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Dalit Christians in Pakiistan - Doctrine Of Necessity

Dalit Christians in Pakiistan

 Dalit Christians in Pakiistan
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Contents 

  1. Introduction
  2. Historical Background of Dalit Christians
  3. Issues Faced by Dalit Christians
  4. Caste Discrimination of Dalits by their own Christian Community
  5. Faith-Based Discrimination by State Authorities
  6. Social Stigma
  7. Economic Inequalities Faced by Dalit Christians of Pakistan
  8. Educational Discrimination of Dalit Christians in Pakistan
  9. Lack of Legal Rights and Access to Justice
  10. Lack of Equal Political Participation
  11. Forced conversions and forced marriages
  12. The Way Forward
  13. Conclusion 

 

 

Introduction

The term “Dalit” refers to those who identify as being of low-caste origin, while Christianity is a religion in Pakistan with an estimated 2.63 million followers according to recent data.[1] Dalit Christians in Pakistan are a minority group that has been subject to social discrimination and exploitation for generations. Even though the Pakistani constitution provides equal rights and freedom of religion to all citizens, Dalit Christians have often been denied basic human rights due to their socioeconomic status and religious identity. They constitute an estimated 0.3 % of the population and have been historically excluded from the country’s sociopolitical landscape. As a result, they face severe challenges in accessing education, employment opportunities, healthcare services and basic necessities like clean water and sanitation.

Historical Background of Dalit Christians

The history of the Dalit Christians in Pakistan is one that has gone largely overlooked and understudied. It is a topic that has been gaining much attention over the past few decades, particularly due to the struggles faced by these minority groups. The majority of Pakistan’s Dalits live in remote rural and segregated areas, particularly in the provinces of Punjab and Sindh. 

Most Christians in Pakistan are descendants of low-caste Hindus who converted during the British colonial rule, to escape caste discrimination.[2]

The largest untouchable caste in Punjab in nineteenth-century India, the “Chuhras,” relied on scavenging and sanitation chores to survive. The Chuhra caste started a “mass movement” in 1870 that reached its height in the 1930s when nearly the whole caste converted to Protestantism.[3] These “Chuhra Christians” became the fledgling Protestant Church in Pakistan upon Partition in 1947. Sociologist Pieter Streefland studied Chuhra Christians in Karachi in 1971. According to Streefland’s research, the majority continue to work in the sanitation sector and are frequently ignored because of their ties to ‘polluting’ professions.[4]

One of the most essential ways that the Chuhra experience in Pakistan varies from the Dalit experience in India is in terms of caste mobility. While it is still exceedingly hard if not downright impossible, for the Dalits in India to be “caste mobile” and leave Untouchability, the Chuhras in Pakistan can leave their Chuhra identity and its attendant Untouchability by embracing or performing Islam.[5]

 

Issues Faced by Dalit Christians

Because they are Dalits at the bottom of the caste system and non-Muslims living in a Muslim country, Pakistan’s Dalits experience a variety of forms of discrimination. They may experience discrimination based on gender if they are female. The bulk of them are uneducated and underprivileged, many of them are bound labourers engaged in contemporary slavery, and most crimes against them go unpunished.

In Pakistan, Dalit human rights advocates work in extremely challenging conditions, thus their mere existence is an accomplishment in and of itself. They have agitated the international community to take an interest in the plight of Pakistan’s Dalit community and participated in recent public demonstrations against prejudice.[6]

Caste Discrimination of Dalits by their own Christian Community

Although caste is a fundamental aspect of Indian culture, it is aggressively suppressed in Pakistan. When asked, however, if caste is an issue, most Pakistanis will deny it. They will declare that the caste system is not Islamic and since the majority of us are Muslims, there is no caste problem in Pakistan,” says social activist Shahbano Aliani[7]

 

Caste prejudice towards Chuhra Christians in Pakistan is pervasive despite conversion to Christianity. In Pakistani society, social dynamics are governed by a variety of forms of “caste consciousness,” such as standards for purity and pollution. While less pronounced than in India, the concepts of pak (clean) and na-pak (pollution) are present in Pakistan (unclean). Because of their demeaning and “polluting” jobs, middle-class Christians and lower-class Muslims avoid interaction with Chuhra Christians. Many middle-class Christians and Muslims despise Chuhra Christians because of their Dalit origin and labour in the sanitation business.[8]

The church is the centre of the active religious life of Chuhra Christians. Chuhra churches’ ceremonial practices differ from those of middle-class churches. Chuhra churches are indigenous, mixing local music and religious rituals into services, unlike middle-class churches, which are predominantly ‘Western’ in practice and culture. Funeral drumming is a unique custom in this neighbourhood that is associated with Dalit descent. Moreover, Chuhra Christians reject middle-class Christian practises as a kind of protest against caste discrimination through an investigation of church service recordings, leaflets, and tracts.

