AsiaNews heard the history of Victoria’s family, forced to abandon their hometowns because they are Christian. They moved to Lahore, but here too, Christians endure attitudes of intolerance and hatred against minorities, a far cry from what is said in political proclamations.
Lahore (AsiaNews) – A Christian family living in Lahore was forced to flee Punjab as a result of Muslim threats.
The mother, Victoria (not her real name for security reasons) spoke to AsiaNews about her family’s story.
Their predicament is indicative of the many backward steps Pakistan has taken in recent years with respect to religious minorities, which Mohammad Ali Jinnah had praised for their great contribution to the nation.
On 11 August 1947, the founder of modern Pakistan made a memorable speech before the Constitutive Assembly of the newborn state. This year, fear of new persecution has made a comeback on 11 August.
Victoria, 45, is Christian. With her husband and three children (one male and two females), she lives in a small two-room house in Lahore. In the morning, she teaches in a Christian school and in the afternoon she gives private lessons at her home.
Her family is originally from Khanewal, a town in southern Punjab. She used to teach in a local school with a regular contract and pension plan. Her husband ran a small shop, whilst the three children attended an English-language middle school.
Their life was spent with serenity until one afternoon in 2013, the eldest son Najam (shortened to ‘N’, name changed for security reasons) said he did not want to go to school.
Victoria was taken aback by his decision and demanded an explanation. After listening to her children, she found out that N had been thrown to the ground in the school by a bigger guy. As he was pushing down on N’s throat preventing him from breathing, the boy shouted at him, “Recite the Kalimas”, the six articles of faith by which one converts to Islam.
Victoria went to the school administration, which apologised and said it would solve the issue. However, after a few months, her two daughters were forced by a student to recite the Naat, a poem honouring Muhammad, before the school assembly. After that episode, the student’s father claimed that the girls were no longer Christian. This led Victoria to leave the city to avoid sadder consequences.
One night in December 2013, the family left behind their home, ties, and jobs and moved to Lahore, the city that some friends had recommended as more respectful of minorities.
The children went back to school with good results; however, her husband was not able to open a new business. Hence, Victoria became the main, albeit precarious breadwinner.
On 11 August of this year, the day Pakistan celebrated Minorities Day to mark Jinnah’s historic speech in 1947, the family plunged again into fear. N was the victim of harassment at a private university in Gahzi Chowk on Ferozepur Road.
The young man attended a public college since the family could not afford the fees at a private school. However, public schools organise training days at private ones.
On one of these days, N took part in a compulsory Islamic science class where the teacher, instead of sticking to the programme, delivered a provocative speech and preached against non-Muslims.
N and two other Christian students were petrified when they heard the teacher say that "the universe was created for Muslims, and non-Muslims unfairly benefit from it. So killing Christians, Jews and Hindus is justified. "
N feared for his life. "If my classmates discovered my religion, they would tear me into pieces,” he said. He was especially shocked by the fact that it was a teacher who said those words.
In Khanewal, "the oppressor was a student, who freed me as soon as the teacher came into the classroom. In Lahore, the oppressor was the teacher himself."
What worries the most, said his mother, is that the persecution comes from those who should set an example. "High-sounding political propaganda calls for an end to 'hate speech', but the facts show the other side of the coin."