Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Photo Meditation of the Month (September, 2009): SUCCESS


A sculpture at the Folk Museum in Sonargaon of Narayanganj
District, Bangladesh, depicting the tremendous effort that
the bullocks and the cart driver employ in
pulling up the cart from the sticky mud
Photo (Sonargaon, Bangladesh: 1989) © Jerome D'Costa

Imagine a tropical country with the Monsoon season -- frequent rains, literal downpours. Mud roads in the villages get soft and soggy. If bullock carts ply on these roads, clay gets more mashed up and gooey giving in to the pressure of weight. Cart wheels get bogged down. Strong bullocks find it hard to pull out the cart from the clutches of the mud.

Bullock carts sometimes carry people from one place to another. Most other times, they carry goods and construction materials. In spite of all hurdles, they have to move on. They move on. The bullocks and the cart driver, with all their strength and sweats, pull the cart up from the mire and move forward to their destination. Day in and day out they repeat that.

Our life passes through similar phases. Sometimes it bogs down -- we find it difficult to get up and go. With a clear goal and focus, determination, patience and perseverance we can succeed. There's a saying: "Try and try again; you will succeed at last."

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Monday, September 28, 2009

The Poem of the Month (September, 2009): AUTUMN

The Autumn

The Autumn is in,
The Summer is out.
Flowers that bedecked
The gardens and lawns,
Are either wilted, or about to fall,
Making the plants almost bare or dead.

Fruits, melons, pumpkins and the like
Are in the markets and shelves,
Attracting customers in droves
Who will relish the Nature's bounty.

Frequent blasts of wind,
Beating the leaves -- many of them
Yellow, orange, reddish or brown,
About to drop to the ground en masse,
Giving the appropriate name "the Fall"
To the season of Autumn.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

A Photo Essay on My Trip to Ottawa, Canada

This was my third trip to Ottawa, the capital of Canada. In this one-day trip on July 27, 2009, I had the opportunity to go around a bit. In this short time, I tried to capture the spirit of Ottawa in my photographs. Please let me know, through your comments, how you like them.

The business district of Ottawa

The Centre Block of the Parliament of Canada
as seen from a street level

The bronze statue of Queen Elizabeth II on a horse

The bronze statue of William Lyon Mackenzie King (1874-1950)
the 10th Prime Minister of Canada -- was the longest serving
(almost 22 years) Prime Minister in the British
Commonwealth history

The Canadian flag near the Parliament Hill

Visitors at the monument to "Women Are Persons!" It celebrates
joint efforts of five women who won a legal challenge in 1929 to
have women considered "persons" under the British North
America Act.
This case was a landmark step in Canadian
women's struggle for equality.

A bronze statue announcing "Women Are Persons!"

The East Block of the Parliament Hill in Ottawa

Wellington Street scene near the Parliament Hill

The statue of Terry Fox (1958-1981), the Canadian hero,
who had initiated his 'Marathon of Hope' run across Canada
to raise funds for cancer research. The annual "Terry Fox Run"
held worldwide is named after him.

The "Flight", sculpted in bronze by Sorel Etrog in 1966

A decorated window of a church in Ottawa

A wall decoration of two polar bears in action

A totem pole in front of an aboriginal handicrafts
and artifacts shop in the Sparks Street Mall

A bronze statue of a Canadian black bear
in action in the Sparks Street Mall

Two women with their children
taking an afternoon stroll
in the Sparks Street Mall

The "Joy", sculpted in bronze by Bruce Garner in 1970

Some teens expressing their affinity with
the sculpture "Joy"
in the Sparks Street Mall

(L-R) Jessica and Renee -- two students -- sell bus tickets in
the city tour and river cruise booth as part of their summer job

Tourists and visitors are waiting for their bus tour

City tour buses are lining up for loading tourists and visitors. The
amphibian red bus (in the middle) is called 'The Lady Dive' --
which runs on the streets of Ottawa and nearbouring Gatineau
city as well as ply on the Rideau Canal and Ottawa River

The tour bus guide (in red T-shirt) in the Lady Dive is describing
the important sightseeing places to the tourists and visitors

A view of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier -- a victim
of the First World War (1914-1918) -- in the Confederation
Square as seen from inside the 'Lady Dive' bus

A view from inside the 'Lady Dive' as it is plying in the water

A view of the Rideau Canal with a number of tourist boats

Another view of the Rideau Canal. In winter, when the water
of this canal freezes completely, people skate on its solid ice!

