Christian Minority Targeted After Muslim Girl Elopes With Christian Man in Pakistan

September 4, 2013 by Open Doors in General

Christian Minority Targeted After Muslim Girl Elopes With Christian Man in Pakistan

Last month marked the fourth anniversary of one of the worst outbreaks of violence against Pakistan’s minority Christian community in the country’s recent past, when seven Christians were burned to death in Gojra, while more than 100 houses were looted, ransacked and then set on fire.

Four years later, the situation remains bleak. In July, World Watch Monitor reported that a Christian in Gojra was convicted of committing blasphemy, while a couple was arrested for sending blasphemous text messages. Another Christian was shot dead in a nearby town. In this climate of sectarian violence, a 20-year-old Christian man and a 17-year-old Muslim woman eloped. While a relatively common occurrence in Egypt today, the elopement has resulted in a charge of gang rape, as well as the loss of livelihood for 40 Christian families.

On the evening of July 27, Umair Masih, 20, eloped with his girlfriend Nadia Shabir, 17, both were residents of the village of Chak which consists of about 40 Christian families and 500 Muslim families.

In countries such as Pakistan where arranged marriages are still usually the norm among rural communities, young couples often leave home together, sometimes on a whim, sometimes in a determined attempt to be allowed to have their affection for each other taken seriously by their families, and sometimes as an act of desperation.

In many such elopements, local communities, and especially close family members, manage to find the couple and bring them back to their families. Sometimes they are punished. It is always a scandal within the village, but the aftermath is usually confined to the family relationships of those directly involved.

In this incident, however, dozens of locals came out onto the road and resorted to firing guns into the air soon after they found the couple was missing. They first searched for them in the fields and then came to the houses of the Christians. The group forcibly entered their houses and told the Christians that they would take their all young women along with them to humiliate them. The mob also threatened to set their houses on fire and banish them all from the village.

The mob then decided to take along Masih’s three sisters, Saba, Chanda and Mariam, and their mother Shehnaz Bibi, and to publicly humiliate them. Finally, they settled on taking only Saba and Chanda along with them.

“They hit the door with the butts of their guns and forcibly entered in the house. They started beating my father and called us names,” 18-year-old Saba told World Watch Monitor. Then they dragged Saba and Chanda out of the house and took them to a farmhouse.

“Dozens of men were present there. They hurled abuse at us but when some men started indecently touching us, a few of the elderly men objected to it, so they refrained from sexually assaulting us,” added 16-year-old Chanda to our reporter. “We remained tied there until the next day without food and water,” she said.

After the couple’s elopement, relations between the Christians and the Muslim majority became tense.
The next day, a village arbitrary council (panchayyat) decided Saba and Chanda would be returned to the family, in exchange Nadia who would return to her father. The council also decided that Umair Masih would no longer live in the village. Masih’s father, Tufail Masih, agreed to all these conditions.

However, contrary to their agreement with the council, the Muslim group filed a writ petition in the court alleging that Umair Masih and four of his family members had forcibly abducted Nadia and gang raped her. Apart from this legal action, they threatened to “spill Christians’ blood” in the village to avenge the “insult” inflicted on them by Nadia’s elopement.

Considering the history of communal strife in their area, the Christians then filed a writ petition requesting an order for Saddar Police Station to register a case against the Muslim group for threatening to kill them. The judge issued an order the same day, calling the police to register a case against the group.

Since then, the police have been trying to strike a compromise between the Christians and the Muslim group, said Munir Masih Gill, a social activist of the village. He said that even if the legal matter was to be resolved, the devastating social boycott would continue, explaining that almost all the Christians, poor and illiterate, are hired by the Muslim landlords to work in their fields on a daily wage. These landlords are now refusing to hire them. They are also facing a shortage of food because of the boycott, he said.

Father, you have called Your church to remain in the world, in the midst of all the conflict, but You have promised never to leave or forsake us. You sent the Holy Spirit to indwell us, to equip us to faithfully stand as Your people, as testimonies to Your righteous presence, before a world that hates You. We pray today for the Christians in this village as they face this trial. Strengthen them to remain faithful; preserve their lives; provide the food and shelter they need to survive. And may everyone in the village know that You have done it, drawing many to worship You, the one true and living God. In the name of Jesus who is present with us in the midst of our trials, Amen.

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