 

 Faith-Based Discrimination by State Authorities

The persecution and discrimination of Dalit Christians in Pakistan have been a long-standing issue. Denied access to education, employment opportunities and basic health services, the vulnerable Dalit Christian population are victims of a faith-based form of discrimination practised by governmental authorities. The historically marginalized group continues to suffer due to their minority religious identity and socio-economic status.

 

In addition to facing discrimination from society at large, Dalit Christians also face institutionalized abuse from state authorities. This includes intimidation tactics such as forced conversion, physical violence and criminalization through false accusations. As a result, they are unable to access their constitutional rights such as the right to freedom of religion or assembly without fear of repercussions. Furthermore, the lack of legal protection for members of this community further exacerbates their marginalization due to its failure to address existing discriminatory practices against them.

In district Khanewal, it was brought to the missionís notice that, according to the old constituencies, there were 12,500 registered voters and all Christian areas had the same constituency. However, the new delimitation initiative had separated Shanti Nagar from the rest, and the move had affected the overall voting influence of the Christian voters. Shanti Nagar is one of the most populous Christian areas in the region and the division has thinned their voting constituencies.

Social Stigma

Dalit Christians in Pakistan have faced systemic social discrimination for a long time. This minority group has been denied basic human rights and continues to suffer from extreme poverty. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Dalit Christians are seen as “lowly people” who are forbidden from entering places of worship, participating in religious rituals, or even owning land. The majority of them remain illiterate due to limited educational opportunities and resources available to them.[9]

 

The HRCP notes that despite being a recognized religion in the country since before independence, the Christian minority is still subjected to marginalization and discrimination based on their caste status. In addition, they lack access to basic services such as health care and clean water due to their socio-economic disadvantage.

Dalit Christians experience social discrimination in many ways such as ridiculing their Christian beliefs with derogatory names. Refuse to use the same tableware to touch things that Dalit Christians have touched or eat food cooked or eaten by them.

 

Economic Inequalities Faced by Dalit Christians of Pakistan

Dalit Christians in Pakistan have been living with economic inequalities for many years. They are facing economic injustice on a daily basis due to their social status and religious beliefs.

The discrimination the Dalit communities experience is twofold; firstly, they suffer from poverty due to the limited access they have to jobs, education, healthcare and other resources. Secondly, they are often subject to oppressive systems put in place by those more privileged than them due to their lower caste status. These systems make it even harder for them to break out of their current economic situation.

Dalit Christians have been systematically excluded from the mainstream economy and continue to experience widespread marginalization with respect to socio-economic opportunities. Furthermore, Dalit Christians suffer from unjust treatment in the workplace which results in unequal wages for the same work done by non-Christians or those belonging to higher castes within Christianity. This wage gap is further compounded by discriminatory practices in job hiring considerations where caste identity is given preference over meritocracy or skill levels.[10]

On August 25, 2019, the mission also went to the New Islami Colony Church outside of Bahawalpur. One of the local church members, Nadeem Patras, assembled other males in the church to speak with the mission. The majority of them occurred to work in the Repair and Maintenance (R&M) Department at the Bahawal Victoria Hospital (BVH). They claimed that 183 sanitary employees from the  Christian faith at BVH were abruptly sacked as a result of a recent downsizing in the R&M Department.[11]

Educational Discrimination of Dalit Christians in Pakistan

Educational Discrimination against Dalit Christians in Pakistan is an issue that affects a large population in the country. Pakistani Christians, many are categorized as Dalits due to their lower socio-economic status. As such, these individuals face numerous obstacles when it comes to education and overall living standards.

 

The discrimination faced by Pakistani Christian Dalits manifests itself in various ways – ranging from lack of access to educational resources and opportunities, exclusion from educational institutions and unequal opportunities for employment after graduation. This has resulted in low literacy rates among this group which further impacts their economic prospects and reinforces existing social disparities based on religion and caste system.

