Islamabad Christians protest against Joseph Colony massacre

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Mar 11, 2013.

Islamabad – Seen from the eyes of Master Rafaqat Masih, life has always been tough for Pakistani Christians.

When their houses are not being burned on allegations of blasphemy, they are turned down for jobs because of their religious affiliation and discriminated against in employment opportunities, so much so that they feel their Christians names have become a hindrance in their upward social mobility.

“It has been the same way since I was born,” Masih, 61, a resident of the 100 Quarters Christian colony in sector F-6/2, said. “The only reward for us in this country is either the Muslims call us “kafir” and burn our homes or call us a “choora” when we clean their filth.”

The bitterness in Masih’s voice is a vivid reminder of the social isolation and vulnerability faced by his community, which was brutally attacked again this week. A huge mob burnt over 150 houses in Lahore’s Joseph Colony over the alleged blasphemy of one of the colony’s residents.

On Sunday, Masih, along with dozens of Christians and Muslims, protested in front of the National Press Club in Islamabad. They carried placards demanding justice for the Pakistani Christians and chanted slogans against the religious intolerance in the country which has led to increased violent attacks on Pakistan’s religious minorities.

At the heart of the attacks on Pakistani Christians are the country’s draconian blasphemy laws, which many including human rights activist Farzana Bari believe are misused by people to settle their personal scores. An Agence-France Presse report.

At the protest, civil society representatives demanded the federal and provincial governments to take immediate action to end the misuse, abuse and exploitation of these laws.

“This is a necessary step that needs to be taken because the state itself is sectarian in its nature and thus provides the basis for people to misuse the law,” Bari said.

She said people in the mob which attacked and burnt houses in Joseph Colony, Lahore, should be punished so as to teach others a lesson that they cannot get away with such heinous crimes.

“If the government had done anything to punish the murderers of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, we wouldn’t be seeing this Lahore incident,” Rehana Hashmi, of the Sister’s Trust Pakistan, said.

The Awami Workers Party (AWP), the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, the All Pakistan Christian Action Committee, Sisters Trust Pakistan, representatives of local churches and civil society organizations took part in this protest.

Meanwhile, protesters were incensed that the Lahore police did nothing to stop the mob. Christian youths burnt tyres and chanted “Tahafuz do ya maar do” (“Protect us or kill us”) to express their anger. They demanded the Punjab government to provide effective protection, rehabilitation and compensation to the Joseph Colony residents.

Father Rehmat Michael, a parish priest from Islamabad, said the Christians must protest against this act of “terrorism” which has destroyed their homes in an instant. He urged all Pakistanis to unite to nip religious intolerance in the bud.

But Masih was not pacified by speeches at the protest.

“Why don’t they just tell us to get out of this country?” Masih said. “They are killing us as if we were dogs. Where is it written in religion that you can murder humans? Is Pakistan someone’s father’s estate or is it for people of all religions and ethnicities?”

Whether the Joseph Colony attack would lead to an answer to Masih’s questions or if it was the answer, remains to be seen.

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