Christians pay tribute to the people killed during a suicide attack in a Pakistan church in this file photo. (Photo by IANS)
A Christian survivor of an alleged arson attack in Pakistan's Punjab province is now demanding security as tension grips the Muslim-majority neighborhood.
Rahmat Masih burnt both his knees trying to rescue his daughter and four-year-old granddaughter on Jan. 23 when a massive fire suddenly engulfed their house in Bahadurpura village in Kasur district, Punjab province, where the majority of Christians in the country reside.
He is currently recovering in hospital while fear grips the 120 Christian families also living in the village.
"I have lived a very proud life there but now I do not want to return. We have lost everything in the fire and have nothing. We want justice," said Rahmat Masih, showing a giant blister on his left palm.
Rahmat, a Christian labourer, complained to police who have registered a case against his neighbour, Basharat Ali who was arrested and released on bail.
"Ali, a landlord, wanted to buy my 101-square meter house but I refused. He threatened to burn my family home three months ago. Before that his partners raped my 25-year-old daughter when she was alone at home. They also stole one of my calves before Christmas," said Rahmat. In Pakistan, "Masih" is appended to a given name to denote a Christian, usually a male. Most Pakistani Christians go by only a first name.
A Christian worker from a non-governmental agency said the fire was deliberate. "Clearly the locals wanted them to convert or leave the area. The flammable chemical [that started the fire], bent even the iron beams, it is usually used in church attacks," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Reports of Christian persecution, blasphemy allegations and forced conversions are a regular feature in Kasur, an impoverished district of Punjab province.
In 2014, Shama Masih and her husband, Shahzad Masih were accused of blasphemy. They were lynched and their bodies burned in a brick kiln in Kot Radha Kishan, a village in the same district.
In 2009, a mob attacked Christian homes in Bahmani Wala, another local village, after a Christian was accused of blaspheming against Prophet Mohammed.
Wadera (feudalism) culture is mainly responsible for the ongoing persecution, said Father Cecil Paul, the assistant parish priest of Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Kasur.
"Many landlords run their own brick kilns in the area where both Christians and Muslims work as bonded labors. However, Christians suffer more as they are a minority," he said.
More than 95 percent of Pakistan's 180 million people are Muslims. Less than 2 percent are Christians, Hindus and other religious minorities.
Christians are the most persecuted religious minority in Pakistan. In recent years, Christians braced continuous deadly terrorist attacks in the country leaving hundreds of them dead.