02/24/2012, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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NCJP frees Christian man held in slave-like conditions by rich Muslim

by Shafique Khokhar
NCJP activists successfully obtain the release of Qamar Masih, 25, father of two, who was abducted over an unpaid debt by a landowner for whom he used to work in "slave-like conditions". A priest in Faisalabad is happy about the outcome, blames such incidents on the country's "feudal system".

Faisalabad (AsiaNews) - A rich Muslim landowner abducted a Christian man in Faisalabad for failure to repay a debt he had contracted and not repaid whilst working for him. Sources close to the Christian man's family said the latter left the job tired of being exploited and abused for a pittance. Only the intervention of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of the Catholic Church of Pakistan led to the man's release and a peaceful resolution of the issue. However, the case highlights the fact that Pakistan's "feudal system" forces "poor workers into slave-like conditions".

Today, Qamar Masih, also known as Bhola 35, a Christian father two from Malkhanwala  in Faisalabad, is back at work at a cattle feed shop owned by a Muslim where he earns 7,500 rupees (US$ 88) a month, a salary that allows him to make a decent living for himself and his family.

However, just this Wednesday, his former employer, Bilal Sarwar Cheema, a rich landowner connected with Punjab's land mafia, had him abducted by a group of armed men. He was kidnapped because he had not repaid a loan (20,000 rupees) the rich Muslim landowner had granted to him last year.

In order to secure her husband's release, Qamar's 32-year-old wife, Uzma Dildar, called on Fr Khalid Rasheed Asi and the activists of the Faisalabad branch of the NCJP for help. She told them that her husband had quit his job because of constant harassment and abuses from his employer who treated him like a serf.

The NCJP went to the police, which opened an investigation. When they met the rich Muslim landowner, Bilal Sarwar Cheema confirmed the abduction. He told police that when he found out that Qamar had returned home after an absence of seven months, he decided to abduct him.

Mediation allowed the Christian man to go free on condition he repay the loan in instalments over a certain period so that he had enough money to support his wife and daughters.

Contacted by AsiaNews, Fr Khalid Rasheed Asi explained, "Pakistan's remotest regions are still under a feudal system". It is common practice "for rich landowners to grant loans" and "then keep workers in slave-like conditions for generations" doing "nothing but the same job".

"I'm happy," the clergyman said, "that for once the matter was sorted out peacefully."

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