Monday, August 31, 2009

The Photo Meditation of the Month (August, 2009): HOMELESSNESS


A homeless woman, with all her belongings, made her den
at the intersection of the posh Bay Street and Edward Street
in Toronto for the last few months

Photo (Toronto: August 17 , 2009) © Jerome D'Costa

When a lot of us have a roof over our head, a cozy or ordinary bed to sleep on, there are millions in this world who are homeless. They don't have a place or shelter they can call their own.

They are either sleeping on sidewalks under open sky, subject to the whims of the Nature -- sun, rain, snow or wind -- or in a crammy nook or edge of a building, or in a wretched slum.

Today one can be a proud owner of a home, the very next day a miserable homeless. Homelessness is caused in different ways. Natural disasters make many bereft of their homes, joblessness affects others. Death of the only earning member of the family also takes others to the streets or slums. Physical or mental illness forces others to the footpaths. Migration to a new and unknown place can also play a role for some in being homeless. Prodigality is another cause of this situation. Lastly, others become homeless by losing their lands and abodes to the unscrupulous and cunning usurpers.

Jesus Christ, at the time of his birth, was also homeless in a far and strange place -- Bethlehem. His family was forced to take shelter in a cowshed where he was born in a manger. Soon after, to avoid the child-genocide of maniacal King Herod, his family had to flee their home and take shelter in Egypt for a time.

In Bangladesh, I had the occasions to encounter many homeless persons who took shelter in the slums of Dhaka city. I found a good number of them who had everything in the rural areas -- landed property, homes, and other possessions -- more than many middle-class job-holders in Dhaka. In a day or two, they lost everything in the dangerous annual river erosion during the rainy season. Strong currents of rivers, coupled with rains, took away everything under the water. These hapless people then had to move to cities and towns, like Dhaka, in search of jobs -- not so easily available. Many of them, who used to employ others as labourers in their agricultural fields, ultimately had to resort to being rickshaw-pullers, construction and other types of labourers, street vendors, and the like.

Homelessness is not a chosen 'profession'. Circumstances make people homeless. We should not look down upon homeless people, hate them or avoid them. We should empathize with them and try to help them in any way possible.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Poem of the Month (August, 2009): HUMANITY



We are all imperfects
From our birth to death.

Yet, we can move towards perfection
By being true to oneself
By trying to meet our word with action
By putting love in our behaviour and service to others.

That's what the humanity is about.

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In the Name of Blasphemy, Pakistani Christians Under Frequent Attack - 10

Muslim Extremist Attacks on Christian Villages,
Churches Schools, Hospitals and
Church Personnel (Contd.)

Mob attack on St. Saviour's Church in Sukkur,
Sindh Province (February 19, 2006)

Photo Courtesy:

Wealthy Landowner's Family Attacks Catholic Church
at Kawanlit in Sialkot District

2006 (February 3): Some 20 women and three men, relatives of a wealthy Muslim landowner, attacked the Catholic Church at Kawanlit in Sialkot District at 9:45 a.m. They also assaulted, Veero Mehnga Masih, a 70-year-old woman, fracturing her legs and Saleema Mazir Masih, a 50-year-old woman, hurting her back. They also smashed church furnishings and windows and desecrated the altar and Holy Bible kept there.

On February 6, Mohammad Iqbal, the wealthy landowner, filed a case with the police against eight Christians "for starting a fight that led the ransacking of the church." Father Bernard Bhatti, the parish priest, said that the eight accused "were not even there" at the the time of the church attack.

The cause of the trouble started over some church-owned land which was being forcibly grabbled by Mohammad Iqbal. Father Bhatti mentioned that on November 7, 2005, Iqbal purchased a piece of land adjacent to the 20-year-old church. Then he began a process of encroachment using more and more of the church's property for parking his vehicles and tying up his domestic animals.

After failed attempts at buying out the piece of land from Iqbal, the parishioners opened a court case against the landowner on January 12, 2006. The police then arrested Iqbal. After his release on bail on January 26, he threatened the Christian community with retribution for filing the case against him. Father Bhatti said that the February 3 attack was triggered when Veero Masih and Saleema Masih challenged Iqbal's relatives for tying up livestock on the church property.

The UCANews reports that Archbishop Lawrence John Saldanha of Lahore and Peter Jacob, the chairman and executive secretary respectively of the National Commission for Justice and Peace, in a joint statement, declared: "Violence against weaker communities is resurfacing because the government failed to deal effectively with similar incidents that happened in the past. The most recent example is Sangla Hill, where a due process of law has not taken place even 80 days after the desecration and destruction of three churches and Christian properties."

Muslim Mob Attacks Protestant and Catholic Churches
in Sukkur, Sindh Province

2006 (February 19): A crowd of several hundred enraged Muslims attacked and looted two churches in Sukkur of Sindh Province.

The mob first gathered in front of St. Saviour's Church, belonging to the Church of Pakistan. At the time a prayer meeting was underway in the church. They stoned the building and left it to come back later to set it on fire. In the process, three mopeds and a car were also burnt.

They then moved on to the 120-year-old St. Mary's Catholic Church, where there was only one policeman on guard. He fled away at the advance of the shouting mob, that descended on the church and nearby St. Mary's Girls' High School, ransacking, looting and setting then on fire.

According to Mr. Sebastian (a retired teacher of St. Mary's High School), Irfan Gill -- a former Protestant who converted to Islam two years before this incident -- burnt a copy of the Quran to teach a lesson to his father-in-law Saleem Gill, with whom he was in dispute over the possession of a house. He brought blasphemy charge against Saleem Gill, the retired bank officer. He told police that when Irfan's daughter (and Saleem Gill's grand-daughter) Amna was reciting the Quran, Saleem Gill snatched it and desecrated it.

