Catholic nurse Fazilat Lal (right) with Archbishop Sebastian Shaw at St. Anthony’s Higher Secondary School in Lahore on June 19. (Photo: Kamran Chaudhry/UCA News)
Catholic woman Fazilat Lal was accused of initiating an anti-Islamic campaign when she was promoted to nursing superintendent at Services Hospital in Lahore two years ago.
“During my professional career, I never covered my face like the rest of the female nurses. Some staff members started lobbying against me and accused me of inspiring ‘Naqab utaro muham’ [Remove naqab],” Lal told UCA News.
“The campaign continued for a month. But I survived with the support of other colleagues. Despite taking the Hippocratic Oath, the religious element is enforced in the nursing profession in our country. Christian nurses often face religious bias. They are overworked and teased by their co-workers.”
Kiran Manzoor, another Catholic staff nurse, described similar challenges at Mayo Hospital, one of the oldest and biggest hospitals in Lahore.
“Muslim staff are particularly prioritized over non-Muslims in government hospitals. There is no forum to address the injustices we face and share our problems. We continue serving in fear and are disappointed in our leaders,” she said.
Her husband has prohibited her from engaging in religious discourse in her workplace since her younger sister was tortured at a private hospital a few years ago.
Christian missionaries pioneered women’s health and education in Pakistan
“She was accused of promoting incest for celebrating Valentine’s Day. She tried to explain the Christian concept of God as love but was slapped by the head nurse of the outpatient department. Her husband and mine visited the hospital officials to explain her position,” said Manzoor.
Her family didn’t report the incident to the media in order to protect the woman’s job and safety. However, three blasphemy allegations against Christian nurses have already been reported this year.
On April 27, Muslim nurses at a Lahore mental hospital occupied a chapel at the facility that was used for Sunday services after they accused a Christian nurse of committing blasphemy by sending an "objectionable" video to a nurses’ unofficial WhatsApp group.
On April 9, two Christian nurses were detained by police after a first information report under Section 295-B of the blasphemy law was made by a doctor at Civil Hospital, Faisalabad, who accused them of scratching a sticker inscribed with “Durood Shareef,” a salutation for the Prophet Muhammad.
In January, Christian nurse Tabitha Nazir Gill was slapped and stripped for alleged blasphemy at a hospital in Karachi in Sindh province where she had worked for nine years. The nurse, known for singing Gospel hymns in Urdu, the national language of Pakistan, remains in hiding abroad.
Human rights groups say blasphemy cases lately have increased in Pakistan, where blasphemy is a highly sensitive issue. Those who are accused are sometimes lynched by mobs even before they reach court. Forced conversions and marriages of Christian girls in Punjab and Hindu females in Sindh province are another concern.
In 2019, a 30-year-old Christian nurse, Saima Sardar, was shot dead by a Muslim at Faisalabad District Hospital after she refused to convert to Islam and marry him.
Christian missionaries pioneered women’s health and education in Pakistan. An estimated 60-70 percent of nurses in Pakistan belong to the Christian community. Pakistan has more than 160 registered nursing institutions where most students belong to the Christian community.
In 2003, Fazilat Lal helped Lahore Archdiocese establish a Christian nurses’ fellowship with the support of a Maltese nun and Archbishop Emeritus Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore.
“More than 60 nurses used to attend monthly meetings at the bishop’s house. However, the union fizzled out in 2011 with the retirement of Archbishop Saldanha,” she said.
Both Lal and Kiran Manzoor were among more than 250 Christian paramedical staff, nurses and doctors who attended a June 19 seminar at St. Anthony’s Higher Secondary School in Lahore.
Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore paid tribute to them for their service during the coronavirus pandemic. Caritas Pakistan staff joined 10 priests in distributing roses among the participants. “You are our heroes. May God keep you safe,” stated a banner.
Several participants referred to the recent blasphemy allegations against Christian nurses as well as their conversion to Islam.
Among their proposals were Christian gatherings, Easter events, faith formation programs, bachelor of science degrees in nursing in Catholic-run hospitals and career counseling for youth.
Archbishop Shaw urged them against spreading the Gospel in hospitals.
“There is no need to evangelize during duty hours. It is dangerous; avoid it. Demonstrate your faith through your service. There is a difference between healthy dialogue and critical analysis,” he said.
Archbishop Shaw, who is also the apostolic administrator of Multan Diocese in Punjab province, is planning a similar session in Multan. Daughter of St. Paul Sister Shamim Inayat, a member of the Catholic Women’s Organization, is coordinating with local nurses.
“Based on our discourse, we shall try to find solutions for their challenges. Christian girls working in factories around Multan face similar challenges. We are urging them against sharing their freedom with Muslim co-workers. We are also urging parents to develop deeper relations with their working daughters in our overtly religious society,” Sister Inayat said.