An ordinary story of persecution: Michael Masih, a bullet in the ribs for defending Christians
He tried to stop some Muslims who were insulting and beating fellow Christians at the end of the Sunday Mass. In so doing, he “dared” challenge one of the sons of rich local landlord. In order to punish Masih, the attackers beat his paralysed father. A “peace deal” between Christians and Muslims turned out to be a sham. He appeals for help to find work.
Faisalabad (AsiaNews) – Michael Masih, a 32-year-old Christian father of two, was wounded by gunshots for daring to defend fellow Christians from the harassment of the sons of a wealthy Muslim landlord. He tried to block an attack by a group of 35 Muslims against Christians in Paulabad (near Faisalabad, Punjab).
After the incident, police threatened to detain the Muslims if they did not apologize to the injured. The Muslims agreed to apologise and signed a sham agreement with the Christians. However, they quickly went back on their word, and decided to teach Michael a lesson, attacking him after work.
Speaking to AsiaNews, Michael described his story since he has no other way to raise awareness about the violence carried out by Muslims. He hopes that this way he can leave his village and find work elsewhere in order to support his family and live in peace.
Nawazish Dogar, 30, and Chhada Dogar, 26, sons of Mustafa Dogar, a Muslim landowner involved in drug dealing (cocaine, heroin), residents of Paulabad in Faisalabad, have harassed the Christian community because of their faith. They often came to the Christian area in Paulabad, and used abusive language and derogatory words against Christians, like ‘Choorah’, etc. Most Christians work as daily wagers or labourers. Therefore, poor Christians were frightened of them and never faced them. Due to the fear of dire consequences they never reported the Dogars’ misbehaviour to police and illegal drug business in the area.
On 14 February (Sunday), as people went back home after Sunday Mass at Paulabad’s Catholic Church, Chhada Dogar was standing outside the place of worship with about 35 of his scoundrel friends and started abusing Christians, using derogatory words like ‘Choorah’ against them. They also harassed Christian women and girls. When Christian men told him to stop being rude and abusive, he started shouting at them and loudly abuse them.
At that point, Michael Masih, 32, a Christian man told Dogar to stop. Thus Michael exchanged harsh words with him, and a scuffle between two followed. A few Christian men tried to resolve the matter but about 35 friends of Chhada Dogar shouted at them and started beating them. Two of Michael’s friends, Khurram Masih and Liaquat Masih, suffered serious injuries to the head and legs. Some of Michael’s local Muslim friends intervened and stopped the fight when they realised what was happening; however, the young Christian men had severe injuries.
Chhada Dogar and his friends broke into Michael’s home and started beating his paralyzed, bed-ridden father. Then the Muslim mob threatened local Christians outside of Michael’s home of dire consequences and that they would put the Christian area to the torch like Gojra. Christians were badly frightened and started leaving the area to avoid any tragic incident.
From the Christian community a person phoned Robin Daniel, a Christian human rights activist, who is president of the National Minorities Alliance-Pakistan and head of AAWAZ district forum. Daniel contacted other AAWAZ forum members and asked them to come for the occasion. Meanwhile Daniel and Pastor Shahid Paul, a local priest, contacted Mr Khalil Tahir Sindhu, a Christian who is Minister for Human Rights and Minority Affairs. Mr. Khalil Tahir phoned the city police and asked the protection of Christian community immediately. Police arrived in the area and handled the situation and tried to bring back peace to the area. Calm was restored but a sense of insecurity has remained among Christians.
Lala Robin with some influential people and local Christians went to the local police station to file a First Investigation Report (FIR) against the culprits. Station House Officer Malik Waris told the Christians to get a medical report before filing a FIR against the attackers. That night Christians got the medical reports of the injured people from the hospital.
Still, the row did not stop. Next morning (Monday) as Michael Masih made his way to a milk shop, Chhada Dogar stopped him and started abusing him. Meanwhile, a mob of about 20 people, armed with axes, rods and guns, went to Michael’s home. Shooting in the air, they attacked Christians. The mob ran after Michael but Malik Jafar, a Muslim friend of his, drove up, and got him inside and sped away to a safe place, to a Church run by Rev Shahid Paul.
At Rev Shahid Paul’s church, Michael made a phone call to a parish priest, Fr Younas OP. Then, with the parish priest and Christian community leaders, he visited the City Police Office (CPO) in Faisalabad to ask for protection for the Christian community. CPO registered the application for protection and directed Police Superintendent Farooq Hundal to provide the Christian community full security.
An hour later, both Christian leaders and culprits stood together at the Sadar Police Station before the senior house officer and the superintendent. Robin Daniel represented the Christian community. The superintendent asked Christian community about their demands, and Robin Daniel responded by asking for security and protection because even if a FIR against culprits is registered, they will still live in fear and dread. Robin Daniel further said that if Muslim culprits apologise for their illegal and inhuman behaviour and promise not to carry out such cruel actions, Christians would forgive them for the sake of peace and tolerance. The superintendent scolded the Muslims and threatened them with a long detention. The Muslims apologised, asked for forgiveness and promised not to utter a single word against Christians.
That same day evening, about a hundred people from the Muslim and Christian communities met at the Christ Assemblies Church. The Dogars apologised in presence of the senior house officer of the local police station. AAWAZ district forum president Robin Daniel said, “No one should be allowed to humiliate the poor. If anybody does that he will have to bear the consequences. We want a peaceful society here where people belonging to different religions and sects can live peacefully. If someone destroys the peace, he should be held behind bars.”
Michael and Chhada Dogar hugged each other and all the people present clapped for the pact to avoid any future mishap. About 5,000 people would benefit from this peace deal. About 200 Christian families could live without fear. Christian and Muslim community leaders thanked the AAWAZ district forum for their timely intervention, which saved hundreds of lives in town.
When AsiaNews spoke with Michael Masih, father of two little sons, he shed light on the various aspects of his sad past and current life. “In 2011,” he said, “I won a body building competition in Faisalabad and awarded the title of ‘Mr Faisalabad’. I graduated from the Faisalabad Education Board, but my parents were too poor to send me to college for further studies. Therefore, I went to work in a factory as a labourer.
“Since I was in good health, I was good at my work. This made other, Muslim labourers jealous and prejudiced against Christians. So I was forced to quit my job. Then I got a job at a body building gym as trainer. On 26 April, about 10:30 pm, I was returning home from the gym on foot, when I heard someone call my name. I turned back to see that person. They were on a motorbike wearing helmets. They shot at me twice. One bullet hit me in the chest. I fell down, unconscious. The attackers ran away. Some people took me to hospital where I was operated and received 17 stitches. The bullet is still inside my body, but I thank Jesus Christ for saving my life.”
“As long as I have the bullet in my chest, I cannot run fast or work properly. I started serving the church and became more committed to my Catholic faith. I still have a good body; therefore, some Muslims (the Dogars) are jealous of me.”
“They abused me many times before the incident but I avoided them. But this time, when they harassed many Christians for their faith I could not bear it and had a scuffle with them. Even though some compromise has been reached, I still feel fear. I don’t want to live in such a place. If I get a job I will go anywhere. I don’t feel my family is safe here in Paulabad.”
“My father is paralysed, bedridden. My younger brother earns 400 rupees (US$ 4) a day. We have to run our household with this small amount, and this is too hard. My younger son is ill. My father is confined to his bed. We are unable to offer them proper medicine for treatment. I call on the people of God for their support. I want a job so that I can manage my home and provide medical assistance to my father and son,” Michael pleaded.