
“I told them we had won even in losing because we created some awareness,” Dayal said.
If nothing else, she hopes she will create more awareness about interfaith harmony and tolerance this time around.