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It was midnight in Youhanabad – a neighbourhood of majorly Pakistani Christians in Lahore. Men and women, both young and old, were keeping watch. Some sat on charpoys and wooden benches, while others walked about patrolling the streets.
The songs of prayers intermingled with the thump of the dholak – or drum – through the haunting darkness of downtrodden streets.
The residents of Youhanabad were protecting their men from the police – three weeks after a faction of the Pakistani Taliban, the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, had executed twin blasts, the very state institutions that were supposed to protect them were the ones that they feared.
“We trust you. Believe me, we do. But please, do not photograph us,” the woman singing hymns said to me when I approached her with my camera. Despite seeing me with the neighbourhood’s senior priest – who had vouched for me – they were too afraid to let anyone know about their night watch, or let anyone see their faces in photographs. This was in 2015.
The fear of abandonment
Today, fear and a sense of abandonment by the state resides in the collective consciousness of the Pakistani Christians. While Christians poured on to the streets following the last twin bombings against their community, this time they remained indoors.
The community and several rights activists think that the silence of Christians after last week’s bombings in Lahore’s Gulshan-e-Iqbal park is not only out of fear of militants.
Unlike the recent suicide blast by the Pakistani Taliban, which intended to target Easter celebrations at a park in Lahore, the blasts in Youhanabad last year prompted local Christians to come out of their homes in droves to call for justice. In the heat of the moment, two Muslims were killed.
By the time I visited the neighbourhood in April 2015, more than 150 men and boys had been arbitrarily detained by the police for murder and vandalism.
Families and rights groups did not know about the locations of their loved ones for at least a month and a half after the detentions.
The state’s “picking up” of Christian men from their streets and beds in the middle of the night continued till October 2015. Today, 43 Christians remain in jail on murder charges of two Muslims, according to the lawyers, rights activists and members of the community I spoke with.
On the face of it, arresting and charging a group of men for murder looks legal and reasonable. But, Christians in Pakistan are among some of the poorest and most marginalised populations in the country.
This marginalisation manifests itself most violently through the ill-application of a justice system, and legal redress is tenuous at best.
The widespread detentions during the protests in Youhanabad were not the first experience that Christians had with especially heavy-handed law enforcement.
In 2013, after twin bombings at the All Saints Church in Peshawar which killed at least 80 people, a large number of young Christians agitated in Lahore and Karachi.
Multiple arrests by the Punjab police followed, resulting in a heightened sense of insecurity and vulnerability among Pakistani Christians. Some even applied for asylum abroad, citing state persecution alongside militant violence.
Anger expressed by the community in demonstrations represents its pleas for justice and security.
Protests by the Christian community that were never so destructive as to harm the lives of Muslims, turned aggressive and then subsequently violent in the past few years only.
In addition to becoming victims of militancy, these protests were also consequences of years of abuse faced by the community through blasphemy cases and arson attacks by Muslim protesters on Christian settlements and villages.
Like African and Hispanic Americans in the United States, Christians in Pakistan are victims of an unjust system and structural violence.
Christians are not only “soft targets” for the militancy, but also victims of socioeconomic and political exclusion.
Historically, many Christians are said to be former members of Hindu communities who converted to escape systematic caste oppression in colonial India.
They have since inherited the socioeconomic marginalisation of their former caste, and continue to work as janitorial and domestic workers. Politically, many remain vulnerable to Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws. They are also not fully integrated in the political process in Pakistan.
From the biases in school textbooks to everyday poverty, Christians eke out a living on the edge of our world, the world of a Sunni Islam majority.
This marginalisation of the Christians means protesting against brutal attacks by militants or the insecurity becomes nearly impossible. In fact, the violence against this community indicates that the operation launched by the state against militants in the Punjab province will not make much of a dent in the lives of ordinary Christians.
Tough crackdowns on disempowered Christian people after the protests in the wake of attacks on their community have pushed Pakistani Christians up against the wall. This year, they barely brought out demonstrations after the suicide attacks.
Back in Youhanabad I had met 60-year-old Javed Hidayat, a Christian mechanic. In the aftermath of the protests, the police had raided his home in the middle of the night and taken his son away without an arrest warrant.
When I spoke with him, he told me that the police charged his son not just with murder, but terrorism. In his desperate attempt to reclaim his son, he lost hours and days of work to solely focus on his son’s bail.
Bilqees, his wife, is so sick with grief and depression that she cannot visit their son in prison for the bi-weekly meetings that are permitted. Their other 15-year-old son left school to earn enough money to feed his family at least twice a day.
