Christians & caste


File photo: Girls from Pakistani Christian community decorate their home for the upcoming Christmas holiday in Islamabad, PHOTO/AP Photo/B.K. Bangash

Christmas is hardly a big occasion in Pakistan. More than two million Pakistani Christians celebrate it guardedly, with few from the Muslim majority joining them. Government officials issue cut-and-paste statements and put up a Christmas tree or two in public places, and then return to the business of lending legitimacy to majoritarianism.

Indeed, Christians in this country usually make their way into the public consciousness when they are victims of lynch mobs or young girls from the community are forcibly converted and married off to Muslim men. So even if only in a symbolic fashion, let us acknowledge the humanity of the otherwise beleaguered Christian population and rejoice alongside them on the biggest day of their year.

Those who squirm at the thought of celebrating Christmas ought to introspect about why. Many Pakistani Muslims come into contact with Christians regularly, particularly in metropolitan centres. Those who are relatively affluent employ Christian women as cleaners inside their homes; while municipal authorities almost exclusively hire Christian men and women as ‘sweepers’ who clear gutters, roads and pretty much all public spaces of dirt on a daily basis.

Slightly further up the class ladder, Christians find work in hospitals as nurses and janitors — the ‘cleaning’ motif dominates here too. There are certainly Pakistani Christians involved in other occupations, but the point should be clear; they are hugely overrepresented in the ‘sweeper’ profession.

This has little to do with the Christian faith. It has to do with caste, one of the great unspoken facts of Pakistani society. One often hears the refrain that there is no such thing as caste in Pakistan because caste is associated with Hindu social structures and Muslims don’t ‘do’ caste. The rhetoric is completely out of touch with reality.

High Asia for more

Comments are closed.