Mushtaq Masih, a primary school teacher in Yazman, Bahawalpur, told the team that although the schools were not segregated, Muslim students far outnumbered the Christians one Christian for every 100 Muslim students. Thus marginalised, Christian students hesitate to openly participate in a class or freely mix with other students or interact confidently with Muslim teachers. According to him, there were currently only three or four Christian teachers in the entire tehsil. Mushtaq believed that Christian teachers should be appointed in Christian-majority areas to encourage Christian students to interact and mingle with teachers and students and be heard. He was also of the opinion that the syllabus needed to be reformed and improved to make it more inclusive and pluralistic.[12]

A sixth-grade student in the Yazman colony was once made to read Arabic in class despite the fact that his instructor was aware of his religious affiliation. Their classmates threatened him that the teacher would physically correct him when he couldn’t read it. The boy eventually abruptly departed the school.[13]

Lack of Legal Rights and Access to Justice

Dalit Christians in Pakistan are a minority population that is uniquely disadvantaged in comparison to other religious and ethnic groups. The term “Dalit”, which originated in India, refers to those considered to be at the lowest end of the Hindu caste system. In Pakistan, Dalits include Hindus but also Christians who have been relegated to a similar social status despite their adherence to another faith. This has resulted in them being denied access to basic legal rights that are usually granted by Pakistani law.

The lack of legal protection for Dalit Christians can be attributed to several factors including discrimination from dominant religious communities and government negligence towards minority populations.

While the panel of experts (report to HRCP) began its deliberations by acknowledging the obstacles all citizens face in accessing justice, non-Muslim citizens appear to have even greater difficulties in achieving justice.[14]

Many of the human rights abuses mentioned below are against the law, even by Pakistani standards. This involves bonded labour and forced conversions. However, criminals frequently get away with their crimes since laws are not enforced, especially when victims are members of minorities, like Pakistan’s Dalit population.[15]

In cases when the culprit is a member of a dominant caste, which is above the Dalits in the caste system, there is widespread impunity and Dalit women suffer from significant constraints in their access to justice. Due to the fact that offenders virtually always get away with it, Dalit women are seen as easy prey for sexual assault and other crimes.[16]

One of the major issues for Christians in Pakistan is Blasphemy laws. Although the Right to a fair trial is guaranteed by the govt of Pakistan to every citizen including Christians, however in blasphemy accused cases religious minorities could not generally find a lawyer. As a result, the mob administer justice which ends with brutal murders.

The incident of Kot Radha Kishan near Lahore was a grave alarm for the justice system of Pakistan, where a Christian couple was murdered in a brick kiln where they used to work. They were accused of desecrating a copy of the Holy Quran.[17]

Dalit Christians easily fall prey in such cases because of their low socio-political status.

Lack of Equal Political Participation

The lack of equal political participation of Dalit Christians poses a challenge to inclusivity and diversity in the nation. The plight of this community is particularly concerning, as they have been facing discrimination for centuries, due to their social status, religious identity and economic circumstances.

There is a dearth of adequate representation at the political level from this community. There are several structural barriers that prevent Dalit Christians from gaining access to various levels of government decision-making processes which leads to a lack of meaningful engagement with policy makers.

As in other South Asian countries, Dalits in Pakistan have limited access to equal and meaningful participation in Politics. International human rights instruments create binding obligations on governments to ensure non-discrimination for all in the fulfilment of civil, social, political, cultural and economic rights.[18]

Forced conversions and forced marriages

The practice of forced conversion and marriage has had a long history of prevalence in many societies around the world. It is defined as the process of coercing an individual, typically through physical or psychological coercion, to adopt another religion or marry against their will. Forced conversion and marriage can have serious consequences for those affected, resulting in feelings of powerlessness, trauma, physical violence and violation of basic human rights.

Despite having a comprehensive justice system capable of dealing with most crimes related to forced conversion, including kidnapping, sex offences, sex crimes, forced marriage, marriage to minors, and violence against others, the justice system remains unreliable. It has not been consistently effective in protecting minority girls and women. [19]

Pakistan has been reminded of its obligations under international law to address grave human rights abuses related to the forced conversion of girls and women.

In 2013 the UN committee monitoring implementation of CEDAW stated:

“This committee is deeply concerned about the abduction of women and girls belonging to religious minorities for the purpose of forced conversion and forced marriages. It is also concerned that polygamy is permitted under certain circumstances. The Committee also notes with concern that property relations are governed by a regime of separate property, which often discriminates against women[20]

 In many cases, especially where women are concerned, it is seen as a form of gender-based violence and discrimination that limits freedom of choice. This type of abuse can take place both within families and communities; however, it is also frequently used by extremist groups as part of their strategy to control populations and increase their own ideological influence. Victims often face pressure from religious authorities to comply with these practices due to threats or promises made regarding rewards in the afterlife. In Pakistan, Dalit women frequently experience forced conversion to another religion, sexual assault, and abduction. They experience triple prejudice as a result of their caste, religion, and gender.