Beautiful summer flowers in Ottawa
Photos (Ottawa: July 27, 2009) © Jerome D'Costa

A series of my photographs on the Parliament Buildings on the Parliament Hill and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the Confederation Square in Ottawa will be posted later in my blog.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Wooden Animals on the Prowl in College Park, Toronto


A Canadian black bear (it can also have a brown or
cinnamon colour at a certain stage in life)

An eagle swooping down on a prey
Photos (Toronto: 2009) © Jerome D'Costa

Yes, these animals are on the loose in the College Park of Toronto. They look like real ones, although carved in wood.

After Thomas Penney sculpted them in 1983, these animals have been placed in this small park. Ever since these have increased the attraction of the parkette. Weathering years of coldest winters, Spring and Summer rains and sunshine, these animals are still in good condition.

If you are interested, you may drive to Yonge and Gerrard Streets and have a look at the park. Those who want to go by subway train, they may get down at College Station and walk down to the adjacent park. Oh, don't forget to take your children with you! Bookmark and Share

Saturday, September 19, 2009

In the Name of Blasphemy, Pakistani Christians Under Frequent Attack - 18

Some Observations on the
Blasphemy Law Issues in Pakistan (Contd.)

  1. If we look carefully, we see that religion was not the main issue where attacks on minorities took place. The issue was centuries-old tension between the haves and have-nots, the rich and the poor, the landowners and the landless, the powerful and the powerless, and the voiceful and the voiceless. It is pure and simple that the rich and powerful at present have been using religion and blasphemy laws to exploit the poor, marginalized and landless in a much more easier fashion than before. When certain politicians and law-enforcement officials -- who are supposed to serve all citizens equally -- play in the hands of these people, the exploitation becomes more horrible, more suffocating. Certain politicians and police officials by supporting these exploiters are enriching themselves at the cost of the exploited.
  2. Time and again, incited mobs are attacking, looting and setting fire on properties of minorities. How can 'mobocracy' decide the fate of a minority community? How many other countries have such a mobocracy? It is such a gross injustice by any standard, let alone by any religious standard. If Islam is the religion of peace, this type of mobocracy has no place in Islam.
  3. When Muslim fanatics and militants attack minorities, especially Christians publicly in their homes and churches, when they intimidate judges and defense lawyers, the provincial and central government officials act as if they are helpless, as if they are hostages in the hands of the lawless. They express sorrow as an after-event and announce compensation for the victims. This is like placing a balm on the deep wounds instead of treating the causes of the wounds. Keeping silent or arresting only a few people -- who are not the real culprits or masterminds -- is tantamount to opting for injustice, is like taking a stand against the minorities in Pakistan. Governments are there to look after the interests of all their citizens in spite of all odds in front of them. That's why they are elected to their offices. So far, there is no solid and effective preventive measures in safeguarding the minorities in Pakistan.
  4. If police personnel can't or don't distinguish between what is blasphemy or what is not, if the judges under duress give in and can't do it either, then what's the use of having the blasphemy laws? Keeping the present blasphemy laws as they stand now, is like saying yes to persecution and repression of the minority communities, who have an equal claim to be Pakistanis along with the Muslims. A real Islamic Republic can't have a set of repressive laws.
  5. By accusing persons of religious minority groups of blasphemy against Islam, these fanatic Muslims themselves are engaging in reverse blasphemy by actually making derogatory remarks and slogans against Christianity and founder of Christian religion, desecrating the Bible by tearing its pages or forcibly scattering Bibles on church floors during ransacking of churches and houses of Christians, and crushing crucifixes (crosses), holy pictures and statues and trampling upon them. Reverse blasphemy is also a criminal act covered by the country's civil and criminal laws as well as blasphemy laws. Why then, are the perpetrators of reverse blasphemy not being punished severely?
