Impunity reigns in Pakistan for slavery and forced conversion to Islam

politics | Aug 21, 2011 | By Thekla Hritz

A Christian family consisting of 26 persons, including women and children, was enslaved in Pakistan for over 30 years. Forced to work on a farm in the Punjab region belonging to a wealthy Muslim landowner, the extended family only recently managed to regain freedom. Reduced to servitude for three decades, the family members escaped their captor through the intervention of the Catholic bishop of Bahawalpur. Meanwhile the rape and abduction of Christian girls, forced to marry Muslim men and forcibly converted to Islam, continues. The latest incident took place at Quetta: a young girl, after two years of captivity, managed to escape and is now safe at an undisclosed location but faces death threats.

About 30 years ago Zulfiquar Masih, a Christian from Rahim Yar Khan, signed a loan to raise money for his daughter’s wedding. The interest rate rocketed to nearly 500 percent, thus making it impossible to pay off the debt. Masih's family was then kept confined in a private jail and forced to work for Basharat Ali Gulo, a Muslim farmer and businessman. Enslaved for three decades, it was when a Catholic priest Fr. Samuel Rafael filed a complaint against Basharat Ali at the High Court. It was then that the judges ordered the release of the family, until then held in forced labor.
Fr. Rafael told AsiaNews that "thousands of workers are kept in conditions of slavery across Pakistan today." In Sindh province, Hindus are kept in slavery for generations by a feudalistic system. Said Fr. Rafael, "We condemn such acts and will fight for the Christians in slavery. We have raised the matter to the concerned authorities. It is a clear violation of human rights."

Meanwhile, a 27 year old Catholic student, Arifa Alfred, segregated for two years by a Muslim, managed to escape with her family's help and is now in hiding. She had been lured by two erstwhile acquaintances, who abducted her. She was then forced to marry against her will and convert to Islam.

Arifa, a college student, from Nawa Killi, a city near the border with Afghanistan, had lived in conditions of near-slavery, locked in the house and deprived of freedom of movement and worship, despite having repeatedly reaffirmed her Christian faith. Arifa was repeatedly beaten and subjected to physical and psychological torture. It was only when her ostensible husband, Amjad, neglected to lock a door that she was able to escape and go to hospital for treatment of her wound. Despite her family's complaint, local police was unwilling to intervene. To the contrary, the police inspector expressed his satisfaction with Arifa’s conversion to Islam and invited the girl to return to her kidnapper.


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