Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Never Ending Suffering of Poor Christian Workers in Pakistan

A shocking case of one Christian couple

By Ashfaq Fateh
Special to ASSIST News Service

TOBA TEK SINGH, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- As they face various forms of exploitation from their Muslim bosses, poor Christians in Pakistan are among the most vulnerable sections of our society.

A boy aged 10 years is working in a cement block factory and has blocks on his head(Photo:
Some can only get work if they convert to Islam, while others who even get employment, get terrible wages, long work hours and no time for recreation.

A large number of these lowly Christian laborers work in the back-breaking brick kiln industry, as well as in farming, as domestic servants and also sanitary workers.

To make matters worse, many find themselves trapped in a severe form of bonded labor, which starts off with a boss giving them an advance to feed his/her family.

Working in a brick-making factory, a cement block factory, or with a farmer, means that the whole family is then bound to work and this includes the old, adults, children and sometimes even infants.

They become ensnared in the vicious circle of advances and as most of the Christian workers are illiterate, the owners always increase the advances despite the low pay. These underprivileged people are forced to work under these conditions to just survive.

Even toddlers are forced to work in Pakistan's brick kiln factories
The workers take "advances" to fill the immediate needs of their family and then start to work with their owners. However, this is soon followed by physical torture, irregular and lack of fixed payments, long working hours and the exploitation of women and children, as well as no health care and education for their children.
Some of the brick kiln workers even sold their kidneys for the payment of so called "advances" to their kiln employers.

The following story is that of Nadeem Shahzad and his family and will give an idea of how poor Christian workers face never-ending suffering, while the state and society stands by and is silent about this shocking state of affairs.

So, we at ANS Pakistan decided to cover the story of this couple:
Nadeem Shahzad and his wife Salamit Bibi (Photo: Ahsan Sadaqat, ANS Pakistan)
Nadeem Shahzad was born on July 3, 1987, in a village in Toba Tek Singh, a district in the Punjab province of Pakistan. His father, Boota Masih, was a poor worker and had no resources to send his children to school. Nadeem helped his father in farming and he married Salamity Bibi (Salamity means, "Harmony and Peace") in 2002.

Nadeem and Salamity had to start their new life so they decided to work together in a brick-making factory. A local Muslim owned the factory in the same village where they were living and gave them the equivalent of $180.00 USD as an advance and also promised to pay them government's fixed wages.

When they started work, Salamity and Nadeem told ANS Pakistan that, despite the heavy load of work at the brick-making factory, they were never paid the wages owner agreed. They said that he did not pay even half of the wages. (The government of Pakistan has fixed a wage of the equivalent of $6.00 USD per thousand bricks.) They said for years they were only paid $2.00 USD for this back-breaking work.

Nadeem told ANS, "The wages paid to us were not enough to even eat twice a day. However, we had no option but to do this work. God has blessed us with three sons. When my elder son, Akash, turned four-years-old, Salamity and I decided to talk to owner of factory about increasing the wages as we wanted to send our son to school. The owner became furious at the request and asked us to return his advance and leave the work."
Now out of employment, they were able to secure work for a Muslim on his 50-acre farm.
Tariq Mehmood a human rights activist
with the couple 
(Photo: Ahsan Sadaqat, ANS Pakistan)
Salamity told ANS that her husband was told by the farmer that, after one year, he would give them three tons of wheat. "He also said that he would be responsible for health and education of my three children. Akash, 6, Itifaq, 4, and Photheol, aged 2.

"Alas! Our dream to send our children to school remained a dream," she went on. "The landlord held my children hostage and asked me to work in his home and in the fields. I was used to clean clothes and work in his big house from dawn till evening. My children and I were rarely provided with food.

"He installed a gunman so I would not run away. The man remained with us for 24 hours in the place where we stayed, which was in the middle of the fields, where there was no electricity.

"To make matters worse, my children and husband got sick. My three sons caught malaria while living in the fields and my husband was diagnosed tuberculosis (T.B.) because of malnutrition. Whenever my husband talked about his illness to the son of the landlord, he made fun of my husband saying that he was not really sick, but was making an excuse to avoid work and maybe run away from their detention." 

