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Pakistan's army promotes Christian woman to brigadier

Helen Mary Roberts becomes first woman from a minority group to achieve such a high rank
Helen Mary Roberts.

Helen Mary Roberts. (Photo: Associated Press of Pakistan)

Published: June 04, 2024 04:55 AM GMT
Updated: June 04, 2024 07:40 AM GMT

In a first, a Christian woman has become an army brigadier in Muslim-majority Pakistan where Helen Mary Roberts’ community occupies the lowest rung in society and has been at the receiving end of violence.

Marvi Sirmed, a leading human rights activist, noted that the army took 76 years to promote a Christian woman to brigadier.

"Not too late, perhaps," she said.

Brigadier Roberts is a pathologist with the Pakistan Army Medical Corps for 26 years.

"Brigadier Helen Mary Roberts has proven through her hard work that Pakistani women are no less than men in any field," Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said in a statement on June 2.

"The entire nation, including the Pakistani Christian community, is proud” of her, Sharif added.

Brigadier Roberts is the first woman from a minority group in the Islamic republic of 241.5  million people to reach the elite position.

Nasir William, a rights activist and a member of the Center for Social Justice, an advocacy group for minorities, hailed her appointment. 

"This will serve as an encouragement for the Christian community," William told UCA News.

The Pakistan army, which has tremendous influence in the nuclear-armed nation, is being tight-lipped on her Christian background.

Christian, Hindu, Sikh, and Ahmadi minority communities often face discrimination and violence and live in constant fear of draconian blasphemy laws in the South Asian nation, where Christians make up less than 1.59 percent of the population.

An elderly Pakistani Christian, who was accused of blasphemy and beaten in May, succumbed to his injuries on June 3.

Nazir Masih, 74, died in a hospital in Rawalpindi near the national capital, Islamabad, and was buried in Mujahid Colony, a Christian neighborhood in the Sargodha district of Punjab province.

Masih was seriously injured after a mob of some 1,000 Muslims attacked him with stones, bricks and iron bars on May 25.

In August last year, at least 22 churches were looted by the mob, while 91 Christian homes were torched during violence over blasphemy allegations in the Christian neighborhood in Jaranwala in Punjab.

At least 1,855 people were accused under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws between 1987 and February 2021, according to the rights group Human Rights Watch.

Christians are among the poorest and most disadvantaged groups with no political and financial clout in Pakistan. Though they live in major cities, many of them do poorly paid jobs as sanitation workers. Pakistan has a systemic policy of reserving sanitation posts for religious minorities.

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