National Minorities Day was established thanks to Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic minister who killed for defending Asia Bibi. Christians are discriminated against in the workplace and ignored in school books. In 2018, 16 people were charged for alleged blasphemy.
Lahore (AsiaNews) – Pakistan’s Christian Churches issued an appeal on Sunday, National Minorities Day, not be defined as a minority.
Several Christian leaders used the 11 August event to highlight the rise of intolerance in the country and the abuse of blasphemy legislation.
"Minority is not a good word,” Mgr Sebastian Shaw, archbishop of Lahore, told AsiaNews. “It should be called the Day of Unity or Msaawat (equality). We [Christians] played an equal role in the creation, defence, welfare and development of Pakistan but our contributions are not part of the syllabus.”
The observance was established to commemorate a historic speech given in 1947 by Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s Founding Father.
Speaking before the newly created Parliament after the division of the British Raj, Jinnah expressed the desire to see a multi-religious Pakistan, in which everyone enjoyed equal rights and duties.
In 2009, Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic and the then federal Minister for Minorities, campaigned to have 11 August declared as National Minorities Day. He was assassinated in March 2011.
Religious minorities say that Pakistan today is a country in which their rights are not respected. For this reason, their leaders have slammed the crimes committed in response to alleged insults to the Prophet Muhammad.
According to the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Pakistan, 16 people were arrested or booked for blasphemy in 2018: nine Christians, four Ahmadis (deemed heretics by radical Islam), two Muslims and one Hindu.
Discrimination against Christians also occurs in the workplace. Sanitation work is reserved for Christians.
“We [Christians] feel degraded being called a minority,” said Dominican Father James Channan, regional coordinator of United Religions Initiative Pakistan. “Jinnah wanted a secular country where all enjoy equal rights. There is a general misconception regarding teachings of other religions. It leads to insulting behaviour against them.”
Meanwhile, the Cecil and Iris Chaudhry Foundation (CICF) is organising a National Minorities Day for next Saturday (17 August).
For its part, the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance hung a banner on a wall of the local cathedral that said: “All minorities thank Shahbaz Bhatti martyr for declaring Minorities Day”. Bhatti had set up the alliance in 2002.