An imam (prayer leader) of the local mosque complained to police that Irfan Gill himself set the Quran on fire and falsely implicated his father-in-law in it. In spite of Irfan's arrest by the police, a Muslim mob gathered according to pre-plan and attacked the Protestant and Catholic churches.

Mr. Sebastian said: "We called the police several times but the mob did what they wanted to do for about two hours."

Archbishop Evarist Pinto of Karachi lamented: "Things are really tense for the Christian community in Pakistan. We are easily targeted by angry mobs and the authorities do nothing to calm our fears."

The government had promised rapid financial help, but until mid-2009, no help came.

Attack on Presbyterian Church at Basti Noori Gate,
Sargoda, Punjab Province

2006 (February 28): Unknown persons set fire to the 80-year-old Presbyterian church at Basti Noori Gate in Sargoda, north-west of Lahore. The building's main entrance door and six windows were damaged in the petrol fire. This church has about 250 members, most of whom are

Some Christians speculated that this attack had taken place in protest to the publication of Danish cartoons on Prophet Mohammad.

Arson Attack on a Protestant Church
in Mian Channu Village, Khanewal District

2006 (March 30): A group of unidentified people set fire to a Protestant Apostolic church (Apostolic Faith Mission Church) in Mian Channu village in Khanewal District of the Punjab Province. No one was injured. Rev. Nathaniel Barkat, the pastor of the church, said that he did not know the assailants. He said that local Muslim extremists must have been behind it.

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Friday, August 28, 2009

In the Name of Blasphemy, Pakistani Christians Under Frequent Attack - 9

Muslim Extremist Attacks on Christian Villages,
Churches, Schools, Hospitals and
Church Personnel (Contd.)

A scene of destruction at the Sangla Hill Village
of Nankana Sahib District, Punjab Province
(Nov. 12, 2005)

Photo Courtesy:

Grenade and Car Bomb Attack on the Bible Society Office, Karachi

2004 (January 15): Two Muslim attackers on a motorcycle threw a grenade through the window of the Bible Society building in Karachi, situated in the premises of the Holy Trinity Church, belonging to the Church of Pakistan (a union of Protestant Churches -- mainly Anglican -- with Scottish Presbyterians, Methodists and Lutherans). The explosion injured Peter Pervaiz, the marketing officer of the Bible Society and destroyed some Bibles and other religious books.

About 30 minutes later, a car bomb exploded at nearby parking lot and injured 15 people, including six policemen and Rangers, who had gathered there to check on the Bible Society damages from the hand grenade thrown earlier. The latter explosion damaged a wall of the nearby Holy Trinity Church and destroyed at least 10 parked cars.

According to the National Commission for Justice and Peace, an organization of the Catholic Bishops of Pakistan, the incident was the direct attack on the Bible Society but the attackers could not park the bomb-laden car in a proper place due to the police presence and other vehicles parked immediately outside. It is for this reason that there were few casualties.

Bishop Ijaz Inayet of the Church of Pakistan said that such incidents have tragically became a part of Pakistani society today. Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti, head of All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, said: "This terrorist act has increased the sense of insecurity among Christians. We are shocked, grieved and worried.... These people are hell-bent on creating anarchy in the country."

Muslim Mob Attacks and Torches Sangla Hill Village in Nankana Sahib District

2005 (November 12): About 2,000 enraged Muslims, responding to a public call from the mosque microphone for avenging the alleged blasphemy by a Christian, pillaged and torched properties owned by Protestants and Catholics in Sangla Hill Village in Nankana Sahib District of the Punjab Province. Muslim clerics of the mosque urged Muslims "to do something to defend the Holy Quran from the Christians." The mob comprised mainly of teens, who were madrasa (Islamic religious school) students.

Armed with sticks, hammers and containers of flammable substances (sulphur acid), the mob first swarmed in the Catholic parish compound. They broke doors of the Holy Spirit Catholic Church and smashed the marble altar, pulled down the vestments from their cupboards and shattered the stained-glass windows. They also took away the chalice and ciborium. The Bible inside the church and the altar cloth were set on fire.

They set the parish priest Father Samson Dilawar's residence on fire before moving on to nearby St. Anthony's Girls' High School, torching it, too. Old records of the church dating back to 1911 were also burnt. They also robbed the house of valuables belonging to the parish as well as the priest. They also forcibly entered the nuns' convent but failed to break down the door of an upstairs room where Father Dilawar, nine nuns, four teachers, and 23 teenage girls took shelter during the attack. Father Dilawar later said that the attackers "tried to break the door down but did not succeed. Otherwise, we could have all been killed."

Two other Protestant churches (one Presbyterian and the other Salvation Army) along with half-a-dozen houses of Catholics were also burnt down in the attack. The Presbyterian church was 103 years old.

The allegation of blasphemy and the attack resulted from a gambling of cards. Yousaf Masih, an illiterate Christian cattle dealer, had a habit of gambling with some of his Christian and Muslim pals. On November 11, 2005, he gambled with Lazar Masih (a Christian) and Kalu Suniyara (a Muslim). When Yousaf demanded his winning of several thousand rupees, Kalu got furious and later brought the allegation that Yousaf had set fire to the Quran Mahal (a room where copies of the Quran are kept), owned by an Islamic organization, just a few meters away from Company Bagh, where they played the cards.

Even the police's help was requested before the attack, they arrived only after the attackers left the Catholic church compound after causing their desecration, destruction and looting.

President Pervez Musharraf condemned the attack and said: "Muslims need to show more tolerance toward a smaller, minority community."

Pakistan's blasphemy laws can be invoked on the word of one Muslim witness. These are frequently misused to settle scores, avoid debts or rouse violence against religious minorities.