 There were at least 12 instances of forced marriages and forced conversions in Yazman, district Bahawalpur. According to a local resident who spoke to the mission, Emanuel Masih’s 13-year-old daughter was forced to marry into a Muslim family in Chak 104-D in December 2018 and was subsequently converted to Islam. Even when the incident was brought to the attention of Dr Shireen Mazari, Federal Minister for Human Rights, justice was not served. Four girls from different families were married to Muslim guys in Chak 104-D and attempts to show this were ineffective.[21]

In one instance, a Muslim girl wed a Christian man, forcing the man to become a Muslim. Unfortunately, the youngster passed away afterwards. The locals had promised the victim’s family that the court would bring them justice, but nothing had been done.[22]

 

The Way Forward

  1. State Authorities should take measures to eliminate discrimination against Dalit Christians in Pakistan
  2. To remove restrictions on freedom of religion or belief and amend legislation that discriminates against persons belonging to minorities like Dalit Christians
  3. The government of Pakistan should enact and implement measures to ensure the effective protection of Dalit Christians
  4. While there are constitutional safeguards in place to prohibit caste-based discrimination in Pakistan, govt of Pakistan should enforce the law strictly
  5. The govt of Pakistan should endorse and make use of the draft UN Principles and Guidelines for the Effective Elimination of Discrimination
  6. The GOP should provide adequate housing and shelter to marginalized groups such as Dalit Christians in Pakistan
  7. To take effective measures to allow Dalit Christian women, particularly in rural areas, to have access to health services, education, clean water and sanitation
  8. The govt of Pakistan should take effective measures to prevent and investigate cases of forced conversion of Dalit girls
  9. to take serious measures to ensure equal access to education for all, including marginalized children from Dalit Christian Community
  10. The govt of Pakistan should take effective measures to grant Dalit Christians meaningful participation in the political process [23]
  11. Christians in Pakistan Should speak for their basic human rights in a unified voice. They do not speak with a unified voice because there are many caste differences among their own community.

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, Dalit Christians in Pakistan face serious issues that need to be addressed. They suffer from a lack of rights, a low level of education and employment, and political exclusion. This marginalization has resulted in the continuation of their poverty and exclusion from mainstream society. It is therefore imperative for the Pakistani authorities to recognize the rights of Dalit Christians, value their contribution to the nation, and ensure their equitable development.

The Pakistani government has made it quite obvious that caste-based discrimination is not a priority by denying that it even exists before multiple UN human rights sessions. It is crucial that the world community continue to draw attention to this problem. The Pakistani advocates for Dalit human rights are fighting caste prejudice in very valiant ways, but they will require support if they are to be successful.

 

 

References

‘2019-Faith-Based-Discrimination-in-Southern-Punjab.Pdf’. Accessed 13 February 2023. https://hrcp-web.org/hrcpweb/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/2019-Faith-based-discrimination-in-southern-Punjab.pdf.

Bilal, Mushtaq. ‘“Yes, I Am Joseph Bhatti Choohra:” Reading Joseph Bhatti as a Palimpsest’. Angles. New Perspectives on the Anglophone World, no. 14 (1 April 2022). doi:10.4000/angles.5259.

Red Diary. ‘Caste in Pakistan: The Elephant in the Room’, 25 August 2009. https://reddiarypk.wordpress.com/2009/08/25/caste-in-pakistan/.

‘CEDAW.C.PAK.CO.4.Pdf’. Accessed 15 February 2023. https://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cedaw/docs/co/CEDAW.C.PAK.CO.4.pdf.

‘Christians Reject Census 2017 Results’, 7 June 2021. https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2021/06/07/christians-reject-census-2017-results/.

‘Country_information_and_guidance_Christian_and_Christian_converts__Pakistan__February_2021.Pdf’. Accessed 15 February 2023. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/963724/Country_information_and_guidance_Christian_and_Christian_converts__Pakistan__February_2021.pdf.

‘Dalit Christians History by Webster John – AbeBooks’. Accessed 13 February 2023. https://www.abebooks.com/book-search/title/dalit-christians-history/author/webster-john/.

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. ‘Belief and Relief, Access to Justice for Religious Minorities. Lahore: HRCP, n.d. https://hrcp-web.org/hrcpweb/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/2014-Access-to-justice-for-religious-minorities.pdf.

‘JS9_UPR_PAK_S14_2012_JointSubmission9_E.Pdf’. Accessed 13 February 2023. https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/lib-docs/HRBodies/UPR/Documents/Session14/PK/JS9_UPR_PAK_S14_2012_JointSubmission9_E.pdf.

