06/20/2011, 00.00
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Punjab: enslaved Christian domestic worker quits job only to be accused of theft by employer

by Jibran Khan
The 35-year-old married mother of three suffers from tuberculosis. Her Muslim employer forced her to work 17 hours a day. After she quit, she was accused of stealing jewels. Police officer tricks her into confession. Christian leaders demand justice and laws to protect Christian domestic workers.
Lahore (AsiaNews) – A new case of anti-Christian violence and abuse has come to light in the city of Sultan, Muzaffargarh Distract (Punjab). After a Christian cook and domestic worker forced to work for 17 hours a day, from 7 am to midnight, quit three months ago, sick and weakened by tuberculosis, the Muslim family that employed her sought revenge and accused her of stealing jewels. With the complicity of police officials, the woman was forced to make a false confession. Her case is but another example of what is happening in a country increasingly hostage to fundamentalism.

Rani Masih, the 35-year-old wife of Javed Masih and mother of three, has been suffering from a serious form of tuberculosis. She is very frail. On 14 June, she was forced to appear in the Sultan police station where officers, led by Vice Inspector Ch Mehraj, pressured her into making a false confession for a crime that never occurred. Ms Masih is illiterate. Long interrogations and days of psychological violence have undermined her already poor health.

She had been employed in slave-like conditions by the family of Zaheer Ahmed Khan, victim of pressures and duress by Mr Khan’s wife and one of his sons. Both filed a complaint for a theft that never occurred. The woman lost a purse and jewels at a party held at her brother’s house but accused the Christian woman in order to get her to come to work for her.

According to local sources, the Muslim family has had difficulties in hiring staff because the wages they pay are “too low” and they treat employees in “inhumane” fashion. Only very poor and needy Christians have had to accept to work for them.

On orders of a top officer at the Sultan police station, Vice Inspector Ch. Mehraj took a fingerprint from Rasi Masih on a paper on which the woman’s statement of guilt was typed. Police rejected this version of events, but local sources confirm it.

In the past, another Christian woman, Mariam Bibi, who worked as a cook for the same family, had a similar experience based on spurious and false charges.

Meanwhile, Zaheer Ahmed Khan’s family continues to blackmail the woman, telling her either she comes back to work for them or goes to prison.

Fr Sajid Masih, a priest in Muzaffargarh, slammed the latest case of anti-Christian violence, stressing how poverty and hunger are forcing Christians to submit to “forced labour”.

“Rani is but one of the many Christian domestic workers victimised by the upper classes,” the priest explained. These workers are forced to accept abuse and cruel treatment, including human trafficking.

Bishop Joseph Nadeem, of Multan, also condemned the “false charges” against Rani. He explained that the Catholic Church is “in touch with the family and will do all it can to bring her home.”

The prelate added that laws should be adopted to protect domestic workers and allow victims to seek justice.

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