Hina Jilani, a lawyer with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said: "The blasphemy law is used and misused to spread fear and terror. It's a tool to be used against anyone you are in conflict with."

Later, local Muslims and Christians reached a truce. Christians forgave Muslims and the case against Yousaf Masih was dropped. He and 88 Muslims, who were arrested for the attack, were released. However, local Christians believe that the real instigators involved in the sad incident were not arrested at all. After his release, Yousaf Masih lives elsewhere for fear of being attacked by the real culprits, who were never arrested.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

In Memoriam: Senator Ted Kennedy, A Great Friend of Bangladesh


Senator Edward Moore Kennedy (1932-2009)
Photo Courtesy:

Senator Edward Moore Kennedy, popularly known as Senator Ted Kennedy -- the youngest brother of assassinated President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) and slain Senator Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968) -- died on August 25, 2009, at Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, USA, after suffering from brain cancer. He was 77.

After a private funeral Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica in Boston on August 29, his body will be flown to Washington, D.C. for burial at the Arlington National Cemetery , where his brothers President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert F. Kennedy are also interred. President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and other living former US Presidents are expected to attend the funeral Mass in Boston.

Democratic Party member Senator Ted Kennedy, who is well-known for his legislations mostly benefiting ordinary Americans, is mourned by both his friends and rivals. President Barack Obama eulogized Senator Kennedy, saying: "An important chapter in our history has come to an end. Our country has lost a great leader, who picked up the torch of his fallen brothers and became the greatest United States senator of our time." One mourner at the President Kennedy Memorial Library in Boston said: "He was the people's senator." In his 47 years as the US Senator, he served the Senate alongside 10 US Presidents.

He Was a Great Friend of Bangladesh

Every time the history of Bangladesh is written, every time the details of the Bangladesh War of Independence are narrated, the great contribution of Senator Edward Kennedy in the creation of Bangladesh will be repeated.

The then US government of President Nixon blindly supported the government of President Yahya Khan, overlooking the Pakistani genocide in East Pakistan (Bangladesh) in 1971. Senator Edward Kennedy visited East Pakistani refugee camps in Calcutta and West Bengal in August, 1971, and was so moved by the inhuman conditions of more than 10 million refugees there and vivid signs of atrocious behaviour of Pakistan army, that, he became a public voice for these voiceless people. He exposed the real situation of these refugees and brutal situation in East Pakistan. He criticized the policy of the US government and demanded an immediate end to the sufferings of the East Pakistanis.

Senator Kennedy said: "The tragedy of East Bengal [East Pakistan, later Bangladesh] is not only a tragedy for Pakistan, it is not only a tragedy for India, it is tragedy for the entire world community, and it is the responsibility of that community to act together to ease the crisis."

He continued: "Simply humanity demands that America and the United Nations must accept the truth that this heavy burden should be borne by the entire international community, and not by India alone."

In his report to the US Judicial Committee on Refugees, he told of seeing "one of the most appalling tides of human misery in modern times....Nothing is more clear, or more easily documented, than the systematic campaign of terror -- and its genocidal consequences -- launched by the Pakistani army on the night of March 25th....American's heavy support of Islamabad is nothing short of complicity in the human and political tragedy of East Bengal."

After the independence of Bangladesh, Senator Edward Kennedy went to Bangladesh on February 14, 1972, and spoke at a rally at the University of Dhaka. Thousands of students greeted him shouting "Joi Kennedy!" (Long live Kennedy!). He also planted a banyan sapling at the university campus. Bookmark and Share

Monday, August 24, 2009

In the Name of Blasphemy, Pakistani Christians Under Frequent Attack - 8

Muslim Extremist Attacks on Christian Villages, Churches, Schools, Hospitals and Church Personnel (Contd.)

Murree Christian School (an old church turned into a school)
Photo Courtesy:

Gunmen Kill Six and Injure Three in Murree Christian School

2002 (August 5):
Four masked gunmen stormed the Murree Christian School, a missionary educational institution for foreign students, at Jhika Gali in Murree, north of Islamabad, and killed six persons and wounded three. Luckily none of the students were affected.

This small boarding school, located above 7000 feet in the Himalayan mountain foothills in Pakistan, was founded in 1956 for education of children of foreign Christian missionaries, serving in Pakistan and neighbouring countries. It had about 150 students between the ages of six and 18 studying in grades 4 to 12.

Witnesses say that the security guards averted a bloodbath by stopping the gunmen from entering a classroom full of children. In the firefight, two of the security guards, a cook and a carpenter were killed.

It is also reported that the attackers left behind a note stating that they were opposed to the injustices endured by Muslims around the world.

This school attack was the third on a Christian target and sixth on foreign interests in Pakistan since that country, under President Pervez Musharraf, joined the US and its allies in the fight against global terrorism after 9/11 in 2001.

Grenade Attack Inside Presbyterian Hospital Chapel in Taxila

2002 (August 9): Three armed men exploded grenades inside the chapel of the Presbyterian hospital at Taxila, 25 miles north-west of Islamabad, killing three Christian nurses and injuring 20 other people -- all Pakistanis. One of the gunmen was also killed from a shrapnel that pierced his heart from his back. The attack took place at 7:45 a.m. Hospital accounts officer Clement Bakshi said: "The nurses were coming out of the chapel when someone threw the explosives."

Seven Christians Killed at the Committee for Justice and Peace Office in Karachi

2002 (September 25): Two gunmen entered the office of the Idara-e-Aman-o-Insaf (The Committee for Justice and Peace), a Catholic non-government organization (NGO) in Karachi, tied the staff in their chairs with their hands behind them and shot each one on the head, instantly killing six persons and wounding two -- one of whom died later in the Civil Hospital.