Nasir, Suneel. ‘A Working Paper on Forced Conversions in Pakistan’. Silence of the Lamb, 1 January 2020. https://www.academia.edu/45499614/A_Working_Paper_on_Forced_Conversions_in_Pakistan.

Pasic, Damir. ‘Dalit Women’. International Dalit Solidarity Network. Accessed 14 February 2023. https://idsn.org/key-issues/dalit-women/.

———. ‘Pakistan’. International Dalit Solidarity Network. Accessed 13 February 2023. https://idsn.org/countries/pakistan/.

———. ‘Political Participation’. International Dalit Solidarity Network. Accessed 14 February 2023. https://idsn.org/key-issues/political-participation/.

‘Singha_georgetown_0076D_13011.Pdf’. Accessed 13 February 2023. https://repository.library.georgetown.edu/bitstream/handle/10822/761014/Singha_georgetown_0076D_13011.pdf?sequence=1.

[1] ‘Christians Reject Census 2017 Results’, 7 June 2021, https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2021/06/07/christians-reject-census-2017-results/.

[2] ‘Country_information_and_guidance_Christian_and_Christian_converts__Pakistan__February_2021.Pdf’, accessed 15 February 2023, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/963724/Country_information_and_guidance_Christian_and_Christian_converts__Pakistan__February_2021.pdf.

[3] ‘Dalit Christians History by Webster John – AbeBooks’, accessed 13 February 2023, https://www.abebooks.com/book-search/title/dalit-christians-history/author/webster-john/.

[4] Pieter Streefland, The Sweepers of Slaughterhouse: Conflict and Survival in a Karachi Neighbourhood (Van Gorcum, 1979), 30.

 

[5] Mushtaq Bilal, ‘“Yes, I Am Joseph Bhatti Choohra:” Reading Joseph Bhatti as a Palimpsest’, Angles. New Perspectives on the Anglophone World, no. 14 (1 April 2022), doi:10.4000/angles.5259.

[6] Damir Pasic, ‘Pakistan’, International Dalit Solidarity Network, accessed 13 February 2023, https://idsn.org/countries/pakistan/.

[7] ‘Caste in Pakistan: The Elephant in the Room’, Red Diary, 25 August 2009, https://reddiarypk.wordpress.com/2009/08/25/caste-in-pakistan/.

[8] ‘Singha_georgetown_0076D_13011.Pdf’, 6–7, accessed 13 February 2023, https://repository.library.georgetown.edu/bitstream/handle/10822/761014/Singha_georgetown_0076D_13011.pdf?sequence=1.

[9] ‘Singha_georgetown_0076D_13011.Pdf’, 6–7, accessed 13 February 2023, https://repository.library.georgetown.edu/bitstream/handle/10822/761014/Singha_georgetown_0076D_13011.pdf?sequence=1.

[10] Pasic, ‘Pakistan’.

[11] ‘2019-Faith-Based-Discrimination-in-Southern-Punjab.Pdf’.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid., 2.

[14] Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, ‘Belief and Relief, Access to Justice for Religious Minorities’ (Lahore: HRCP, n.d.), 11, https://hrcp-web.org/hrcpweb/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/2014-Access-to-justice-for-religious-minorities.pdf.

[15] Pasic, ‘Pakistan’.

[16] Damir Pasic, ‘Dalit Women’, International Dalit Solidarity Network, accessed 14 February 2023, https://idsn.org/key-issues/dalit-women/.

[17] Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, ‘Belief and Relief, Access to Justice for Religious Minorities’.

[18] Damir Pasic, ‘Political Participation’, International Dalit Solidarity Network, accessed 14 February 2023, https://idsn.org/key-issues/political-participation/.

[19] Suneel Nasir, ‘A Working Paper on Forced Conversions in Pakistan’, Silence of the Lamb, 1 January 2020, 8, https://www.academia.edu/45499614/A_Working_Paper_on_Forced_Conversions_in_Pakistan.

[20] ‘CEDAW.C.PAK.CO.4.Pdf’, 10, accessed 15 February 2023, https://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cedaw/docs/co/CEDAW.C.PAK.CO.4.pdf.

[21] ‘2019-Faith-Based-Discrimination-in-Southern-Punjab.Pdf’, 5.

[22] Ibid., 5–6.

[23] ‘JS9_UPR_PAK_S14_2012_JointSubmission9_E.Pdf’, 9, accessed 13 February 2023, https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/lib-docs/HRBodies/UPR/Documents/Session14/PK/JS9_UPR_PAK_S14_2012_JointSubmission9_E.pdf.

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4 Comments

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