On 21 March, in a desperate move to curb surging COVID-19 cases, Pakistan imposed a nationwide lockdown. The enforced restrictions significantly affected the country’s poor and vulnerable communities, including the Christian minority.
Pakistani Christians, most often day labourers in the lowest paying jobs, were struggling financially before the pandemic. Then, because the restrictions meant they could no longer work, they faced the very real threat of starvation.
As much-needed aid was distributed throughout Pakistan, VOM received reports of Christians being pushed to the end of the queue or being denied assistance altogether.
Relief was mainly distributed by private foundations or religious welfare organisations. When Christians asked for aid, they were often told that the funds were from zakat (charitable donations as a religious duty in Islam) so only Muslims qualify for it.
In addition, the government announced a Rs 2.5 billion ($23 million) special Ramadan package for Muslims, but nothing was released for Christians during Lent and Easter.
VOM sent funds to our contacts to purchase items for distribution to Christian families. Many of the recipients were on the brink of starvation and, as our distribution partner reported, very grateful for the assistance.
From our distribution partner:
Sehar, a young Christian mother, contacted us in a desperate situation. Her husband was working as a painter on daily wages and, because of the lockdown, had lost his job. The family had no savings. The money he was earning was hardly enough to meet the family of four’s basic living expenses. The loss of the husband’s job meant there was no food. Sehar told us that her husband was not even paid for the work he had completed just before the lockdown. She and her husband were so grateful for receiving the emergency aid which provided food for themselves and their two children.
Sehar was also very pleased to receive a Bible. She can read and write, but due to the family’s poverty had been unable to buy a Bible of her own. With churches being closed during lockdown, it is so important to continue worship at home, and reading the Bible is an important part of worship.
We also provided Rita and Usman with much-needed aid. Rita, 22, is the youngest of her siblings. She has two sisters and one brother. Her mother died of cancer recently and her father died in 2012. With her two sisters married, Rita is living with her brother Usman. Before lockdown restrictions were enforced, Usman had been working as a labourer on daily wages. Once the restrictions began, he was no longer able to work. This meant there was no money for food for Usman or Rita. They were both extremely grateful for the food they received.
Rita was also very happy to receive a Bible. She said that it would be a good companion for her. Reading it in her spare time would allow her to learn more about her faith. She was also keen to share it with other Christian women in her area.
On 9 May, Pakistan began easing the nationwide lockdown in phases.
At the time, Prime Minister Imran Khan said that developing countries like Pakistan face the dilemma of whether to protect their people from COVID-19 or hunger. Ultimately, Pakistan expects to suffer a considerable human cost.
VOM partners in Pakistan believe that the need for aid will continue for some time, and we have committed to send further funds throughout 2020.
While Christian persecution is not new to Pakistan, it is disheartening to see that even during a global crisis, Christians continue to face discrimination.
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