“O righteous God, who searches minds and hearts, bring to an end the violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure.”
Any person with an iota of humanity would be shocked and grieved beyond limits. A Protestant NGO, Sharing Life Ministry Life (SLMP), reported the case of Shazia Bashir, 12, who was employed for the past eight months as a domestic worker in the household of Chaudhry Muhammad Naeem, a lawyer and former president of the Lahore Bar Association for an agreed salary (Rs 1,000 or about US$ 12 per month) which she was regularly denied, rather she was the victim of physical, psychological and sexual abuse during her employment there. Local Christians say that during that period the girl was the victim of constant harassment, and that she was raped and tortured before she was killed. SLMP chief coordinator Sohail Johnson said the girl worked under constant stress and experienced emotional and psychological trauma. According to Sohail Johnson her body showed signs of torture with at least 12 marks of injury. Shazia “would get insults whenever she raised the subject of payment,” the Christian activist said.
Three days before her death, her employer tortured her, he noted. Afterwards, he tried to have her treated at his home without informing the parents of her health situation. In the end, the medical care she did get proved inadequate and she had to go to Lahore’s Meo Hospital. “Shazia’s parents were not allowed to meet her. They did not know what she was going through,” said Razia Bibi, the girl’s 44-year-old uncle. Shazia died from her injuries. “Shazia was admitted to the hospital with a broken jaw,” he said.
Initially, Chaudhry Muhammad Naeem’s family tried to pay off Shazia’s parents with Rs 20,000 (US$ 250) to stop them from filing a case against them. Eventually they fled, but were arrested yesterday under pressure from the federal government. On Saturday, Christians demonstrated in front of the Punjab Provincial Assembly. The Lahore Bar Association has instead sided with the powerful Muslim lawyer.
There is nothing about this story that is new or surprising. Domestic servants of all ages and both genders suffer abuse, poor or no payment at the hands of their employers. Young children, working or not with no supervision are often subject to abuse. Minorities are treated in Pakistan as if they shouldn’t exist and are unwelcome citizens. Also, workers from minorities are subjected to discrimination because they are different. I can recall two personal incidents which will show the bahaviour of majority Pakistanis towards anyone who is different. I was interviewing eyewitnesses outside Liaqut Bagh in Rawalpindi who were present at the time of Banazir Bhutto’s assassination. PPP workers in Rawalpindi were protesting over how the crime scene was washed soon after the assassination. A Christian Public worker came and said, “I was one of the washers after the assassination, I am a Christian, Christmas is approaching, someone please let us speak and listen to our problems.” Before I could even react to him, the entire crowd reacted in revulsion and said, “You and your Christmas, get away from here where you belong”. The crowd then pushed him to the other side of the street and he left the premises. Similarly, some six years ago an African customer came to National Bank of Pakistan, F-10 Branch in Islamabad, wearing his traditional dress. He was mocked and put down because of his colour, nationality and dress. He stood up and started protesting by saying “You cannot treat me like this, I am a person, I am a person!” I then took the decision to personally attend the customer; I showed him to his car and apologized for my colleagues’ behaviour. He said to me before entering his car, “I used to think all Pakistanis were bad people, but after meeting you I have come to the conclusion that there are good people here as well.” I was not satisfied, I went to the manager and told her what happened and that no future incidence like this should happen again. The manager told me that I was making a big deal out of nothing and such incidents were “common”.
And then the self-righteous and self-reliant Pakistanis protest over how they are treated abroad. They must put their house in order first. As a result of this discriminatory and suspicious behaviour most Pakistanis exhibit in the world, the ones who have no prejudice are caught amongst the black sheep, and are treated like people with suspicious mentalities. There is no solution to this unless the Muslim majority in Pakistani fully acknowledges and respects its minorities. The evil and menace of racism, discrimination due to difference, supporting the rich and powerful, patronage, and worshipping the rising sun must immediately end in Pakistan. How is so much possible and can this be achieved? The answer is, yes. How? Pakistanis truly live like a Muslim Nation. The guidelines are very clearly laid out, it is only a question of whether Pakistanis want to be a true Muslim Nation or not? Pakistan’s greatest film star Waheed Murad’s mother Shireen Bano was a Christian before she converted to Islam. Waheed Murad was asked if Pakistanis can become the nation Iqbal and the Quaid dreamt of, and he gave an excellent answer worth quoting: “Humain chaddar say barh kar paon nahin phailanay chahyie. Humaray log abhi musalman bannay kay liye bilkul tayar nahin”. “We should not extend ourselves; our people are not the least bit ready to become Muslims.”
Self-reform, being what we only show in labels and names is the need of the day. Another way Shazia’s death will not go in vain if the victims of physical, psychological and sexual abuse are understood, and an infrastructure is built in the country to not only aide and assist them but bring criminal prosecution against the persons who commit abuse. Also, taboos related to physical, psychological and sexual abuse should be addressed and victims should not be discriminated and treated as misfits who don’t deserve to live in civil society. For such victims their abuse is like a life sentence from which they can never come out from. Physical abuse is considered common, causing temporary damage and that scars eventually heal. Psychological abuse is seriously misunderstood as the field of psychology is related to a person being disturbed or a person gone mad. As far as sexual abuse is concerned, no society in the world has ever understood it; it is the most taboo subject where people are seriously confused. There is a possibility that any person facing social problems, or a problem with intimacy, relationships or marriage could have suffered from sexual abuse. Such a person should be more included and understood and his or her family and friends should help him or her fight his or her demons. If our society has such a collective approach then we will become popular in the world for all the right reasons rather than the wrong reasons. May God bless Shazia, the pure and sweet angel, and I dedicate the following proverb to her and to the aftermath of her death.
“Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the LORD will take up their case and will plunder those who plunder them.”