Date: May 26, 2023
Mother of five held in employer’s home for a week.
By Our Pakistan Correspondent
Asma Gulfam and husband Gulfam Masih. (Morning Star News)
LAHORE, Pakistan (Morning Star News) – A Christian housecleaner in Pakistan was beaten and illegally confined for a week by her Muslim employers after she tried to leave her job due to pregnancy, she said.
Asma Gulfam, a 28-year-old Catholic maid in the Paka Ghara area of Sialkot District, Punjab Province, said she had worked for Huda Adnan for five years. Gulfam said that in early April she informed Adnan that she was five months pregnant and could not continue working due to a medical condition, but Adnan said she had to remain.
On April 18, Adnan accused her of stealing 1 million rupees (US$3,490) that had been left in a bathroom some days prior, Gulfam said. When she denied it, Gulfam said, Adnan dragged her into a room where a police assistant sub-inspector, Ijaz Ahmed, and three other policemen were waiting with Adnan’s husband, Mian Adnan.
“As soon as they saw me, the policemen led by Ijaz started hurling abuses and curses at me,” Gulfam told Morning Star News. “They threatened to tear my clothes if I did not admit to the alleged theft, but when I refused, they pulled my hair and started beating me up mercilessly. During the torture, Ijaz also tried to pull my nails.”
They ignored her cries that she was innocent, Gulfam said. She began bleeding from the uterus due to the blows to her abdominal area, but the policemen and her employer’s husband continued hitting her, Gulfam said.
“I cried and screamed for help, but no one came to rescue me,” she told Morning Star News. “I have worked in that house for so many years, and not once had the couple accused me of any wrongdoing. I worked very hard and honestly, because for me this was a good testimony of my Christian faith.”
The mother of five children including the unborn said they held her against her will for eight days and repeatedly beat her.
“I was held hostage in Huda’s house all this time during which I was repeatedly tortured,” she said. “My assailants rebuked me for being a Christian and said no one could save me from them until I confessed to the false allegation.”
When her husband, rickshaw driver Gulfam Masih, went to Civil Lines police station to report her missing, officers arrested him, she said.
“They kept him in illegal confinement for a week and released him on April 26, only after my health worsened,” she said.
Her husband rushed her to a government hospital, where a medical examination showed that she had been physically abused.
“My unborn child’s life was at serious risk due to internal hemorrhaging, but doctors managed to save it,” she said.
Asma Gulfam said that as soon as she was able, she went to police, reporting the brutality and illegal confinement to a Sialkot District police officer on May 10. The District Police Officer ordered an investigation, but officers dismissed her complaint without even questioning her, she said.
Her attempt to obtain justice angered her former employers, who registered a theft charge against her and her husband on May 17, she said. They initially registered a First Information Report (FIR) against unknown persons, but later named the couple in a supplementary statement, Asma Gulfam said.
“I can now only appeal to our community leaders and government high-ups to save us and our children from this persecution,” she said.
Imran Sahotra of the Maseehi Bedari Tehreek (Christian Awakening Movement) said his group was able to secure interim bails for the couple on Tuesday (May 23).
“The Muslim family used its influence to discharge Asma’s complaint against her torture and then registered a false FIR against the couple to ‘teach them a lesson,’” Sahotra told Morning Star News. ”The case shows how the vulnerable Christian community does not have access to justice in Pakistan.”
Sahotra said they had also filed a petition seeking legal action against Assistant Sub-Inspector Ahmed. Additional District and Sessions Judge Abdul Jabbar has directed police to submit a response by Wednesday (May 31).
“The police officer must be punished, because the poor woman could have lost her unborn child or even died herself due to his torture,” Sahotra said.
Sahotra said that Asma Gulfam’s ordeal began when she declined to continue working for her Muslim employers because of her pregnancy.
“Many poor Christians are victimized through false allegations, including blasphemy, if they choose to discontinue working for their Muslim employers,” he said. “The pattern is quite similar when you examine such cases.”
The activist appealed to church and community leaders to raise their voices for persecuted Christians.
“Our people will continue to suffer from persecution unless we unite as a community and raise a collective voice against this oppression and demand justice,” he said, adding that the government should also ensure easy access to justice for religious minorities.
Costs and lack of resources are the most prominent barriers for religious minorities in accessing justice in Pakistan, according to the Karachi-based Legal Aid Society.
“Religious minorities were less confident about attaining a fair trial compared to their Muslim counterparts,” the legal group stated in its 2021 Legal Needs Assessment Survey. “They foremost identified themselves as not affluent and powerful, and therefore not possessing the law to seek protection within its ambit, nor the law taking ownership of them. Consequently, they seldom approach the judicial system to seek justice.”
Pakistan ranked seventh on Open Doors’ 2023 World Watch List of the most difficult places to be a Christian, up from eighth the previous year.