Around eight months ago, a Christian father named Waris Masih of Faisalabad, Pakistan, borrowed 40,000 rupees from a Muslim money lender named Ajmal Urf mithu Cheema. Masih needed the loan to pay for repairs to his home and the costs associated with their latest child, Naira, who was just 9 months old.
The exorbitant contract was beyond his means, as he was only employed as a embroidery machine operator in a textiles factory. Sadly for him, this meant that he could not pay the requisite monthly interest payment for November that Cheema collected every 20th day of the month. The missed payment was Masih's first.
During two telephone calls one on Nov. 25-26, Masih asked Cheema to give him until after Christmas to raise the additional funds to pay for November and December in one payment. However, this only lead to a heated and very insulting exchange including threats of violence. Masih had explained to Cheema that in January her would be paid 70,000 rupees as a payment as part of his membership of a 'committee' —a village savings and loan scheme where members pay a regular amount into a central pot of money and take turns in receiving a loan amount. However, Cheema did not want to wait till January for his payments.
To collar Masih for the outstanding payment, Cheema arrived at Masih's home at 11:45 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 27 and demanded full payment of the outstanding payments owed to them. When Masih asked for more time, Cheema started abusing Masih before his wife and children.
Cheema then pulled out a pistol and started to fire at Masih, who ran into his home to escape. While Masih fled the attacker, the shots meant for him hit his 6-year-old daughter, Myra, who was playing on her veranda. She was shot in the head and left shin and fell to the floor, unconscious. Cheema fled the scene of the crime.
Though Masih and a neighbor rushed Myra to the hospital, she succumbed to the serious injuries she had sustained in the incident and was pronounced dead at 4:30 a.m. on Nov. 28. Doctors have said the shot to Myra's head had made it impossible to operate safely, and she died during surgery to remove the bullet lodged in her brain.
Myra's mother, Reena Masih, age 26, who is exhibiting signs of extreme trauma, said:
I wish I had died, not my daughter. I was with Reena, who asked me to take her to the toilet when the shooting suddenly began
My lovely, bright intelligent daughter was taken away from me by a cruel and brutal man; she was the eldest sibling for my younger children and such a good example to them. She was so excited by the birth of Naira, my youngest daughter, and loved to dress her up. She said Naira was her living doll, but now she will not see her sister grow up.
Her sister Saira (3 years old) keeps asking me where Myra is. I have told her that Myra is playing with the angels in heaven—this gave her some solace. She has been traumatized by the murder of her sister.
I cannot express the pain I feel. I am deeply depressed and find it hard to carry on. I feel as if I have failed my daughter. It is my responsibility to my remaining children and my husband that keeps me going and the knowledge that God is now caring for my daughter in heaven, where one day I will see her again and ask her to forgive me.
I will cry and mourn my daughter every day till the day I am reunited—she will never be forgotten.
Father Waris Masih said:
I would never have reneged on my debt; I just needed time to clear it. I am still in shock at this death—there was no need for the violence. I was going to pay of my debt in full in January.
I blame myself for this death. If had just waited till January for the committee and had not taken the loan, my daughter would be with me. I just wanted to get our house in good repair and buy the things necessary for Naya, our latest daughter.
I have cried and beaten myself over this death but still feel the pain. I just want Myra back, but I know it will be a long time before we can be reunited. The pain of her death is like a bullet in my own heart. It would have been better for my family if [Cheema] had killed me.
Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, said
Living in Pakistan as a Christian is in most cases a gruesome ordeal; you live life on the margins, are severely discriminated against and persecution is only around the corner.
Incidents like this gory tale of a young child being murdered to compensate for a missed payment on a loan shark agreement are sadly commonplace. Worse still, such crimes rarely result in a prosecution as perpetrators without any compunction are able to buy themselves out of justice using the Qisas and Diyat laws to avert proper punishment.
Being able to use threats or a bribe to escape incarceration has created criminal impunity that has exacerbated the situation and caused the proliferation of powerful crime syndicates. For all intents and purposes, it has meant many crimelords are above the law.
Statutory authorities have little appetite for justice and voraciously accept and consume the hefty bribes that come their way. Families, often frightened of being targeted by the crimelords accept the Qisas and diyat bribes themselves, hoping to survive a potential onslaught which inevitably will be ignored by police.
By providing a safe house and prosecutor to such victims, we hope to slowly change the current judicial malaise that has made the lives of Christians in Pakistan a living hell, by ensuring proper justice occurs.
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