Employment Discrimination against Christians Remains Chronic in Pakistan

The US-based human rights group International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that Christians in Pakistan continue to experience discrimination from a majority of employers on what it called "a level akin to what African Americans experienced in the Southern US before the Civil Rights movement".

"In vocational terms, for Pakistanis, being a Christian means being a janitor, a brick-maker, or working in sewage," said ICC. "They are constantly denied jobs, not based on their merit, but based on their religion. Instead of racism, Pakistan excels in 'religion-ism'."

The severe employment discrimination was thrown into the spotlight recently by the Catholic Archbishop Lawrence J. Saldanha of Pakistan who raised the issue during a ceremony held in connection with Prince Charles' visit to the Anglican Cathedral Church of the Resurrection in Lahore on 2 November.

A number of factors dim the job prospects for Pakistani Christians, most of whom ICC said are condemned to do menial cleaning jobs due to their "appalling socio-economic situation".

"The reason Pakistani Christians do not obtain dignified jobs is not their inability to measure up to the criteria laid down for the jobs. Rather, in most cases, it is the hardened and intolerant mindsets of employers that thwart their upward social mobility," the group said.

Most Pakistani Christians work as janitors. They are born in slums without even the most basic civic and health amenities.

"Even if a Christian obtains decent employment, his life-time efforts to rid himself of the 'janitor label' will prove futile," said ICC.

According to ICC, employers who would otherwise consider hiring talented Christians refrain from doing so for fear of angering the majority-Muslim workforce. "Thus they seal the continued marginalisation of the Christian community."

If the situation is to improve for the majority of Pakistani Christians then the attitude of the Muslim employer towards Christians is of "substantial importance" and merit needs to play a far greater role in the job-hiring process, ICC warned.

"If only merit determined whether a person could obtain a job, the prospects for Christians assuming dignified jobs would become far better than what they are at present. The problem is that a candidate's qualifications for the job are not a factor in job-hiring process. Instead, religious affiliation overrides the candidate's abilities."

Christian men and women are often forced to teach at missionary schools because they cannot find jobs which match their abilities and often develop a "sense of deprivation, disillusionment, and a nagging inferiority complex" as they see regard their faith as a hindrance to upward social mobility, ICC said.

Christians who do make it to high places are often vulnerable to implicit and explicit criticisms by their Muslim colleagues targeting their poor Christian background or their faith.

ICC blamed the discrimination on fundamentalist Muslim clerics who it said "continue to unleash hate propaganda both in the religious schools as well as in the mosques where they preach".

Pakistan's constitution also denies non-Muslims the privilege of assuming the high-profile offices of the Speaker of the National Assembly (Lower House of Parliament), Chief of Army Staff, Prime Minister and President.

"While it is obvious that a constitutional amendment is required before non-Muslim citizens of Pakistan could aspire to these positions, the establishment of a culture of tolerance and respect for people of all faiths in the country could at least help the weaker segments of society attain jobs which are theoretically open to them," said ICC.

ICC suggested media as a way forward, particularly television, which could be used to highlight the achievements of prominent Christian Pakistanis.

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