A Christian headmaster had to withdraw a case against four men who he said beat him up because of his faith after he declined to lie for them. The incident took place at a village in Kasur, about 50 kilometers from Lahore, where Christians are still treated as untouchable due to their Dalit origins.
Headmaster Siddiq Azam was allegedly beaten by coworkers Muhammad Javed, Rana Khalid and Muhammad Asif and the latter’s brother Muhammad Kashif on October 5. He said he had no choice but to withdraw the case after the district education officer and others urged him not to pursue it.
Siddiq heads an education center that oversees eight primary schools – including the one where Javed is headmaster – and is known for his efforts to educate the Christian community in the area. His student, Arsalan Nayamat, stood first in the matriculation exams in Phoolnagar city this year.
Some barbers decline to serve Christians
“We are facing a number of challenges,” he said. “Hatred against Christians – especially in terms of untouchability – remains very high in the area. If you go to the local tea stall and tell them you are Christian, they will make you pick up your own cup from the separate crockery for Christians, wash it yourself, and then wash it again before putting it back.” In some areas in the city, barbers decline to serve Christians because they say their tools will become unclean.
Because most of Pakistani Christians trace their origin in a Dalit caste, abhorred for its assigned occupation of sweeping and scavenging in the Indian caste system, there is still discrimination against Christians and an attempt to keep them in that occupation.
In September, an army monitoring cell for schools had found out that Muhammad Javed, who is the headmaster of Dhilwan Primary School, was absent without prior leave, and therefore suspended him. “The monitoring team consists of retired army personnel who visit every school in the district without prior notice to see if teachers are present,” Siddiq said. “In recent years, teachers mark their attendance when they return from unauthorized absence, especially in the rural areas.”
“On October 1, Javed came to my office and forced me to write on the school letterhead that he was on duty, so he could be restored. I refused to issue the letter because he was actually absent when the monitoring team was visiting the school,” Siddiq alleged. Javed called him a Chuhra (a pejorative term for Christians) and said a Christian should not be the head of the center.
“Five days later, when I came to my office after the morning assembly at around 7:45am, the four men were waiting for me,” he said. “They beat me up with sticks, and punched and kicked me.”
Other teachers and staff members heard them and came to the room to rescue Siddiq. The police were called and took the attackers in custody. “When I was handing them over to the police, in the presence of several staff members, I told the Phoolnagar city stationhouse officer Hajji Aziz to examine that nobody had tortured them before they were arrested.”
Siddiq was taken to hospital where he almost lost his left eye. “But the police released the attackers only four hours later, because of political pressure,” he alleged.
When he was discharged from Jinnah Hospital two days later, he went straight to the police station. “Hajji Aziz told me that the medical examination of the four men showed that they were attacked and injured, so if he would lodge a case, it would be against me as well,” Siddiq said.
“Both the parties have medico-legal documents proving similar injuries,” the police officer told me. He said there was no need for a case because a written agreement of compromise had been submitted to the police station. “The matter is amicably resolved,” he said.
Aziz said the district education officer in Kasur had told the police that the matter would be settled by the Education Department internally. “The issue arose over delivery of postage related to the official work after which both of them descended to physical fight,” according to Hajji Aziz.
But Siddiq believes the four men who attacked him were being supported by a former member National Assembly member who is also related to a top leader of the ruling party. “The district education officer requested me not to pursue the case because of political pressure.” He said he was also apprehensive, because he feared “reprisal”.