Christian leaders say increasing cases of rape and forced conversion have spread insecurity among the marginalized community
Rani Bibi was barred from opening the coffin to see the faces of her daughters, slaughtered by Muslim men and buried last week.
Wailing women gathered around trying to comfort her at the Jan. 7 funeral in Makhan Colony, home to more than 500 Christians, in Lahore.
“Their faces were beyond recognition. I couldn’t see them for the last time. In dreams I see them agonizing in pain. I can’t tolerate this,” Bibi told UCA News.
The Christian widow referred to Abida, 23, and her sister Sajida, 25, who disappeared on Nov. 26 while shopping together. On Dec. 11, police found the body of Sajida with her throat slit in a sewerage tunnel near the medicine factory where she worked. On Jan. 4, Abida’s body was found floating down another drain. Both had been handcuffed and strangled.
Police arrested three suspects, including two identified as Naeem and Mumtaz, who worked at the same factory as Sajida. In a press conference, police deputy inspector general Shariq Jamal claimed that the men were involved with the sisters.
“They have confessed to killing the two sisters because they were blackmailing them on the basis of some obscene videos. The sisters had taken some money from them and had been demanding more. They had a relationship which turned sour. We have recovered a sharp paper cutter,” he said.
Police shared the confessions of the accused at a session court in Lahore during the Jan. 11 hearing. The victims’ family accuse those arrested of harassing the sisters and murdering them after they were rejected.
Bibi accuses them of forcing her daughters to accept Islam and marry them. “Sajida had left her job at the factory two weeks before her disappearance. Their husbands are sanitary workers,” she said.
Punjab chief minister Sardar Usman Buzdar on Jan. 6 sought a probe report from the inspector general of police. Expressing grief and sorrow to the family, he assured them of justice at any cost and promised that the accused will be given strict punishment as per the law.
According to the Legal Evangelical Association Development, an advocacy group providing legal aid to persecuted minorities, 28 Christian girls were victims of abduction, torture, sexual harassment, rape, forced conversions and forced marriages in Pakistan between November 2018 and June 2019.
Last month 12-year-old Christian Komal Gulzar was raped during an attempted kidnapping in Sheikhupura district of Punjab province. Three men attacked her family with a gun while they traveled on Dec. 28 to attend a wedding in a nearby village.
Her relatives were tied up while Komal was dragged to a nearby field. Police arrested three brothers following confirmation of DNA from Punjab Forensic Science Agency.
Attacks create insecurity
Christian religious and political leaders say increasing cases of rape and conversion have spread insecurity among a community challenged by poverty and religious extremism.
According to Dominican Father James Channan, regional coordinator of United Religions Initiative Pakistan, religious minorities are living in difficult circumstances.
“We are worried and in pain. Most of the victims are Christian girls who work in factories or as maids. This is a religious and social issue. A combined effort by all Christian denominations and churches and a national consultation is needed to address killings and forced conversions. Pakistani Christians overseas should highlight these issues,” he said.
National Lobbying Delegation member Khalid Shehzad visited the murdered Lahore sisters’ family on Jan. 9.
“The sisters belong to a poor Christian family and the culprits are from a rich Muslim family. They will be released soon, the way it has always been happening. We are being accused of defaming Pakistan. Does telling the truth mean defamation? There is a planned genocide of Christians,” he said.
Nasir Saeed, director of the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement UK, a Christian charity dedicated to helping persecuted Christians in Pakistan, also despairs of the family finding justice.
“Getting justice in Pakistan is a very expensive and lengthy process and the poor cannot afford it, while it is much harder when the perpetrator is Muslim and the victim is Christian because religion does play its role in all walks of life in Pakistan,” he said on Jan. 11.
“The killing of Abida and Sajida in such a merciless way is not an isolated case, but the killing, rape and forced conversion of Christian girls has become an everyday matter and the government has denied this and therefore is doing nothing to stop the ongoing persecution of Christians.
“Unfortunately, such cases happen very often in the country, and nobody pays any attention — even the national media — as Christians are considered inferior and their lives worthless.”