In this screen grab Farzana Ejaz and her son Sharjeel Masih share their story with Minorities Rights Watch activists on Oct. 20. (Photo supplied)
Pakistani authorities have suspended the head teacher of a government school for assaulting a Christian student and abusing his mother.
Nusrat Shaheen was suspended on Oct. 22 after a complaint of discrimination against 12-year-old Sharjeel Masih by his parents.
Sharjeel, a fourth grader, was beaten and suspended for a week from the Government Boys Primary School of District Attock, Punjab province. The district education officer has launched an inquiry into the incident.
"I was just trying to turn off a running tap when the teacher grabbed me, called me churha (low caste) and asked why I had touched the tap and made it filthy. 'This tap is not from the country of your mother,' she said before abusing me. I had to sit outside the school for five hours," said Sharjeel, whose father works in a military hospital as a sanitary worker.
His mother Farzana Ejaz recounted the humiliation of the incident to ucanews.com.
"I accompanied him to school the next day to apologize for any mistake committed by my son. She [Nusrat Shaheen] asked me to grab her feet for the mistake of my son and threatened that her brother, a police officer, would sell my younger daughter to a brothel," said the mother of three.
"Sharjeel was punched in the belly and back. Ever since her appointment three years ago, the headmistress has picked on him. We are now being threatened and approached by the family of the principal as well as local politicians."
In a notice dated Oct. 22, the education officer cited several charges against Shaheen including "misconduct [physical/corporal punishment], using abusive language and discrimination against a minority as well as misbehaving with the mother of the student." Corporal punishment is strictly prohibited in schools in Punjab province.
Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari tweeted that the case involved "horrific discrimination" against a child, adding that "even one such case is one too many."
Kashif Nawab, administrator of Minorities Rights Watch, praised the timely action against the head teacher.
"The state has to strengthen its policies against increasing intolerance and lack of acceptance in society. This is the result of both discriminatory laws and a biased education system. Effective teacher training can help in bringing change," he said.
"The affected family are poor and in dire need of government support from powerful people who are trying to force a compromise."
Last year, Christian girl Muqadas Sukhraj was shifted to evening classes at a school in Attock after she opted to study ethics instead of Islamic studies. According to her family, a Muslim teacher punished her for not learning Islam and ordered Muslim students to avoid eating with her.
Although non-Muslim students can opt for ethics instead of Islamic studies in pre-high school examinations, Catholic institutes prefer to teach Islam to allow students to attain better scores and have competent teachers.
In August 2017, ninth grader Sheron Masih was killed by Muslim classmates in a state-run school in Burewala in Punjab province for allegedly drinking water from a glass meant for Muslims.
Christian researchers say school textbooks in the Muslim-majority country promote hatred of other religions and nationalities. A delegation of the National Commission for Justice and Peace, the Catholic Church's human rights body in Pakistan, shared similar concerns with minister Mazari in Islamabad on Oct. 10.