No one claimed responsibility for the heinous attack, but Christians strongly felt that it was the premeditated plan and assault of Muslim extremists bent on avenging US invasion of Afghanistan. Different extremist groups in the past several months blamed Pakistani and foreign Christians in the country to be stooges of the US and other Western powers.

Nisar Memon, Information Minister of Pakistan, denounced the attackers as "enemies of Pakistan." He said that the violence would not shake country's resolve, but "Pakistan's cooperation with the world community in the war against terrorism will continue."

Archbishop Simeon Pereira of the Catholic archdiocese of Karachi expressed his deep sorrow and grief at the senseless murder of seven Christians. He urged the Christianity community to remain calm and not allow hatred or the feeling of revenge to take root in their hearts, reminding them of the Christian virtues of Faith, Hope and Love. "Forgiveness is the lesson we learned from the Lord. Let us continue to show love and mercy to those who hate and target us, and act according to the spirit and pray for those who have lost their lives."

Rev. Ijaz Inayat, Bishop of the Church of Pakistan (Anglican), condemned the brutal attack and termed it a crime against humanity. "We are a peaceable people and want protection of life and property."

Shahbaz Bhatti, President of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, blamed the Islamic militants sympathetic to Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network and the hard-line Taliban regime ousted from neighbouring Afghanistan.

Idara-e-Aman-o-Insaf, working among the poor and marginalized, had been labouring for the last 30 years to obtain basic employment rights for textile and municipal workers and undertaking programmes with local human rights groups.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

In the Name of Blasphemy, Pakistani Christians Under Frequent Attack - 7

Muslim Extremist Attacks on Christian Villages,
Churches, Schools, Hospitals and Church Personnel

St. Patrick's Cathedral in Karachi -- one of the churches targeted by Muslim extremists
Photo Courtesy:

Bomb Blast Inside St. Patrick's Cathedral, Karachi

1998 (December 23):
A Catholic woman was injured in a powerful home-made bomb blast inside St. Patrick's Cathedral in Karachi at the end of the Mass, when about 250 Catholics were still queing up for confession as a preparation for the coming Christmas on December 25.

The blast, under the 17th bench, destroyed six rows of benches and a number of fixures, including window panes. The explosion also left a 12-inch diameter and two-inch deep crater on teh cathedral floor. If the bomb had exploded few minutes earlier during the Mass, when the cathedral was full of worshipping Catholics, the casualties would be extremely high. Catholics felt that Muslim extremist elements must have planted the bomb.

Massacre at St. Dominic's Church, Bahawalpur

2001 (October 28): Four Muslim gunmen, shouting "Pakistan and Afghanistan, graveyard of Christians. Allah is Great. This is just the beginning," opened fire from automatic weapons on Sunday worshipping Christian men, women and children at St. Dominic's Catholic Church in Bahawalpur. This attack was intended to avenge the US missile strike on a Al Qaeda-Taliban terrorist training camp in Afghanistan on October 24, 2001. This strike had killed 35 members of Harkat-ul-Mujahedin including three British Muslims and several Pakistanis. Both Harkat-ul-Mujahedin and Jaish-e-Mohammad, based in Bahawalpur of Pakistan, are linked to Al Qaeda Chief Osama bin Laden.

Six men arrived on motorcycles at around 9:00 a.m. during a Protestant (Church of Pakistan) prayer service in this Catholic Church. After killing a police guard and injuring another, four gunmen entered the church and closed the door behind them and the remaining two gunmen were outside the church guarding the entrance. The intruders first aimed at the pastor Rev. Emmanuel Masih (50) at the altar and killed him and then they indiscriminately fired at about 50 men, women and children -- killing 17, most of whom were women and children.

Catholic priest Father Rocus Tatrias ran into the church after the gunmen hurriedly left. He said: "There was blood all over the church, over the altar where people had tried to hide, bodies lying on the ground, people crying and screaming. The church walls were peppered with gunfire."

President Pervez Musharraf said that "the method used and the inhuman tactics employed clearly indicate the involvement of trained terrorist organization bent upon creating discord and disharmony in Pakistan."

The Punjab provincial government announced compensation of 200,000 rupees (US$ 891) for each person killed and 50,000 rupees for each person injured.

Catholic Bishop Andrew Francis of Lahore in an interview said: "My heart is broken; I feel very sad. The altar was perforated with bullet holes. There was blood everywhere. The killers fired at the faithful with a rain of bullets and the greater part of the bodies had six to eight bullet holes."

According to a later report, Pakistan police have arrested 13 Islamic militants in connection with the killing in St. Dominic's Church. These militants belong to Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (active in the Punjab particularly in the persecution of the Shia Muslims), the Sipah-e-Sahaba and Jamaat Ulema Islami -- the last one headed by a Taliban leader.

Police also killed Shakeel Anwar, alias Ghulam Mustafa, wanted for 150 acts of terrorism and 18 murders, was killed in a gun battle with the police in Bahawalpur. He was a militant belonging to Lashkar-i-Jhangvi.

Shooting Inside the Protestant International Church, Islamabad

2002 (March 17): A Muslim extremist entered the Protestant International Church, located in the heavily protected diplomatic enclave in Islamabad between American and Russian embassasies, and threw grenades among about 70 foreign diplomatic staff gathered for the Sunday service. Out of six grenades, three exploded killing five persons and severely wounding 46. The attacker was able to enter and flee the church unchecked and unhindered.

Of the five persons killed, one was from Afghanistan, two from Pakistan and two from the USA. The wounded were from Afghanistan, Germany, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and USA.

One witness said: "The massacre resulted into a pool of blood in the church hall. Dead bodies and injured persons were found scattered all over the hall."

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Friday, August 21, 2009

In the Name of Blasphemy, Pakistani Christians Under Frequent Attack - 6

A Timeline of Blasphemy-Based Attacks on Christians of Pakistan (contd.)

