By Jawad Mazhar, BosNewsLife Special Correspondent reporting from Pakistan
DHAREMA, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– A Christian schoolgirl in Pakistan’s Punjab province was recovering Sunday, October 11, after she was allegedly “ruthlessly beaten” with a bamboo stick by a Muslim headteacher for saying she is “a Pakistani” citizen.
The bedridden Nadia Iftikhar, 11, told BosNewsLife she was seriously injured when the teacher of the local evening coaching school ‘Bright Future Academy’ in the town of Dharema got angry because she challenged her views on Islam.
“Our teacher was teaching us about the culture of Pakistan and Pakistani people and quoted a sentence from the text book saying ‘We are Pakistani and all of us are Muslims’,” the girl recalled. “At this point I interrupted and said: “Madam, I am also a Pakistani, but not a Muslim instead I am a Christian.”
The teacher, identified as Humaira Hassa, “got furious and grabbed a bamboo stick and started thrashing in a barbarian way and kept saying all Pakistanis are Muslim, you are not a Pakistani but a Christian,” the girl said. “Your home land is some where in Europe or America,” the teacher allegedly said.
Nadia added showed scars of the wounds at her back. Classmates said the girl briefly became unconscious, but was eventually brought home. The teacher could not be reached for comment.
The girl’s father, Iftikhar Masih, 45 said he did not went to local police. “I am an impoverished Christian man and am busy working for a daily wage to feed my family.”
Local Christians in Punjab province have also complained of police complicity in attacks against Christian believers. “However I have taken her to the doctor and and we believe that her injuries will be healed and she will be able to return to her school.”
It was not immediately clear whether the 6th grade girl would be welcomed again by the Bright Future Academy where she said she has been studying for three years.
The attack is no isolated incident in the tense province, Christians said. There have been protests in Punjab province against attacks on churches and individuals and alleged persecution by authorities.
Recently Muslim militants reportedly invaded the home of regional church leader Joseph Pervaiz. “They came and were stealing a jewelry and millions of rupees from me,” he told BosNewsLife.
Christian workers in Punjab province have also complained about discrimination. In of the most recent incidents last month a radical Muslim transporter allegedly expelled his Christian bus conductor from his job for asking short leave of about two hours to offer Sunday Prayers in a local church.”
Mushtaq Gill’s said he had been working as a bus conductor in the transport company, Dadial Travels, owned by “a radical Muslim man” for the last five years.
Muslim drivers, conductors, bus attendants and cleaners are usually granted leave on Friday to offer “their Islamic Friday Prayers,” Gill said. “At certain times due to the lack of staff Dadial Transport Service comes to stand still and travellers also get annoyed.”
Gill said his family are very devoted to Christianity. “We can not imagine missing even a single Sunday service.” He was apparently dismissed, without due payment, after attending the church service anyway. The transport company has denied wrongdoing, saying his absence undermined its operations.
Yet, receiving compensation through a court appears difficult, with rights groups saying the justice system often colludes with Muslim militants. “There are for instance many Christians held behind bars for bootlegging,” said Ghulam Masih whose son was detained October 4.
Police said Noman Masih was carrying 20 bottles of alcoholic drinks to his slum. He father has denied the charges sating police tried to extort money from his son. “Christians are allowed to carry alcohol anyway, Muslims are not,” he added.
Christians comprise a minority in mainly Islamic Pakistan where Muslim militants have increased attempts to impose Muslim laws in several areas and to influence authorities, rights groups say.
Pakistan’s government says it is cracking down on extremism. On Sunday, October 11, officials said the siege near the army’s headquarters in Rawalpindi, near the capital, Islamabad, is over. Commando forces raided a building where militants were holding more than 30 hostages just before dawn Sunday. Four militants, two soldiers and three hostages were killed during the operation. Another wounded militant was captured.