By Jawad Mazhar, Special Correspondent for BosNewsLife in Pakistan
LAHORE, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– In an unprecedented move the government of Pakistan’s Punjab province has ordered all government agencies to pay a Christmas bonus to impoverished Christian employees, following religious tensions in the region, officials told BosNewsLife Sunday, December 14.
Average monthly incomes in Pakistan hover around $90, and many blue-collar workers earn even less than that, according to several estimates.
The Ministry for Minorities Affairs and Human Rights told BosNewsLife that Christians would receive full month wages, and a Christmas bonus, by December 20, in time for Christmas celebrations.
“It is the first time that Punjab’s government has shown special interest towards deprived Christians…and decided to pay them some extra money before Christmas,” said bed ridden Christian politician Mushtaq Gill, a member of the local Assembly of Punjab’s Sargodha District, who was recently attacked Muslim militants.
He told BosNewsLife that he urged Pakistan’s central government to follow Punjab’s example to ease religious tensions and improve the lives of Christians in the country. “Although the Christmas package is very small, it will add much to the happiness of poverty stricken Christians,” Gill added.
The Christmas bonus decision of Punjab authorities came as in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad, Christian sewage workers of the Sanitation Department of Capital Development Authority (CDA) also demanded “an extra one-day pay” to their December salary.
Christian CDA employees made clear they wanted similar rights as Pakistan’s majority Muslims and “celebrate our religious festival”, with a state-provided bonus.
There have been mounting religious tensions on work floors across Pakistan, and Gill made clear he saw the Christmas bonus decision by officials in Punjab as a first step forward in a country where churches have been attacked, and Christians reportedly persecuted, for alleged “blasphemy” of Islam.
Gill has been recovering from a fractured leg and injuries to his forehead he sustained November 30 when he and two Christian friends were apparenlky attacked by supporters of the Pakistan Muslim League’s (PML-N) during “a welcome procession” for Provincial Minister of Punjab for Minorities’ Affairs and Human Rights, Kamran Michael.
Police told BosNewsLife the attack happened late November 30 on the outskirts of Sargodha, in Chak Village 91 Southern Branch. The PML-N had no comment.