Dr. Robin Sardar who was jailed on blasphemy charges
Photo Courtesy:

2008 (May 4): The police arrested Dr. Robin Sarder (55), a Protestant homeopathic physician, of Chak Chatta in Hafizabad district of the Punjab Province. On May 4, four Muslims (two shopkeepers, one trainee at the doctor's clinic, and one friend of the doctor) complained to the police that, on May 2, while at his clinic (which occupied a section of his own house), the doctor started to preach Christianity. At one point, he compared the beard of Prophet Mohammad with that of a Sikh -- thereby committing a blasphemy.

The problem started when Dr. Sarder asked Muhammad Bashir, a Muslim trainee at his clinic, to tell his younger brother to vacate the shop that he was renting from the doctor. After six months another Muslim, Muhammad Zaman, started a shop illegally in front of the doctor's clinic. The doctor told Muhammad Zaman to move away from in front of his clinic. He then moved his shop next to the one that was still occupied by Muhammad Bashir's brother. These two shopkeepers were unhappy with Dr. Sarder and were looking for ways to take revenge on him. Muhammad Yousaf, a Muslim friend of the doctor, gradually became resentful of the doctor's reputation, social status and financial progress.

On May 2, when Dr. Sarder found his trainee Muhammad Bashir discussing Islamic religious matters with patients, he told him not to waste his working hours in religious discussion in his clinic.

After the complainants' report to the police, a mob of about 200 Muslims gathered from neighbouring houses after it was announced publicly from the mosque mike that Dr. Sarder blasphemed Prophet Mohammad. These Muslims, wearing green turbans, a symbol of their Islamic orthodoxy, forced their way into the house and clinic of Dr. Sarder and smashed doors, windows and furniture. The mob, armed with guns, sticks and kerosene oil, put up a sign on the gate of the house, saying: "This is the house of a blasphamer." When they were about to attack on the persons of the doctor and members of his family, the police arrived and rescued them. The doctor was then arrested and charged under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code and was being held in Gujranwala jail. After six months of incarceration, Dr. Robin Sarder was released from jail and the charges of blasphemy were dropped.

2009 (January 22): Hector Aleem (51), was a human rights activist and director of Peac World Wide -- a small non-governmental organization (NGO) -- that lobbies for the rights of Pakistani Christians in Islamabad, Pakistan's capital. Police, on this date, raided his house in the early hours of the morning and assaulted him, his wife and two daughters. They snatched away 50,000 rupees worth of valuables and smashed the picture of Jesus Christ hanging on a wall. After his arrest, he has been charged under Section 295C (blasphemy) and 109bb (abetting a crime) of the Pakistan Criminal Code.

On November 28, 2008, an Islamic scholar, associated with the Tehrik-e-Sunat, an Islamic militant group, received a text message blaspheming Prophet Mohammad from an unlisted phone number. Yet he claimed that the message came from the cell phone of Hector Aleem. He then registered a case with the police charging Mr. Aleem of blasphemy.

Photo Courtesy:
A large number of Islamist militants made their frightening presence at the court appearances of Hector Aleem. On February 2, 2009, Judge Sakhi Mohammad exonerated Mr. Aleem of blasphemy charges but did not clear him of abetting blasphemy. A government official stated that the judge's decision was heavily influenced by Islamic extremists attending the court hearing and demanding death penalty for the blasphemer.

In November, 2008, Mr. Aleem had become involved in a land dispute between a Christian congregation and the local municipality that wanted to demolish the church building.

2009 (February 13): Two female Christian students -- Amara and Sitara -- of Fatima Memorial Hospital's nursing school in Lahore have been accused of desecrating verses of the Quran, days after Muslim female roommates desecrated a picture of Jesus Christ that Christian students had hung in a shared hostel room.

Since Islamic tradition prohibits images of Allah (God), Prophet Mohammad, or any other religious figures of the Jewish, Christian or Islamic traditions. For this reason, Muslim students were upset over the hanging of Jesus' picture on the wall. One day, some of them took down the picture of Jesus, tore it up and threw the pieces around, when Christian students refused to remove it voluntarily. The nursing school administration did not take any action against Muslim students who first did the desecration of a Christian religious symbol.

Muslim students, on the other hand, accused their Christian roommates, Amara and Sitara , of desecrating Quranic verses on February 13. These Muslim accusers and some Muslim staff of the hospital then threatened legal action against the Christian students. Martha, the hostel warden with 15 years of experience at the Fatima Memorial Hospital, asked Muslim students not to blow a trivial matter out of proportion. At this, the Muslim students, through pressure on the Medical Superintendent Ayesha Nouman, a Muslim, got the hostel warden Marth and two Christian students Amara and Sitara terminated. A Christian spokesman suggested that the blasphemy accusation is part of an effort by "some elements ... to discourage Christian women from entering medical sector."

2009 (May 9):Ishtiaq Masih, a young Christian, was beaten and stabbed to death at a roadside tea-stall at Machlarkay Village in the Punjab Province after he accidentally drank tea from a cup reserved for use by Muslims only. He was traveling by a bus that stopped there to allow passengers to have a break. Makah Tea Stall was owned by a fundamentalist Muslim who employs madrasa (Islamic school) graduates as workers.

When he went to pay for the tea, the stall owner noticed his cross hanging from his neck. Pointing to a sign warning non-Muslims to declare their religion before being served, the owner and his employees beat him with iron rods and clubs, thrashed him with stones and stabbed him many times. Other bus passengers intervened and took him to a nearby rural health centre where he died from head, spinal and chest injuries. Ishtiaq had failed to read the warning sign before ordering for tea.

Later a journalist visited the tea-stall and noticed a large red sign with a skull and bones symbol, announcing: "All non-Muslims should introduce their faith prior to ordering for tea. This tea stall serves Muslims only."