Salamity then said, "My husband was often tortured in front of my children and myself. This was to make us terrified and so we would never try to escape from their slavery.

Ms. Rafia Salomi Deputy Director Society for Human Development (right) speaking to couple (Photo: Ahsan Sadaqat, ANS Pakistan)
"One morning, I boiled an egg for my sick husband. The farmer called him to do some work and he said, 'Please, wait. I will come after finishing my breakfast.' The man became so angry that he beat up my husband really badly in front of me."

Nadeem Shahzad then told, ANS that the farmer had agreed that they could take 15 short holidays after the wheat harvesting season, adding, "But he never allowed us to go for holidays at Christmas or Easter and even after harvest season. We were not given breaks which he had previously agreed to."
Salamity then alleged that the farmer began abusing her sexually. "One day," she continued, "he sent my husband with a person to the nearby town and then put a gun to my elder son's head and asked me not to make noise. He tried to rape me, but God helped me and I was able to escape into the crops. He searched for me in the fields, but could not find me. When my husband came home and I told him about this, we decided there and then that we would run away."

Nadeem Shahzad then explained, "On June 20, 2011 there was a blessing for my family. It came in the form of pre-monsoon rain and the farmer and the gunman went to their homes for shelter. We got a chance to escape from there with all of my family. We left our clothes, food, beds and other necessities of life, but at least we were now free.

"I could bear the torture I had experience, less payment, and other suffering, but not the rape of my wife. She is my honor."

After their escape, Nadeem and Salamity came to the Pakistan office of the ASSIST News Service ( to share their story with me. I invited Human and Women Rights activists, Tariq Mehmood, District General Secretary Labor Party Pakistan, and Ms. Rafia Salomi, Deputy Director Society for Human Development, to join me to hear their horrific story.

Afterwards, Tariq Mehmood said, "It's tragic that violence against Christian workers is increasing in Pakistan. Every day, I come across such terrible cases.

"The case of Salamity and Nadeem Shahzad is caused by a failure of our law enforcement agencies. The violations are unchecked. The institutions are weakening and rich people continue to exploit the weaker groups of our society.

"Christians are an easy target for these forces who are so easily manipulated because of their poverty. I am afraid that this farmer and his family might register a false case against the couple and will try and get them put them in jail. Unfortunately the system in Pakistan supports the oppressors."

Tariq Mehmood went on to say, "As a human rights activist, I will try my level best to highlight this issue and write to the concerned authorities about what happened to this couple and their children."

Rafia Salomi, who works for the Peasant Women Workers, then said, "The Society for Human Development has been working to empower the Peasant Women Workers and trying to improve the socio-economic conditions of these workers.

"The story of Salamity is a clear reflection of the severe situation that women like her face. We will organize a press conference in the district press club which will be attended by key leaders of peasant women workers so we can highlight cases like this."

Pastor Victor, founder and president of Grace Bible Church of Pakistan, with the food he provided for the family for one month (Photo: Ahsan Sadaqat, ANS Pakistan)
Pastor Victor Samuel, the founder and president of Grace Bible Church of Pakistan, who also was present, then handed over rations for one month for the couple and expressed solidarity with them. He prayed with the family and assured that every possible effort would be made to continue to support them.

Pastor Victor said that he has also appealed his church members to collect utensils, clothes, bed sheets and other vital items to support the family.

Note: Ahsan Sadaqat, who is the videographer and photographer for ANS Pakistan, has uploaded an interview with the couple on YouTube in Urdu and English. Please click the following links to view. (Urdu version) (English version)

Note: Tariq Mehmood is a Muslim and has been working to help the persecuted Christians of Pakistan for many years. The District Administration filed a false case against him in the Anti-Terrorist Court when he raised his voice against the Gojra violence by Muslim radicals in which many Christians were burned alive. (The 2009 Gojra riots were a series of attacks targeting Christians in Gojra town in the Punjab province of Pakistan. These resulted in the deaths of nine Christians, including four women and a child.) For daring to speak out against this horrendous incident, he remained in prison for 18 days. The court eventually released him and declared that a false case had been registered against him.

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