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Pakistan Independence Day – not really

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“Just as Christ had his cross to bear, so, too, do we.” Not a trace of anger inflected his voice.

“So you mean the blasphemy laws are the ‘cross’ Pakistani Christians must bear?” I clarified.

“Yes,” he answered simply.

Next to him stood Davina, the young Christian doctor who had invited me to meet him. She added, “I never tender my opinion on any matter pertaining to religion, whether mine or anyone else’s. Even if I hear completely false things said about Christianity I don’t challenge them; it’s too dangerous.”

Earlier in my stay touring Karachi’s Ziauddin hospital, a community general government hospital, I spoke to Christian nurses and asked them about their working conditions. One matron explained her situation:

“I am in charge of all nursing assignments. My nurses are Christians and Muslim. I cannot afford to show any favoritism to Christian nurses, nor would I. I always ensure my work is of the highest standards. We Christians have to be better, to be beyond reproach, because we don’t want to invite any accusations of blasphemy. We must always do our job well, and better than others.”

Later, as I exited the hospital toward my waiting driver, ensuring she was well out of earshot of any colleagues, she rushed up to me, whispering she had applied for political asylum in the United States.

In Pakistan, religion, caste, and creed have become the prime business of the state, and this submerges all in an impenetrable silence.

Wherever I went, friends and relatives reminded me to lower my voice “lest the servants hear you,” to close the window “lest anyone hear your voice carried into the garden.” I was silenced in cars (“not in front of the driver”), silenced in airports (“not here in public”), and yet many Pakistanis, Christians, minority Muslims, and Pakistan’s fading Zoroastrian community (the Parsis) were desperate to talk with me.

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