2009 (July 1): Imran Masih (26), a Christian shopkeeper in Hajweri Town of Faisalabad City, was throwing out some old papers in his grocery store. At one point, he found an Arabic booklet. Haji Liaquat Ali, a neighbouring Muslim shopkeeper, noticed it and suggested that it would be better to burn it rather than throwing it out with the rubbish. Imran did it accordingly. After this, the same neighbour began to shout that Imran burned a Quran.

Next day, it was announced publicly from the mosque that Imran committed blasphemy by burning a Quran. Imran rushes to his store to find that a group of angry Muslims were setting it on fire. Then they beat him and his brother. The police also arrested him.

Haji Liaquat Ali and Faryad Ali Jat were two Muslims who lodged the complaint of blasphemy to the police. These two men were telling Imran in front of police that they would withraw the charges if Imran and his family leave the shop and their house and move elsewhere. It is to be noted that, before this incident, these two persons had repeatedly put pressure on Imran and his family to do this. They were looking for an opportunity to evict him and his family from these two properties.

2009 (August 5): A group of agitated Muslims attacked the house of Akhtari Malkani, an elderly woman of Sanghar District of Sindh Province, accusing her of desecrating the Quran. No case was registered but the District Bar Association assured the mob that, if the woman was found guilty, she would be charged under blasphemy laws.


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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Lawrence Subrata Howlader Consecrated Auxiliary Bishop of Chittagong

Father Lawrence Subrata Howlader, CSC, is being welcomed
before his episcopal consecration at Barisal, Bangladesh

Bishop Patrick D'Rozario, CSC, Bishop of the Diocese of Chittagong
(middle), is consecrating Father Lawrence Subrata
Howlader, CSC (kneeling), as the Auxiliary Bishop of Chittagong

Another scene of the episcopal consecration at Barisal

Bishop Patrick D'Rozario, CSC, (right), presents newly consecrated
Bishop Lawrence Subrata Howlader, CSC, to the congregation

Photos by Father Julius Gomez

Bishop Patrick D'Rozario, CSC, of the Diocese of Chittagong, Bangladesh, consecrated Father Lawrence Subrata Howlader, CSC, as the auxiliary bishop of the same diocese in a solemn Mass concelebrated by Archbishop Joseph Marino (Vatican Nuncio to Bangladesh), Archbishop Paulinus Costa (of the Archdiocese of Dhaka), Bishop Theotonius Gomes, CSC, (Auxiliary Bishop of Dhaka), Bishop Michael Atul D'Rozario, CSC (Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Khulna), Bishop Bijoy D'Cruze, OMI (of the Diocese of Khulna), Bishop Ponen Kubi, CSC (of the Diocese of Mymensingh), and Bishop Gervas Rozario (of the Diocese of Rajshahi) on July 3, 2009. Seventy priests, several dozens of Brothers and Sisters and about 2,000 Catholics from different dioceses of Bangladesh were also in attendance.

Life-sketch of Bishop Lawrence Subrata Howlader, CSC

Born at Barisal town of Bangladesh in 1965, Bishop Howlader completed his schooling at Barisal and Gournadi. He did his Bachelor of Arts from Government B. M. College, Barisal, before entering the Holy Spirit Major Seminary in Dhaka. He was ordained to the priesthood at Barisal on December 31, 1994.

He served in different parishes of the Diocese of Mymensingh. Once he served as the rector of St. Paul Minor Seminary at Jalchatra in the same diocese. In 2004, he received his Licentiate and Master's Degrees in Psychology, Spirituality and Counseling from the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome. Until his nomination as the bishop on May 7, 2009, he was the novice master of the Holy Cross Novitiate at Barisal.

The Diocese of Chittagong

Portuguese Catholics first set foot in Chittagong, called Porto Grande (Great Port) in Portuguese, in 1537. They were Portuguese adventurers and traders. Later Jesuit missionaries followed them and built the first church in 1600. Later, with ups and downs, Christianity spread to different parts of the region, now called the Diocese of Chittagong.

The present Diocese of Chittagong comprises of the civil districts of Chittagong, Cox's Bazar, Bandarban, Rangamati, Khagracchori, Noakhali, Feni, Lakkhipur, Bhola, Patuakhali, Pirojpur, Barisal, Jhalkathi, Borguna, Gopalganj, Madaripur and Shariatpur.

According to The Catholic Directory of Bangladesh 2007, out of a total population of 32,760,000, this diocese had 32,950 Catholics.

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

In the Name of Blasphemy, Pakistani Christians Under Frequent Attack - 5

A Timeline of Blasphemy-Based Attacks

on Christians of Pakistan (contd.)

2005 (June 5):
The Nawa-I-Waqt, a daily Urdu newspaper, reported that the Daughters of St. Paul bookstore in Karachi downtown was selling CDs and videotapes that contained blasphemy against Islamic prophets. It was also reported that the Daughters of St. Paul nuns were using these items for proselytizing and converting Muslims.

The police, on June 13, raided the bookshop and confiscated all CDs and videotapes, intimidated the nuns and interrogated a salesperson for 24 hours. These nuns run the bookstore on behalf of the Archdiocese of Karachi. A spokesperson of the archdiocese condemned the media accusations against this bookstore.

2005 (June 28): Yousaf Masih (60), an illiterate sweeper in Nowshera of the North-West Frontier Province, was arrested on charges of desecration of the Quran. The owner of the house gave him some papers to burn. He did as asked for, not knowing what he was burning as he couldn't read or write. A child, who saw him burning the papers, alerted the local authorities. Members of the Islamist six-party alliance, called MMA, were calling for his death. On August 6, 2005, he was granted freedom on US$ 4,200 bail, raised by well-wishers. Having learning difficulties and a weak heart, Yousaf Masih was still at risk of attack from fanatics after his release.

