Pakistani Christian Villagers Forced to Pay Muslim Cleric to Get Drinking Water

Ashfaq Fateh | ASSIST News Service | Thursday, April 26, 2012

Pakistani Christian Villagers Forced to Pay Muslim Cleric to Get Drinking Water

TOBA TEK SINGH, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- Scientists say that “a man or woman cannot live without air, water and food,” as these three elements play a vital role in human life.

Most countries ensure the fundamental rights to its citizens to ensure the availability of all these three elements. Citizens pay taxes to get pure drinking water and other facilities.

However, the story of Christians living in village #700/42, Pirkadiayana, Tehsil Kamalia, District, Toba Tek Singh, Punjab, Pakistan, is a different one where their supply of water was on the condition that they not only had to pay the required water tax and also pay a Muslim cleric of a mosque in the village.

In Pakistan, municipal corporations (MC) supply drinking water through their water supply schemes. Underground pipelines have been laid and a citizen applies for the connection and government then connects the house with a water supply, thus the citizen gets drinking water. The bill is collected annually.

In villages and remote areas, the government in installs the water supply system and then asks locals to form their management committees to run the system and develop their own system of collection, time table, repairs, payment of electricity bills and issuing connections. The committees run the system and try to provide water connections without any religious discrimination.

Now ASSIST News Service-Pakistan has come to know about the story of this village where poor Christians have been forced to pay water tax as well to the local Muslim cleric.

ANS-Pakistan decided to highlight this story which shows the miseries faced by Christians and an example of their unity and faith to work together despite the challenges.

The 244 Christian families of Pirkadiayana village paid extra charges to a Muslim cleric from the local Mosque from 1997-2009 to get drinking water.

A local Christian, Aslam Masih, told ANS-Pakistan: “In 1997, Pir Ali Raza Shah, a member of the Punjab Assembly provided funds for the water supply scheme for the village, and the Muslims formed the management committee and did not include any Christian from the village.

“The management committee invited applications for water connections. One hundred thirty-five connections were provided to Christians of the village. The committee decided to charge Rs. 140 from each connection-holder, Rs. 110 per month for water tax and Rs. 30 for a Muslim cleric of the local mosque. The Christian elders protested against paying illegal tax to Muslim priest but the committee threatened to exclude them from water supply scheme for nonpayment to the Muslim leader.”

Another Christian, Arshid Sadiq, said: “We were forced to accept the demands of the management committee as they were powerful and if we refused to pay, our women and children had to fetch drinking water from miles away and our most of the time was spent in this exercise. Therefore, there was no alternative.”

Jamil Masih, another believer, stated: “For almost 10 years the system remained smooth and Christians were supplied enough water. However, since 2007 the energy crises hit Pakistan and prolonged power outages become common, the management committee started discrimination with Christian connection holders.

“When the electricity restores for one or two hours out of 24 hours, the committee supplied water to Muslim connection holders only. The Christian connection holders remained without water for days. The Christians protested against acute shortage of water but no avail.”

Nazir Sadiq said: “In 2009 during worst energy crises, the committee crossed all bounds and supplied water for six to seven days a month and charged full water tax and tax for Muslim priest. The Christian connection holder protested against this, the committee chairman rather threatened the committee shall stop water supply to Christians even he asked Christian connection-holders to pay more water tax.”

Gulzar Yaqoob, another Christian who was hit by this problem, said: “This situation forced Christian community to sit together and think over the exploitation and injustices of the committee. The Christian community decided to set up its own water supply system. Each family decided to pay Rs. 2,000 to install water system and purchase a generator. The community formed its own committee and finally got its water supply at the door steps through underground pipelines.

“The committee fixed per-month tax and exempted poor widows to pay the water tax for being the poor of the poorest. The committee decided not to charge extra besides water tax. The committee collects tax and spends money on maintenance of system and diesel purchase for generator as the electricity remained closed for 18 to 20 hours and getting electricity connection for water supply system is an uphill task.”

Since the oil prices have been increased, it has become hard for the Christian committee to keep its water system functional. Per-month collection is Rs. 40,000 (US$449), while the expenses have been reached to Rs. 65,000 (U $730).

Mariam Bibi, a mother of six, said: “Extreme power outages have deprived my sons from work. The industry has been closed. My three sons were working in the factory and now since two months they have no work. My elder son is working in army and whatever is earned is spent on my sickness and ration. Utility bills are more than double due to inflation. It is very hard to manage to pay the bills like water tax.”

The government of Punjab’s department of Public Health Engineering deals with the water supply system; the Christian water management committee has made several visits to get a solution to their problems but to no avail.

I spoke to a legislator of the area, Mian Muhammad Rafiq, a member the Punjab Assembly, and he has promised to resolve the problem “as early as possible."

“However,” he added, “it may take some months as the plan has to be prepared and will then be put to the district development committee or be included in the next state budget.”

Nobody knows how long the poor Christians of the village will have to continue to suffer and remain without water. However, the chairman and committee are happy that their representative has promised to resolve the issue.

The story of this particular village is a very good example of unity, faith and self-help. They must be encouraged and supported.

Ashfaq Fateh studied civic and human rights at Pakistan's leading university, the Aga Khan University in Karachi. He has been working to promote peace, human rights and particularly Christians' rights. He has also been working against the discriminatory laws prevailing in Pakistan. His wife, Rafia Salomi, is serving as deputy director for Society for Human Development, popularly known as Human Development Center, an icon of Christians' rights in Pakistan since 1984. His e-mail address is assistpakistan@gmail.com.

c. 2012 ASSIST News Service. Used with permission.

Publication date: April 26, 2012

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