Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Pakistani Christian victims of Gojra violence refuse USAID’s aid packets

ASSIST News Service (ANS) reports on Tuesday, October 13, 2009,

'Some Pakistani Christian victims of Gojra violence refuse USAID’s aid packets
Punjab government gives double the amount of compensation to a Muslim family

By Dan Wooding and Sheraz Khurram Khan
Special to ASSIST News Service
LAHORE, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- In a rare display of defiance, a few Christian victims of Gojra threw away aid packets they had received from United States Agency for International Development (USAID) on Monday, October 5, 2009, after they alleged that the government’s interpreter was not conveying a Christian family’s point of view to the US consulate’s principal officer.

One of the affected Christians living in a tent while his burned house is being reconstructed

Some 150 Christian families were rendered homeless in Korian and Gojra after their houses were burned by miscreants following rumors that Christians of Korian had committed blasphemy in July of this year.

Gojra is a small town in the Pakistani province Punjab, near Korian, where at least seven Christians were burned alive by a gang of Muslims on August 1, 2009.

Ms. Carmela Conroy, the principal officer of the US Consulate in Lahore had personally distributed a few aid packets to some Christian victims of Korian and Gojra during a ceremony held at Catholic Church in Gojra on October 5.

USAID left the rest of the aid packets in Gojra to be distributed by Catholic Church and the local administration.
Carmela Conroy, Principal Officer of the U.S. Consulate in Lahore

ANS has learned that the USAID’s aid packet for each of the 150 affected Christian families of Gojra and Korian consisted of six blankets, four quilts, four mattresses, four mats, two plastic buckets, two water cans, two nets, a carton of utensils and three kilograms of washing soap. These items are now lying in the Gojra Catholic Church.

A Disruption during Carmela Conroy’s 35 minute visit to the Christian colony in Gojra occurred while she was talking to Hameed’s family members. Hameed is one of the seven Christians, who lost their lives in the wake of Gojra violence in August.

ANS has discovered that a few Christian victims of Gojra threw away their aid packets that they had earlier received, when some educated Christian men alleged that the government’s interpreter was not properly conveying the reservations of Hameed’s family to the US Consulate’s principal officer.

Professor Anjum James Paul, Director of Social Harmony and Development of Women, who led a fact-finding team to Gojra to probe why some Christians refused USAID’s aid packets, told ANS that Christians said they would welcome aid from all quarters but alleged that the “partisan role of the government’s interpreter” made a few throw away their packets in anger.

A Christian spokesman for the residents of Gojra told Professor Anjum James Paul: “We are highly thankful to the US government and people who are with us to share their grief with the persecuted Christians.

A USAID packet

“We are accepting all sorts of help and we do not deny accepting aid from our brethren of the United States.

“We need justice besides help from our well wishers.”

According to the professor, at least three major factors angered Christians of Gojra:

One, the police had accused some 129 Christians of provoking the Gojra violence in a supplementary version of Police First Information report (FIR).

The number of unidentified Christians in the police FIR is 100 whereas 29 others have also been named. The addition people who have been named included the Rt. Rev. Bishop John Samuel of Faisalabad Diocese, his two sons Adnan and Sharoon, Gojra Tehsil (administrative division) and Councilor Fanyas Masih.

The affected Christians allege the police are pressuring them to broker reconciliation with Muslims. A Pakistani court on Saturday, September 19 granted bail to some 18 Muslims who were arrested in the wake of Gojra violence under the the Anti-Terrorism Act.

Two, police have arrested two Christian men named Nouman Shahu and Naveed Shahu. The local Christians demand the immediate release of the pair who are brothers..

Three, a speech by Dost Muhammad Khosa, a Muslim Member of the Provincial Assembly of Punjab for the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz on October 5 added to the existing anger among Christians because Mr. Khosa had some days back given double the amount of compensation to the family of a deceased Muslim man as compared to the amount received by Christian families, who lost their loved ones during August 1 violence in Gojra.

ANS has learned that Mr. Khosa gave (10,000,000 Pakistani rupees ($12,019.23 USD) to the family of a Muslim man who died as a consequence of injuries received during Gojra violence. The Punjab government gave 500,000 Pakistani rupees ($6,006.7277 USD) compensation money to each of the Christian families of Gojra who lost their family members during Gojra violence.

Current Situation

The Government of Punjab has allocated 200 million Pakistani rupees ($2,401,248.84 USD) for the re-construction of some 150 houses of Christians in Korian and Gojra. The on-going reconstruction work will be completed in a month time at the most.

The Christians of Gojra and Korian are currently living in tents and the latter have put up tents in a graveyard. It is feared that rain could make Christians highly vulnerable to contracting water-borne diseases. Christians live in a state of fear and uncertainty. As their houses were burnt to ashes, the students are without any academic certificates and degrees. It is uncertain to say when they would get their duplicate degrees given the procedural snags in the system.

ANS has learned that Christian students in Korian are being threatened that their names would be struck off from the school enrolment register after school examinations. The majority of Christian victims in Gojra are sanitary workers whereas the Christians of Korain are brick-kiln workers, field laborers and peasants.

Interestingly, family of Hameed Masih, who was one of the seven Christians burned alive in August have not had their house reconstructed yet as they want the house to remain like this so that people visiting the area could see the extent of damage that was done to Christians houses after the houses were set on fire.

The critics say a fast-paced re-construction of Christians’ houses is underway as the Punjab government wants to cover up its failure to protect the lives and properties of Christians in Korian and Gojra.'

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