SWAT: Despite the constitutional guarantees, a common Christian citizen has no access to the basic human rights in Pakistan.

They have marginal access to education, health and jobs; their socio-economic condition is miserable and they are living below the poverty line. Not only in Swat but also across the country, Christians are widely doing cleaning and sweeping jobs.

A 45-year-old, public toilet owner, Nazeer Masih, said, “Our community was ignored in Pakistan, especially in Swat. Nobody allows us to work at his shop, office, home and organization, which compels us to do this job.”

Answering a question, Nazir Masih said, “Many Christian youngsters who are well educated, some of them have done masters in arts, but the government has failed to provide jobs to them. Even class-IV job opportunities are not provided to us. In such circumstances, we are left with no other choice but to do this kind of job,” he added.

Surprisingly, there are around 113 Christian families living in Swat, but not a single church is available for their worship.

Previously, there was a big hall in Excelsior College allocated for Christian community where they established a church for religious gatherings, but a school as well as the church was blown up by Taliban.

Hameed Jacob, a government servant, said, “Not only Swat but also Swabi is amongst the districts where there is no church for Christian community.”

He claimed former Chief Minister Ameer Haider Khan Hoti’s government had ordered allotment of 10-marla plot for a church in Swabi, but bureaucrats and religious scholars rejected the proposal for unknown reasons, which was an evidence of discrimination.

He further went on saying that in Balochistan and Sindh, 5 percent employment quota for minorities was allocated whereas it was only 3 percent in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

“We urge the Centre and the provincial government to enhance it up to 5 percent like other provinces,” he said.

Answering a question, he said, “Currently, around 0.5 to 0.6 million Christians are living in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but we register our children’s data in the church and not with the government authorities due to which an accurate data is not confirmed.|

Another Christian, Sabir Masih, said, “We have hired a room for our religious gatherings near Circuit House, Mingora, where every Sunday our community gathers to perform our religious activities.”

He said Christian community was facing problems like unavailability of homes, churches and others, but none of the government officials was solving them. “Many NGOs approached us, claiming they are working for minorities’ rights. They came, filled documents, went away and we never saw them again,” he said.

“During election campaigns, many candidates knocked at our doors. They made promises about our rights, but we never saw them after their election. We request the government to provide us with jobs as per our allocated quota. If they do so, our miseries may decrease. Our community has no unity. If we unite, we will be in a position to raise voice against the minority rights’ violations,” he said.

According to statistics, the total number of Christian community in Pakistan, estimated in 2005, was 2.5 million – 1.6 percent of the total population. It is pertinent to mention here that in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Peshawar and Mardan are the main districts where Christians are found in a large number. According to the provincial finance department’s website, Christians were 0.3 percent as 1981.

According to Christian community’s official website, their total number in KP is 42,452, but KP Minister for Minorities Dr Sardar Soran Singh said there are around 200,000 Christians of whom 70,000 live in Peshawar city.

20-year-old Ayaz Masih said, “The basic problem being faced by our community in Swat is that there is no graveyard and church for us. We have our own religion and culture.”

He said, “The government graveyard at Gumbat Meira in Mingora was allotted to us, but we can’t use it because the land is adjacent to a runnel.” He said, “I earn Rs 2,000 per day by running public toilets and pay Rs 25,000 rent of the place, so I cannot survive in this occupation. Our own community president and general secretary are not raising our demands on any platform, so we can’t expect anything from them. If the government provides us with land, we will build our homes, graveyards and churches on our own,” he added.

When contacted, Minister for Minorities and Special Assistant to Chief Minister for Minority Affairs Dr Sardar Soran Singh, he said, “It is responsibility of two elected Christians MPAs who never raised voice in the provincial assembly about Christian community’s rights. He added Christians from Swat didn’t approach me. I have given Rs 5 million to Haripur and Rs 2 million to Malakand churches. In addition, I have also approved renovation and establishment of new churches at Kohat, Peshawar, Nowshera, Hangu, Abbottabad and Dera Ismail Khan which are almost in last stages of completion and I am going to inaugurate some of them next week,” he said.

In the past, several Christians became ministers, senators and MPAs, but they failed to build churches and graveyards in Swat, he added.

“As a minority minister, I made efforts to raise employment quota from 0.3 to 3 percent which is a big achievement,” he claimed, and added last month on the occasion of Christmas, the provincial government allocated funds to celebrate Christmas for the community.

Answering a question, he said, “Swat Christian community should have applied for a separate land and a no objection certificate (NOC) from the federal government. I will provide funds for its construction.”

Dr Sardar Soran Singh said, “I have come to know from Sikh community that Christians have severe problems of a graveyard at Swat, but not a single Christian approached me in this regard. I have started efforts to resolve the issue and will have a meeting with Chief Minister Pervaz Khattak very soon,” he added.

According to the data collected from Tehsil Municipal Committee Mingora, there are 160 sweepers working there of whom only three are Christians while there are only nine Christians of 10 in Swat University. Most of the Christians are working in public toilets at Swat.

Another Christian, Samson, 35, said he had written an application to the senior civil judge for allotment of a separate piece of land for graveyard. “I contacted our local parliamentarians about a separate colony for Christian community, but didn’t receive a positive response from them.”

He alleged the minority minister was spending billions of rupees on Sikh community in Buner and other districts, but failed to support Christians in a true spirit.

Religious scholar Maulana Bakhtmand Zeeb said, “The Quran teaches us five fundamental rights for human beings. Everyone has rights to a proper life, education, health, property and respect while an Islamic society is based on justice, equality, social security and religious freedom.”