75 years back, at the time of the partition when there was bloodshed in the name of homeland, nation, and religion, not all people were arsonists. Among them were those from different religions, creeds and classes who extinguished the fires of violence and hatred. However, after independence, historians conveniently ignored the good works of individuals of other religions, as well as the sacrifices of minorities once Pakistan – a nation for minorities – came into being.
The partition of the Subcontinent into two separate states, Pakistan and India, led to a large displacement of people in both countries. The condition of Peace was terribly distorted. Across the Indian Subcontinent, communities that had coexisted for almost a millennium attacked each other in a terrifying outbreak of sectarian violence, with Hindus and Sikhs on one side and Muslims on the other: a mutual slaughter as unexpected as it was unprecedented. Muslims drove Hindus out of their homes and seized their properties, while the same was being done to Muslims in India. Their shops were robbed and children were kidnapped. The property was broken and destroyed. The families were scattered. Women were sexually abused and burned alive on both sides. Men were killed in a very brutal manner. Mobs attacked migrant caravans and the bloodshed of innocent people painted the borders. It was a time when the Christian community went above and beyond to help suffering people. The Christian community was small but educated, and held the key positions in the army, civil service, banks, police, telegraph, medical, postal and press departments. They stayed in Pakistan and served at their duties with peace and loyalty.
The Christian women in particular risked their lives and sacrificed their comfort, to serve the people and children in need, regardless of their religion or creed. These women belonging to different fields including, education, nursing, missionaries, etc., contributed wholeheartedly to the protection and wellbeing of innocent lives. Archbishop Lawrence J. Saldanha recollects the services of the Christian community. He goes on to mention the meritorious services of Christian nurses in the field of nursing from 1947 onwards, in the field of education and social projects. He particularly cites the case of “The Franciscan Sisters of Mary who were in a hospital in Baramula, Kashmir provided shelter to 880 people, both Hindu and Muslims during pre-partition riots.” Also, he notes how the Sisters of Charity took care of the Sikh girls who were attacked and saved by Fr. Fidentian Vanden. They not only educated the girls, but brought them up with compassion and later they were happily married.
The education sector is indebted to the missionaries for giving quality education to the new members of the young nation. However, the majority of contemporary educational institutions have narrowed down opportunities for minority students
Similarly, Christian women continue to promote humanitarianism over religion: their struggles and outcomes are oriented along humanitarian grounds. A few known ones include Dr. Ruth Pfau, a German missionary who dedicated her life to leprosy patients in Pakistan. Ms. Catherine Nicol is a Scottish missionary and educationist who dedicated more than 40 years of her life to Pakistan and continues to make selfless efforts for the education and well-being of young girls. Sr. Naseem George makes significant contributions in the field of human rights and particularly women’s rights. In addition to these, a Hindu woman Ms. Veeru Kohli, a human rights activist, stood for freedom from slavery after being a victim of bondage and physical abuse. Likewise, there are several unnoticed names, contributions, and sacrifices of the women from minority backgrounds who stand as an example for their services to humanity and are spending their lives in Pakistan serving the people. Further, there are many episodes that bring to light the patriotic spirit of the minority community and their loyalty and valuable role in the development of the nation.
Despite the selfless contributions of the minorities to their homeland, not only do their efforts remain unappreciated by the government and society, but they also suffer one of the heaviest burdens of all the marginalised groups in Pakistan. They are the unfortunate victims of both a male-dominated society and religious extremist forces of the country. Stories of violations of their fundamental rights abound, but most of them go unnoticed. Yet, those that are documented reveal a distinct pattern of discrimination and violence they experience, in addition to that of the ordinary Pakistani woman. Further, the term ‘double jeopardy’ describes the disadvantage and imbalance of chances for women in general. Nevertheless, the prejudice and exclusion experienced by minority women merit the term ‘quadruple jeopardy.’
The physical and psychological damage caused by experiencing a regular pattern of discrimination, violation and abuse by minority women in Pakistan is haunting. Uncontrolled religious extremism is shrinking spaces open to women of minority backgrounds in the education sector, job market and in the social setting of the country, for which once their ancestors sacrificed their life and comfort. The education sector is indebted to the missionaries for giving quality education to the new members of the young nation, however, the majority of contemporary educational institutions have narrowed down opportunities for minority students. The professions (nursing etc) that should be an example and taught compassion and empathy by the missionary nurses now hunt down minority nurses on the basis of false blasphemy accusations, using against them physical abuse and mental torture. Discrimination in the job sector remains evident even in the very advertisements that mention the low-grade jobs such as sanitary and janitorial workers, etc. – vacancies to be applied for by minorities.
The increasingly troubling issues of abduction, forced conversion and forced marriages of minority girls and women, specifically Christian and Hindu girls and women, add to the multiple challenges and horrors for women and girls of minority backgrounds. Every year, a countable number of such cases are reported while numerous cases of sexual abuse, kidnapping, forced conversion and forced marriages simply go unreported. The National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) publishes its annual report, the Human Rights Monitor (HRM), on the situation of minorities in Pakistan. This report records the cases of social discrimination, blasphemy, violence against women, and land grabbing.
As is frequently read and heard, women play a huge role in the making of a nation, and women are the backbone of the nation. The exclusion of one segment of women and such treatment with them leaves a question for the pillars of the state that fail to provide protection and the promised fundamental rights to minority women. These repeated episodes of cruelty, mob attacks, bloodshed and sexual abuse reflect the chaos that was experienced 75 years ago at the time of Partition – a storm that is once again hindering the nation’s peace, separating families and dividing people.