The Christian community in Pakistan was estimated to constitute to 1.6% of the total population in 2005. That means in 2005, we had about 2.5 million Christians in Pakistan.
While that number may not seem like much as a percentage, it totals up to a sizable minority – one that is ill-treated in Pakistan. These Christians mostly converted from Hinduism to escape the caste-dominated society before the partition of the subcontinent. But it didn’t help much. The roots of discrimination run deep in our society as well.
Christians in Pakistan have it pretty tough. But Christian domestic workers? Their plight is one that goes unnoticed but needs all the more focus.
We’re all aware of the treatment domestic workers receive by their employers. Anything goes missing, blame the domestic help. Having a bad day? Yell at the maid. It’s despicable, but it’s a lot worse when the element of discrimination is added.
However, to get to the bottom of this, MangoBaaz spoke to Rebecca and Nargis – two Christian domestic workers employed at different households.
Talking about their respective jobs, both Rebecca and Nargis had similar stories to share.
They talked about how their employers kept a separate Muslim cook, stating that they’re “na paak” and should, therefore, stay away from the kitchen. Moreover, they’re always decreed to wash their hands repeatedly, before holding anything other than mops. They’re not allowed to sit on the furniture, so they normally sit on the floor. Whenever something is lost, they are investigated first. The Muslim household help is investigated later. They’re also normally referred to as “chooray“ in addition to other derogatory remarks.
The most shocking aspect was when Nargis stated that she’d been asked to convert repeatedly.
Conversion requires the internalization of a new belief system. It involves a new religious identity or a change from one religious identity to another. How can we possibly force someone to lose their identity?
Rebecca also highlighted that they’re barely allowed to take time off for religious rituals.
While the Muslim help received the appropriate number of days off, the Christian domestic workers had to deal with the bare minimum. This behavior gives rise to alienation, isolation, and resentment. However, Rebecca and Nargis aren’t the only ones with such stories to narrate.
Asma Yaqoob, a Christian domestic worker was burned in Sialkot on April 23rd, 2018, when she refused to convert and marry a Muslim man.
Asma – nicknamed Maria – was proposed to by a Muslim man, Rizwan Gujjar. He was pressurizing her to convert to Islam. Asma turned down his proposal, refusing to renounce Christianity. Furious by Asma’s refusal, Rizwan Gujjar bathed Asma in petrol and set her on fire. 90% of Asma’s body suffered burn injuries, leaving little chance of her survival. Asma’s family was later informed about the incident; she was transported to Mayo Hospital in Lahore as Civil Hospital lacks a specialized burn unit. After struggling for survival for a short time, Asma succumbed to her burn injuries.
And no, we haven’t forgotten about Shazia Masih.
She was a 12-year-old Pakistani Christian who worked as a maid at Advocate Chaudhry Muhammad Naeem’s house. He happened to be a former head of the Lahore Bar Association. The employers murdered her by beating the poor little soul for not working up to the mark. However, they claimed she fell down the stairs. Autopsy reports indicated that she was abused, brutally.
Aren’t these atrocities enough to finally change our behavior towards them?
Knowing what we know now, what can we do to help this situation?
- We could stop referring to them as maids. They’re there to help, not be our slaves. It is primarily our own job to clean our house. You purchase their services for low wages, resulting in free time to pursue other activities. So you owe them massive respect, gratitude and of course money.
- Don’t force them to convert. Accept them for the sake of religious diversity in the state.
- Allow them the appropriate time off for occasions like Easter and Christmas.
- Change your attitude towards them. Give them jobs. Show empathy. Be kind.
- If you want to go the extra mile to make them feel better, give them a bonus on their festivities and occasions.
Somewhere in between the continuous repression and isolation, Christians have lost the sense of belonging to their homeland. They have already been through enough. It’s about time we empathize with their plight and start treating them as our equals.
Cover image via jasontanner.photoshelter.com