Karachi: The minorities in Pakistan face unending violence, intolerance and discrimination, and with each passing day, more and more incidents of atrocities against them are being reported from across the country.
In a setback to the Christian community in Pakistan, the administration demolished three of the four churches along Karachi's Gujjar Nullah after Sunday (August 29) service during an anti-encroachment drive, The Dawn reported.
This is yet another example of systematic state persecution of minorities in Pakistan and how they are deprived of their rights in the country.
According to The Dawn, St Joseph's Catholic Church is now the only church left in the Gujjar Nullah as the three Philadelphia Pentecostal Churches of the protestant Christian community have been demolished.
"There used to be over 150 people gathered here every Sunday and it would get difficult to accommodate them all. But now there are barely 20 or 30. It is more than just losing faith. The elderly are afraid of the remaining structure falling on them and most women don't come anymore due to lack of privacy after the facade was broken two weeks ago," said Rehana Sohail, a local.
Another local, Master Zohaib Javed, said that the administration demolished their churches and a big part of the church's roof fell due to lack of support after the walls and pillars were broken down.
"We wanted to rebuild our church and raise a new wall in the front but then we were informed that Frontier Works Organisation people were also going to come for their own survey. This is how it has come under various surveys and new cuttings. Bit by bit it is vanishing," he said.
Zahid Farooq of the Urban Resource Centre (URC) told Dawn that the St Joseph's Catholic Church also used to be a space for meetings of area residents, most of whom are Christians.
Younis Gill, another area resident, said that they come again and again to draw a new red line and like this more and more gets broken. "Not just the church, they have been doing it for all the houses here as well," he pointed out.
"My own home was to lose 53 per cent, which was most of its frontage but by now they have bulldozed over 60 per cent and not even given us compensation. The cheque that we were given bounced, too. Besides, there are three to four families living under one roof here and the compensation is given to only one. What are the rest supposed to do?" he said.
Arif Sardar, another resident of the area, said that if we argue with them, they demolish more portions of our property as a punishment. "So we are to allow them to do as they please without uttering a word," he said.
Pakistan's population is 96 per cent Muslim. Although most of the people accused of blasphemy in the country are Muslims, minorities like Christians, Hindus, and Ahmadis (a persecuted sect of Islam that the government has legally declared "non-Muslim"), are disproportionately affected by these laws. Although they make up about 3.8 per cent of the population, about 50 per cent of reported blasphemy cases are filed against them. According to the NCJP, 633 Muslims, 494 Ahmadis, 187 Christians, and 21 Hindus have been accused since 1987, reported FRANCE 24 Observers.
The Muslim majority describe them using derogatory terms such as 'churha' or 'kafir,' which means infidel. A large proportion of the Christian community is from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, poorly educated, and takes up low-paid manual labour such as in brick kilns or the sanitation sector.
According to the latest figures (1987-2018) from the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), a total of 229 Christians have been accused under various provisions on offences related to religion since 1987, reported CPFA.
Moreover, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in 2020 designated Pakistan as a Country of Particular Concern because of its "systematic enforcement" of blasphemy and other controversial laws against religious minorities.
According to human rights organisations, as many as 1,000 Christian girls are abducted each year. Many of them are forced to convert to Islam because it is widely believed in Pakistan that marriages under the age of 16 are acceptable under Sharia law if both individuals getting married are Muslim.