2005 (September 10): Younis Masih (40), of Chungi Amer Sidhu of Lahore, was arrested on charges of blasphemy. On previous midnight, he had gone to his Christian neighbour Baba Chaby's house and requested him that the Qawali songs (mystical Sufi Islamic songs) being played were too loud for himself and the neighbours to sleep. His neighbour refused saying that his Muslim friends in the house were also listening to it. Younis again made the request, but Muslims there became angry and roughened him up. After this incident, Younis left the house.

Next day, Muslims in the community accused him of blasphemy and beat him with sticks until he became unconscious. His wife wanted to intervene, but was assaulted and her clothes were torn to shreds. Upon gaining consciousness, Younis Masih with his wife and the same neighbour of previous night's incident went to the police station to lodge a complaint.

In the meantime, public announcement was made from the mike of the local mosque that Younis Masih committed blasphemy by uttering derogatory remarks about the Prophet Mohammad. The announcement also instigated Muslims to attack and set fire on homes of the Christians. At this several hundred Muslim protesters came out of their houses with sticks and attacked and looted Christian houses. For safety reasons, more than 100 Christian familes fled the area.

The mob then surrounded the police station, where Younis Masih, his wife and their neighbour were still present, and demanded that the police arrest Younis for blasphemy. They refused to move unless the police took action against Younis. The police then arrested him and accused him of blasphemy.

2006 (March 3): Naseem Bibi, a Christian woman, who tried to prevent some Muslim youths drawing a cross on a rubbish heap, was arrested on blasphemy charges. Later the same youths returned with an image of the Ka'abah (the small and cubed black stone in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, facing which Muslims all over the world say their daily prayers ) soiled with excrement, saying she had done the desecration. Naseem was jailed awaiting trial. Her husband reported that she was stripped naked and beaten in police custody.

2006 (May 24): Qamar David, a hospital canteen worker in Karachi, was arrested after Khursheed Alam, a travel agent, complained to the police after receiving a blasphemous SMS text message from him. He was very upset at the Muslim attacks on churches in Sukkur of Sindh Province and Sangla Hill of Punjab Province. He then decided to send these SMS messages as a revenge through his cellphone to some Muslims. The Saddar police have sealed details of his case, FIR No. 127/06. Shabaz Bhatti, Chairman of the All Pakistan Minorities, Alliance (APMA), said: "We asked the police to show us the famous messages, but they refused saying only that it was blasphemous. But if he has to be charged, the incrimating text should be made public. Otherwise, David has been arrested without evidence." In such cases, the sentence can run from 25 years in prison to death.

2006 (September 21): Shahid Masih (19), was jailed on suspicion of ripping pages containing Quranic verses. On appeal, he was finally acquitted on September 17, 2007, for lack of evidence.

2006 (October): James Masih (67) and Buta Masih (72) -- two Catholics -- were arrested and jailed on suspicion of burning pages of the Quran. They did not know how to read and write. Without producing any evidence against them, they were jailed merely on the basis of hearsay. A month later, both of them were sentenced to prison for 10 years. They were released after the High Court overturned their convictions on April 16, 2009. Both of them always insisted that the charges against them were fabricated due to a land dispute between a Muslim and James Masih.

2007 (January 23): Martha Bibi Masih, of Kot Nanka Singh village in the Punjab Province, was arrested on charges of blaspheming Prophet Mohammad. In May 2007, she was released on bail against a payment of 100,000 rupees. Extremists demanded her death by hanging. Her husband with five children have been hiding from these fanatics.

Her husband Boota Masih said that his wife had gone to a local mosque construction site on January 22 to get back some construction materials (bamboos and logs) that the builders had borrowed from her. Since as a Christian she could not enter the mosque compound, she requested some people present there to get the materials for her but no one helped her. Then she sought the help of a nearby woman-shopkeeper. She also refused and an altercation followed between them. Later the shopkeeper told her husband Muhammad Ramzan that Martha had cursed Islam's Prophet during the argument. Ramzan told other Muslim neighbours about the blasphemy and a mob marched to Martha's house at 10:00 p.m. In the mean time, at the request of Martha's husband, Muslim neighbour Muhammad Rashid Mughal hid them in his house. The dispersed after two hours when they failed to locate the blasphemer.

Next day, when Martha left her neighbour's house early in the morning, police arrested her. The shopkeeper's husband's friend Muhammad Dilbar, who was not present at all at the scene of the event, filed the complaint of blasphemy against Martha Bibi Masih to the police.

2007 (April 1): A case against Salamat Masih (45) and four other Christians, of Toba Tek Singh District, were filed with the police for desecrating Islamic posters and stickers containing the name of Allah, Prophet Mohammad and Quranic verses. Later about 80 Muslims from the neighbourhood ransacked Christian houses in the colony.

2007 (April 13): Sattar Masih (29), a water-pumping station worker in Kotri city of Sindh Province, was attacked by Muslim fanatics for allegedly uttering blasphemous remarks. Maulavi Umer, an imam of the local mosque, publicly announced that Sattar Masih was the author of some written papers against Prophet Mohammad and those were found outside the mosque. Muslim worshippers attacked Sattar's house and were about to kill him when the police arrived and saved him. Later the police arrested him, but in January, 2009, the accusation was declared baseless.

2007 (May 2): Javed Anjum (23), of Toba Tek Singh District in the Punjab Province, died of injuries received from five days of torture by fanatic Muslims of a madrasa (Islamic school) on the accusation of theft and refusing to convert to Islam. The torture included beatings, electric shock, burns from iron rods. After receiving 26 severe injuries, he was hospitalized for eleven days and died at the Allied Hospital in Faisalabad. Hospital doctors wrote: "His bladder stopped working. Instead of urine, he was passing blood or pus."