After the Easter blasts in Lahore’s Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park last week, I thought of Javed. When I dialled his number, his words to me were, “On Easter after the blasts, Bilqees cried for hours. I feel like we are marked by the cruelties and violence inflicted upon us forever, and we will never be able to take off this mark.”
Rabia Mehmood is an independent journalist and researcher based out of Pakistan, with interest in religious persecution, gender and human rights.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.
The city of Delhi has seen it all; from sultanate rule, to dynasties, and to colonial rule. From monarchy to democracy, Delhi has gone through its phases. But, in order to know and explore the nuances of Delhi, you must read these beautiful books.
1. City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi by William Dalrymple
This book was written while Dalrymple was still flirting with his love for the Medieval India. The author writes, "Moreover the city- so I soon discovered- possessed a bottomless seam of stories: tales receding far beyond history, deep into the cavernous chambers of myth and legend," and just like this, Dalrymple takes you in a tour to discover Discover Delhi.
2. Delhi by Heart: Impressions of a Pakistani Traveller by Raza Rumi
This book explores how the author explores his identity as a South Asian Muslim and how his city of Lahore is a mirror image of Delhi. Rumi, in this book, tries to co-relate the past with the present by comparing its festivals, streets, and markets.
3. Delirious Delhi: Inside India's Incredible Capital by DavePrager
This book is quite interesting. The story of this book revolves around the lives of Dave and Jenny who have recently moved to Delhi when their firm began to go down. The city of Delhi in this book is shown through their eyes as they try to make their way in the city that holds together a very large population.
4. The Heart has its Reasons by Krishna Sobti, Translated by Reema Anand, Meenakshi Swami
The original title of this book is "Dil - o - Danish". This book tells the reader about the streets of Old Delhi and almost transport the reader back in the past. This book is basically set in the 1920's, and tells the tale of a man's extramarital affair, his children out of wedlock, black magic, and Chandni Chowk's rich culture of sweets and the perils of being a widow. Interestingly, many have compared the author of this book to Jane Austen.
5. Delhi: A Novel by Khushwant Singh
Who would talk about Delhi and not remember Khushwant Singh? This amazing book is just like a narrative of the author's fulfilled love affair with the city and with a eunuch. The narrator in this book is an aging man who is trying to discover the city. This book is truly a masterpiece, where it takes the readers on the history of Delhi glimpsing at what makes the city what it is– simply beautiful.
There are some of the Indian cities which are older than time. Therefore, we must know which cities are they, and what has been their history!
1. Varanasi (1200 BC–)
Varanasi is one of the oldest cities of India, and has been a center of religious and cultural activity since the Bronze Age. In fact, this city might have been in existence from a very long time, since it finds mention in the Rig Veda. It is believed that the city of Varanasi was thriving for more than 1600 years before the fall of the Roman Empire in Europe. This city is one of the holiest places for Hindus and Jains, and even Lord Buddha gave his very first sermon here in 528 BC. In Hinduism, it is believed that dying in Varanasi brings salvation, which is the reason why the city is always brimming with pilgrims.
2. Ujjain (700/600 BC–)
Ujjain was once considered as one of the most prominent cities in the Middle India. In fact, the name of this city is repeatedly mentioned in the literature of that period, i.e. in the works of stalwarts like Kālidāsa. This city has seen the rise and fall of numerous empires, from the Mauryas to the Avantis, Nandas, and even the Guptas. This city, just like Varanasi, is also considered as one of the holiest cities in India, and hosts one of the officially recognized Kumbh melas, the Ujjain Simhastha Kumbh, in which people across the world take place.
3. Madurai (500 BC–)
Madurai been a major center of culture and trade for more than 2500 years. In fact, the name of this city has been mentioned in the writings of the great traveler, Megasthenes, and has been ruled by several empires from the Pandyas and the Cholas to the Karnata, and finally the British. Interestingly, ‘'Koodal,' was one of its ancient name which means 'a congregation of learned men'. There is no doubt that Madurai was an epicenter of scholars and religious teachers in the southern part of India.
4. Thanjavur (300 BC–)
Thanjavur was formerly known as Tanjore. This city is pretty famous for its Tanjore style of painting, which is a traditional style that is characterised by the use of gold foil, religious imagery, and simple compositions. This city is best known for being the home of the Great Living Chola Temples, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Till date, people across the world visit this place in order to experience its rich history and heritage.
By- Digital Hub
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Also read: Gemstones: Fashion Statements
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