07/10/2010, 00.00
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Christian students in Pakistan are victims of violence and discrimination

Minorities Concern of Pakistan denounces a climate of intolerance and exclusion in the classroom. Most of the violations are committed in government institutions, due to a "fragile" system that associates Pakistan to a "Muslims-only country”. An association of teachers demands action from the Chief Justice against the Federal Ministry of Education.

Lahore (AsiaNews) - Students of Pakistan's religious minorities, including Christians, are victims of exclusion, discrimination and acts of violence because of their faith and their status. The complaint comes from Minorities Concern of Pakistan (MCP) which says that most of the violations take place in government run institutions and is committed by both classmates by teachers. The system to protect minorities, they add, is "fragile" and fails to safeguard their rights.

On 8 July the Pakistan Minorities Teachers' Association (Pmta) sent a letter to Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, head of the judiciary, inviting him to take a "personal initiative" against the Federal Minister for Education. He is accused of having "violated the rights of students from minorities, including Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and Ahmadis.

MCP activists cite two cases of discrimination against Christian students, confirming the climate of intolerance. On 28 May a dozen armed men attacked the pastor Mubarak Masih and his family. The violence against the Christian leader was sparked by his 13 year old grandson Shaid grandson to recite verses from the Koran in the classroom. The incident occurred in a school in Smundri, Punjab. The police did not initiate any investigation into the attacks, despite the complaint lodged by the pastor.

Last year eleven year old Christian Nadia Iftikhar suffered violent beatings at the hands of her teacher in a school Dharema, also in Punjab. The teacher reacted to the girl’s claim to be both "Christian and Pakistani”.  According to Ascari Hasan Rizvi, a political analyst in Lahore, the government has never wanted to start a serious reform of school curricula. And despite what is stated in the Constitution, in textbooks "Pakistan is associated with the Muslims ... and says that Pakistan is a country only for Muslims".

Rebecca Winthorpe of the Washington based Brookings Center for Universal Education, adds that " Historically education in Pakistan has been used as a tool by successive regimes in pursuing narrow political ends”.  Activists in defence of minorities, however, call for reform and a change of mentality that allows even the Christians, along with other minorities, to enhance the level of education (only 19% literate) and improve their quality of life .

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