Christian laborer in Pakistan shot for requesting wages

Waqas Masih is recovering after March 23, 2024 attack in Faisalabad District, Pakistan.
Waqas Masih is recovering after March 23, 2024 attack in Faisalabad District, Pakistan. | (Christian Daily International-Morning Star News)

Muslim farm owners in Pakistan on March 23 beat a Christian laborer with iron rods and shot him in the leg for requesting his wages owed him, sources said.

Waqas Masih, a 42-year-old farm laborer in Chak No. 8 Panj Garaiyan Kamalpur village in Faisalabad District, Punjab Province, had asked for his wages in order to buy clothes for his two children for Easter celebrations, said his brother, Akash Masih.

Farm owners Luqman Jutt and Imran Jutt attacked Waqas Masih, a Catholic, after he pleaded with them to pay his wages, his brother said.

“The two men first brutally tortured Waqas with the iron rods, and then Luqman pulled out a pistol and opened fire on him, resulting in a bullet injury on his right thigh,” Akash Masih told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News, adding that they continued beating his brother as he lay bleeding from the bullet wound.

“We were able to take him to the Allied Hospital in Faisalabad on time, otherwise he could have died due to excessive bleeding,” he said.

Although police registered a First Information Report (FIR) against the two suspects, they obtained pre-arrest bail and have returned to the village, he said.

“We are very poor, and a majority of the nearly 300 Christian families living in the village work as laborers for Muslim landowners,” Akash Masih said. “We are often subjected to cruelty and torture because we are weak and helpless.”

The assault was the owners’ second in less than four months on his brother, he said.

“In December, my father, brother Waqas and his wife were attacked in our home when he requested his employers to pay his wages for Christmas,” Akash Masih said.

The family decided to sell their 816-square-foot house and leave the village for better prospects, but the landlords learned of their plans and were determined to keep them in bonded labor even though they had repaid a 150,000-rupee (US$540) loan taken from as advance salary three years ago, he said.

“My brother has paid 70,000 Pakistani Rupees [US$252] in excess to the loan amount, but even then they are deducting money from his wages,” Askash Masih said. “They have intentionally trapped us in this debt bondage to keep us from leaving their work.”

Local police were aiding the suspects, who are influential in the local community, he said.

“Neither of the two accused have been arrested, while on the other hand, we are being warned against raising the issue,” he said. “In such circumstances, there’s little hope for justice for us.”

Waqas Masih was recovering at home, but the attack has strained the family’s meager finances.

“I appeal to the police to give us justice and protect us from further exploitation by the landlords,” Akash Masih said. “This is our only demand to the government.”

Community leaders say that costs and lack of resources are the greatest barriers for religious minorities in obtaining justice in Pakistan.

“A majority of Christians are poor, working-class people and consider their minority status as an exacerbator of their poverty,” said former Punjab Minister for Minorities Ejaz Alam Augustine, a Christian affiliated with the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). “They are not confident about attaining justice and, unfortunately, the law also hasn’t really taken ownership of them.”

Augustine said the government needed to instill confidence in vulnerable communities by ensuring access and justice.

“Rule of law and speedy justice are a prerequisite for any civilized society,” he said. “Perpetrators of violence, especially when the victims belong to vulnerable communities, must be dealt with sternly in accordance with the law.”

Pakistan ranked seventh on Open Doors’ 2024 World Watch List of the most difficult places to be a Christian, as it was the previous year.