01/07/2018 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Discrimination on religious grounds is very common in Pakistan. Christians and other minorities face discrimination in many facets throughout the country. Educational institutions are no exception. This has caused discrimination against both Christian students and teachers in Pakistan’s schools to become almost common practice.
Recently, in October 2018, a Christian 4th grade student named Sharjeel Masih was beaten and suspended from his government primary school in the Attock District for touching the school’s water tap. According to the headmistress, Sharjeel had fouled the school’s tap water by being a Christian and merely touching it.
“I was just trying to turn off a running tap when the teacher grabbed me, called me churha (a derogatory term used for Christians) and asked why I had touched the tap and made it filthy. ‘This tap is not from the country of your mother,’ she said before abusing me. I had to sit outside the school for five hours,” Sharjeel told UCA News in an interview.
Following the assault, Sharjeel was suspended from school.
The next day, Sharjeel and his mother returned to the school to apologize for any mistake he had committed. “She [Nusrat Shaheen] asked me to grab her feet for the mistake of my son and threatened that her brother, a police officer, would sell my younger daughter to a brothel,” Farzana Ejaz, Sharjeel’s mother, told UCA News.
The incident was reported to Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Human Rights, Shireen Mazari, who took immediate action and had Nusrat Shaheen suspended. Mazari also tweeted that the case involved “horrific discrimination” against a child and that “even one such case is one too many.”
Later, in November 2018, Ishrat Saba, a young Christian teacher, was sexually harassed and beaten by her Muslim headmaster at a government school in Phool Nagar, located in the Kasur District. This incident began when Saba was called to her headmaster’s office for a new job assignment. When she arrived, however, her headmaster forced her to watch a lewd video on his mobile phone.
Saba shouted at him and submitted a complaint against the headmaster to the authorities. Shortly thereafter, Saba was threatened and beaten by her headmaster who sought to pressure her into withdrawing the complaint.
“Discrimination against both Christian students and teachers in Pakistan’s schools [has] become almost common practice.”
In past years, Christians have not fared much better.
In 2017, two Christian students were killed because of their Christian faith at educational institutions. In October 2017, Arsalan Masih, a 16-year-old, died after a brutal assault by police at a tutoring center in Sheikhupura. Arsalan had reportedly refused to convert to Islam when one of the policemen’s sons offered him incentive to convert. In August 2017, Sharoon Masih, another Christian, was beaten to death by a Muslim classmate in the Vehari District after he accidently broke his classmate’s mobile phone.
In another incident in November 2015, an 8-year-old Christian girl was locked up in a school bathroom for three hours. The Christian’s supposed crime? Using the Muslims’ bathroom. The headmistress of the school reportedly shouted, “How dare you use the same toilet as Muslim girls!”
In an interview with International Christian Concern (ICC), Maham, the mother of a 10-year-old Christian student, said that her daughter was continuously being pressured by her Muslim teacher to convert to Islam. According to Maham, the teacher would daily criticize Christianity and glorified Islam. “Often his attitude was very unethical towards my daughter,” Maham said. “Therefore, we had to move our daughter to another school.”
“We need to change the social behaviors of Muslims,” Nabila Nadeem, a Christian teacher with 20 years of experience, explained. “The law and police have not produced the expected results. Lessons for social and religious harmony should be conducted.”
“The school textbooks are also based in hatred and the glorification of a single religion,” Nadeem continued. “These must be replaced with books that promote the dignity of every individual.”
In a recent speech, Sahibzada Noorul Haq Qadri, the Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony in Pakistan called for concerted efforts to be made to promote interfaith harmony. He claimed that such measures were imperative to protect the basic rights of all citizens. Hopefully Qadri will start his campaign for greater interfaith harmony within Pakistan’s educational institutions.