Ice-cream vendor verbally abused and physically assaulted for selling to Muslim women and children
On Tuesday 17 May, a Christian ice-cream vendor in Kot Imam Din, a village in the Kasur District of Pakistan’s Punjab province, was verbally abused and assaulted by local Muslims for selling ice-cream to Muslim women and children.
Khaleel Masih, aged 42, was first assaulted by two Muslim villagers, Muhammad Farman and Muhammad Rizwan, before they were later joined by a mob of around 20 men. He was accused of having an evil spirit which contaminated the ice-creams. Khaleel Masih denied this, saying Christians do not possess evil spirits.
During the attack, bystanders raised scornful slogans saying, “Christians are untouchables! They are not followers of our holy prophet. They are meant for cleaning our houses and therefore should not be allowed to sell anything edible to Muslims,” Khaleel Masih said.
He added, “They called me Chura, and then they began accusing me of selling unclean merchandise to Muslim children. I wanted to argue, and make them understand that this was not true but they did not listen to me. Instead, they began to beat and torture me.”
The majority of Punjab’s Christian population comes from the chura caste. They are traditionally associated with doing menial jobs, such as sweeping, and this meant they were regarded in the Hindu caste system as “untouchables”. Punjabis therefore use this term as an insult because of its connotations to uncleanliness and inferiority.
The mob not only beat Khaleel Masih, but also damaged his bicycle, destroyed all of his ice-cream and stole money from the till. The police were initially reluctant to register the incident, but following increased pressure this has now been done.
Khaleel Masih added, “I am now terrified of selling my ice-creams; I can only go to Christian communities but this has drastically reduced my income. Soon I will not be able to feed my children. I have reached my lowest point and seek refuge from God.”
Police interrupt church in Lahore and assault its pastor
In a separate incident on Sunday 12 June, police interrupted a prayer service at a church in Lahore’s Fazalia Colony, Pakistan, verbally abusing the worshippers present and ordering the service to be stopped. Its pastor, Riaz Rehmet, was assaulted after attempting to act as peacemaker.
Following the incident – which begun after the police received a phone call from a local resident complaining that a loud speaker was being used during the service – Christians staged a street protest, completely blocking traffic, demanding that a case be registered against the police officers responsible for the attack.
After guarantees by police officials that action will be taken, the protest was brought to an end. The lead officer involved in the incident has been suspended.
Senator condemns attacks on religious minorities and calls for change
In response to the attack on Khaleel Masih, Senator Sherry Rehman, Vice President of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), criticised the federal and provincial governments for being too relaxed in dealing with the incident.
“We realize that we all have a long way to go in building equality,” she said. “Pakistan cannot continue to tolerate continual religious persecution of its minorities. They are not second-class citizens and should not be treated as such.”
The Senator added, “Islam teaches us compassion, and to care for the weak and poor without differentiating on the basis of cast, creed, or religion. Let us stay true to the teachings of the religion we follow.”