Before this death, in his statement to the police, Javed Anjum said: "I was searching for water near the Islamic madrassa when the Maulvis (mullahs) took me inside and told me that I was a thief and was trying to steal the water pump. I rejected the charge and told the Islamic leaders that I am a Christian youth and a student. I had come here to attend a marriage. As soon as the Islamic extremists came to know that I am Christian, they asked me to convert to Islam. I refused and they started torturing me. They would continue the torture from night till morning. They tortured me badly and during the torture they continuously asked me to accept Islam."

2007 (May 17): After female students of Jamia Hafsa (the fundamentalist Islamic madrasa adjacent to the Lal Masjid -- Red Mosque -- in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan) protested that blasphemy was committed at the nursing school of Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences in Islamabad, the authorities closed down the school for two weeks and suspended the Christian principal and four Christian nursing students. Rumours spread that verses from the Quran, posted on a wall of the nursing school, were defaced. Principal Stella Hidayat said that she was shocked at her suspension. " I was on leave when the incident happened. I don't know why they punished me," she told the Associated Press.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

In the Name of Blasphemy, Pakistani Christians Under Frequent Attack - 4

A Timeline of Blasphemy-Based Attacks

on Christians of Pakistan (contd.)

Shabaz Kaka, a Christian youth, under arrest
for desecrating the Quran, after he used
a washroom (toilet) adjacent to a mosque

Photo Courtesy:

2000 (May 3): Augustine "Kingri" Masih, also known as Ashiq "Kingri" Masih (21), was arrested on blasphemy charge after he tried to return to his Catholic faith by renouncing Islam. Earlier he had converted to Islam for marrying a Muslim girl, but the marriage did not take place. On June 29, 2002, the Faisalabad District and Sessions Court sentenced him to be hanged on charges of "slandering the Prophet Mohammad" and imposed a fine of 50,000 rupees (US$ 830).

2001 (April 1): Pervez Masih, a Christian owner and teacher of a high school in Chailayke Village of Sialkot District, was arrested on charges of uttering blasphemous remarks against Prophet Mohammad during tutoring sessions with three former students. It is thought that a Muslim owner and teacher of a rival school, out of jealousy and greed for gaining more students (business) from Pervez Masih's school, falsely implicated Mr. Masih, who can face a death penalty if found guilty. In November, 2001, he was denied bail.

2001 (June): Shahbaz Kaka was arrested on accusation of desecrating the Koran by tearing its pages and trampling on them. The fact is: Shahbaz Kaka had boarded a bus on that day from Lahore to Faisalabad. After several hours of journey, the bus stopped for a short break in front of a mosque. Like other passengers when Shahbaz came out of the adjacent washroom, a Muslim cleric noticed a cross hanging from his neck. He was questioned and accused of blasphemy. On the cleric's call, the police came, arrested Shahbaz and kept him in jail. His family was not informed of his arrest or whereabouts for about a year. On September 25, 2004, he was given life sentence. On appeal, he was finally acquitted on January 19, 2007.

2001 (June 4): Shahbaz Masih, suffering from bipolar affective disorder, also called manic-depressive illness, was arrested on the accusation of desecrating the Quran by tearing its pages, trampling upon them and burning them in a graveyard adjacent to a mosque in Faisalabad. He was charged under the blasphemy laws (section 295A and 295B of the Pakistan Penal Code).

The complainant, Qari Muhammad Rafique, was the imam (prayer leader) of the local mosque. He said in his application in the police station that when he heard shouting in the graveyard, he and two others went out of the mosque to see what was happening. They found Shahbaz Masih, wearing a cross from his neck, doing the desecration.

On August 23, 2000, Shahbaz Masih was admitted to the government mental hospital in Lahore, but on September 4 of the same year he fled the hospital. He was rearrested later. On September 25, 2004, the lower court of the Additional District and Sessions Judge gave him life sentence. That day numerous fanatic and armed Muslims were menacingly present in his courtroom and outside. On appeal, the Lahore High Court on January 19, 2007 acquitted him of the blasphemy charges because the article 84 of the Pakistan Penal Code also stipulates that a person of unsound mind cannot be convicted.

2001 (June 15): A Gawalmandi (located in Lahore City) police officer arrested Anwar Kenneth (48), a former officer of the government Fisheries Department, while distributing a Gospel booklet. Earlier, someone had filed a blasphemy allegation against him with the police. He was sentenced to death and imposed a fine of 500,000 rupees (US$ 8,300) by an additional judge in Lahore on July 18, 2002.

Lawyer Pervaiz Alam Choudhury mentioned that there were errors in the proceedings in Anwar Kenneth's case because a mentally deranged person like him cannot be convicted for a crime without certified board of directors' opinion about the patient's ability to stand a trial. Pakistani Catholic Bishop Samuel Azariah said that he knew Mr. Kenneth personally and he believed that he needed medical treatment. Social workers also stated that Mr. Kenneth had a history of psychiatric problems.

Anwar Kenneth is said to have claimed to be a prophet who received God's revelations. He refused to appeal his case because he claimed that he would not die even if thrown into the fire. Observers say that this is indicative of his medical condition.

2003 (November 20): Anwar Masih, a day labourer (32) from Shahdara town near Lahore and a father of four, was arrested under blasphemy law under section 295(B). Anwar had an encounter with his neighbour Naseer Ahmad, who had converted to Islam from Christianity. Naseer Ahmad complained to the police that Anwar spoke harshly about his keeping of beard as a Muslim and insulted Prophet Mohammad. In December, 2004, he was acquitted by the Lahore High Court. In August, 2007, when Muslim militants threatened his employer for employing Anwar "the blasphemer", he was retrenched from his job. Since then he went into hiding.

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