LAHORE, Pakistan — Human-rights activists in Pakistan and outside are aghast over the plight of a 12-year-old Christian girl who escaped the clutches of her rapist Muslim abductor nine months later.
Arif Masih, the father of the kidnapped girl (whose name was withheld), is a government street sweeper in Lahore. He filed a complaint with the police soon after his daughter was abducted on Christmas Eve 2010. But the police never bothered to investigate the crime while the abductor repeatedly raped the girl and even forcibly converted her to Islam until she managed to escape and call her parents from a public telephone booth.
The police refused to order a medical exam of the girl. The magistrate who recorded her statement after she appeared in court has not assigned any protection for her security. A Hong Kong-based human-rights group in its appeal calling for protest letters to be sent to the Pakistan government pointed out, “The police have warned the Christian parents that it would be better to hand over the girl to her ‘legal’ husband (the rapist); otherwise, a criminal case will be filed against them.”
“This shows the vulnerability of the Christians and other religious minorities here [in Pakistan],” Michele Chaudhry, a Catholic and spokeswoman of All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), said Oct. 13.
Earlier, the APMA, in a statement, had condemned “the inhumane and barbaric atrocity” perpetrated on the Christian girl and inaction of the Pakistani police and judicial system to ensure justice and security to the girl.
“This is not an isolated incident. Atrocities like this are occurring frequently,” pointed out Chaudhry.
In fact, the kidnapped girl’s travails unfolded even as the Catholic Church cautioned against increasing religious intolerance in Pakistan with its exhaustive compilation of the suffering of religious minorities in Pakistan in its “Human Rights Monitor 2011.”
“Pakistan is fast becoming a state that will be habitable only for extremists,” lamented the report of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan that was made public on Sept. 13.
The report pointed out that “religious bigots hold the view that only Muslims (as defined by them) have the right to live in this country and that all non-Muslims are infidels who deserve to be killed.”
“The [religious] intolerance is certainly worsening, and that is what we are worried about,” Father Emmanuel Yousaf Mani, director of the NCJP, told the Register.
To indicate the depth of the religious intolerance, the report cited the treatment meted out to the dead body of a Hindu victim when all 152 passengers died in a plane crash near Islamabad on July 28, 2010.
While the names of the Muslim victims were inscribed on the coffins, the coffin of Prem Chand, a Hindu social activist, only had the derogatory inscription Kafir (nonbeliever). This took place at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences in Islamabad, the premier medical center run by the government.
The elaborate 146-page report has documented incidents of atrocities on Christians and other minorities: blasphemy cases, grabbing of minority properties, bias in educational texts, discrimination and harassment at employment, and abduction, forced conversion and marriage of young Christian and Hindu women to Muslims.
The study listed with detail major incidents of atrocities and harassment during 2010 against religious minorities, comprising mostly of Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis, an Islamic sect not recognized as Muslim in Pakistan alone, in the nation where nearly 95% of its 180 million people are Muslims.
The draconian blasphemy law that continued to be misused to settle personal and property disputes against religious minorities is the topic of one chapter. It listed cases of blasphemy since 1986 and pointed out that, of the 1,081 persons charged under blasphemy, 138 cases were against Christians (only 2% of the population). Similarly, 454 cases were filed against Ahmadis (4 million out of 180 million).
Of the 40 blasphemy cases registered in 2010, 15 of them were against Christians. Similarly, of the 37 killed in an extrajudicial manner after being charged with blasphemy since 1986, 18 were Christians.
Even the educational curriculum, the report noted, is “biased towards religious minorities … and [these] students were publicly ridiculed or even beaten by teachers because of their faith.”
The study cited an incident in which 11-year-old Nadia Iftikhar was severely beaten by her teacher when the girl said that she was both a Pakistani and a Christian. The teacher shouted at Nadia that, according to the school textbook, all Pakistanis were Muslims, before thrashing her.
The report has also documented in detail half a dozen incidents of young women, including teenagers who have been kidnapped, raped and forced to convert to Islam and marry their abductors. Those who resisted had been killed, and their parents have been harassed for reporting the cases to the police, who turn a blind eye to the perpetrators of such crimes.
Amid such worsening religious intolerance, the Catholic Commission has urged the government to bring out major constitutional changes by implementing “human-rights frame work and standards.”
“Changes in laws and public policies are necessary to ensure the restoration of the civil, political, social, cultural and economic rights” of religious minorities, pointed out the commission.
Among four dozen recommendations and concrete steps suggested by the commission towards this goal, the prominent ones are setting up of “two independent and permanent commissions,” one for human rights and the other for minorities’ rights, “with the powers of a tribunal to entertain complaints and provide timely redress.”
Anto Akkara writes from Bangalore, India.