In Pakistan, Christians in Jaranwala keep the faith after violence against their community

In Pakistan, Christians in Jaranwala keep the faith after violence against their community

A week after the destruction of their homes and churches by thousands of Muslims, Christians in the locality of Jaranwala are still in fear of new violence and find themselves almost helpless, but show resilience and have gathered to pray for a few days after the attack. Christian NGOs and the Pakistani government are trying to support them.

The toll is heavy, with 400 houses or even 26 churches devastated in particular by fire, Christians beaten up with sticks, it is the scourge that fell on 16 August on Christian neighborhoods in Jaranwala, in Punjab, where 1 families live.

The violence was committed following calls made from mosques after accusations of blasphemy against two Christian brothers, Raja Amir and Rocky Saleem, against whom a complaint had been registered by the police of the municipality. They are accused of profaning the Koran and making inappropriate remarks about the Prophet Muhammad. Pakistani law provides for the death penalty for blasphemy.

The case quickly grew in this town of 15 inhabitants, because 000 Muslims did not want to wait for the investigation, but decided to punish all the Christians of Jaranwala where they went armed truncheons, iron bars or stones.

The Christians had to flee the city in a hurry and take refuge with relatives or in the fields. Soon images of the violence appeared on social networks, for example those of the fires and the ransacking of the residences and the churches of St. John and St. Peter. Some houses were destroyed by crane before being set on fire, like that of Father Sabir Khalid, a Catholic priest.

Worse still, the Islamists have beaten and tortured Christians, according to Bishop Azad Marshall, moderator of the Church of Pakistan, a Protestant denomination, who added that the attackers desecrated Bibles.

If all the Christians were able to save their lives, today they no longer have homes, vehicles or businesses to work in. Moreover, they are deprived of drinking water and food.

Juliet Chowdhry, trustee of the British Asian Christian Association (BACA), an NGO that helps persecuted Christians in Pakistan denounced the plight of Jaranwala Christians from the day of the attack:

"Innocent Christians are being brutally attacked, beaten with sticks, all because of yet another allegation of blasphemy, which will likely be proven false in due course [...] Those responsible for these acts do not appear to have no regard for the welfare of the children, women or men they harm, leaving many homeless [...] The Christian community living there is treated as anathema, and its quality of life has plummeted at an all-time high."

Indignation in the political class

However, the authorities seem to have quickly realized the seriousness of the facts and current or past government officials denounced this violence and called for the perpetrators to be punished.

Hours after the attacks, the new interim head of government, Anwaarul Haq Kakar, said he was "disgusted" by the Jaranwala footage, and promised to react harshly against those who violate the law and target the minorities, adding that the authorities considered all citizens equally:

"I am disgusted by the images coming out of Jaranwala, #Faisalabad. Tough action will be taken against those who break the law and target minorities. All law enforcement officials have been asked to arrest the culprits and bring them to justice. Rest assured that the government of Pakistan treats our citizens equally."

 The previous Prime Minister, Shehbaz Sharif, insisted on recalling that the Christian community had shed its blood and voted for the formation of Pakistan and that these sacrifices should not be considered in vain. According to him, these attacks "go against the teachings of the Holy Quran and the Sunna". Shehbaz demanded that authorities quickly restore churches and homes in devastated neighborhoods.

For her part, former Minister of Human Rights Shireen Mazari, expressed on X (formerly Twitter) her disgust both with the violence and with the inertia of the police:

"Absolutely shameful and condemnable. Where are the police to protect our Christian community and their churches?"

Help from Christian NGOs and faith of the victims despite the distress

If the government has promised to financially help families affected by the loss of their property to the tune of two million rupees, the primary needs are immediate. BACA distributed food to around XNUMX people in the settlement of Esa Nagar for three days.

Images of the assistance given by the BACA to around 80 people

For its part, the Catholic NGO Caritas Pakistan has deployed its national and diocesan teams to support the victims. Team members provided them with food, conducted damage assessments, and priests and catechists brought them spiritual comfort. Despite fears of new attacks and despite their desperate situation, the Christians who have returned to the city participated in religious services four days after the attack.

The police presence, however, did not make them confident enough to go with their children, as Nosheen Farman, a 29-year-old housewife, told AFP, who cannot yet return to her burnt house and who was doing part of the 200 people seated in an alley near the ruined Salvation Army Church:

"We didn't bring our children, the ones we teach to come to church."

During the service, the Christians kept their hands clasped in prayer, unclenching them only long enough to wipe their eyes. Many of them came from neighboring towns to show their solidarity.

The NGO Open Doors relates the testimony of a Christian which shows the situation on the verge of despair of these faithful who still want to keep the faith:

"They have lost everything, their church and their house. There is no device, no clothing, no utensil left. The moans are contained, people do not dare to cry. The community is scattered and suffers from the torture it suffered."

 Nearly 150 people have already been arrested by the police, but violence against religious minorities is common in Pakistan, where accusations of blasphemy usually lead to minor abuses without arousing strong indignation from the authorities. For Nasir Saeed, Director of CLAAS-UK (Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement), such an attack is because "the government has failed to take effective action to end the continued abuse" of blasphemy charges.

Jean Sarpedon

Image credit: Shutterstock/Asianet-Pakistan

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