  6. If one seeks blasphemy around, he will find it everywhere. There is no end to it, but it will depend on who interprets it. How far can one go with accusations of blasphemy? If the verses of the Quran -- the Islamic holy book -- is so sacrosanct, if they are so untouchable, why then write these verses on the public signboards and advertisement boards, why print them on leaflets and handouts, why print them in Islamiat studies school textbooks or even a book for distribution? If a person writes quotes of the Quran (Quranic verses) on a newspaper, magazine, handout, signboard and treads on it or tears it or burns it or throws it in the waste-paper bin, will it constitute blasphemy? If it is blasphemy or if the blasphemy is so easy, then blasphemy is happening all over the Muslim world. Does one have any idea of what actually happens in printing presses and binderies? Initially, after composing a matter (news, article, part of a book), it is given to a proofreader who reads the proof (by marking the mistakes, adding a letter or word with a pen) and send it back to the press. After the corrections are made in the composition, used proofs are thrown away -- some of them are used as fuel for cooking or boiling water for tea, some gets thrown up in the waste-paper bins for sale to the street hawkers (who purchase old or used papers by weight). While printing a newspaper, magazine, book and the like, a sheet of printed paper may be discarded because of a mistake, misprint, wrong or too much ink, and other reasons. These discarded sheets, containing Quranic verses, may be used for sitting, sleeping and other purposes. When printed sheets sent to the bindery, they are kept in stacks. Some may stand on them to reach for something kept on the upper shelf, some may sleep on them when tired or for temporary sleep at night. Imperfectly printed sheets are also discarded there. In the advertisement signboard writing shops, similar things happen. The Islamiat studies book for school children have every likelihood of getting "desecrated" by students -- by tearing of its pages, selling the used book to street hawkers, using old book pages for distribution of sweets or other foodstuff sold by street vendors or making paper bags for shopkeepers. The same thing may happen with old copies or loose sheets of the Quran, especially in a country where most of the population is illiterate or half-literate.
  7. From the past (between 1986 to 2009) anti-Christian events in Pakistan, it has been observed that there is a marked difference between these Muslim religious leaders -- who initiated and participated in the attacks on Christians -- and the Christian religious leaders -- who were actually attacked in their own homes and churches. These Muslim religious leaders suffer from a massive insecurity complex and when they perceive to be attacked by blasphemy, they do not resort to the country's laws for action and justice. They themselves take the law in their own hands, which is totally a crime in itself. They do not wait for the police to take appropriate action on the cases. They incite fellow Muslims to attack Christians in their homes and churches. They place a heavy pressure on the police and judges to mete out severest punishments. There's no room for forgiveness or love for their neighbours. Christian leaders, on the other hand, when actually attacked viciously in their own homes and churches, show much patience, resort to the rule of law and justice, rather than instigating common Christians to attack Muslims or their infrastructures (homes, mosques and shops).
  8. If a set of laws (blasphemy laws in their present formulation) make people lawless, if they give incentive for breaking more laws of the country by attacking people and their institutions and properties, how can these laws be Islamic? Aren't these laws negating the teachings of Islam? If Pakistan really wants to have a rule of law, it must abrogate these laws as they stand now for greater good of the country and its people. If really necessary, it should formulate new laws with the provision of severe punishment for filing false blasphemy cases, for inciting people to attack houses and places of worship of the minorities, for looting and burning properties. If certain policemen participate in falsely implicating people in blasphemy without proper investigation and verification, they should also face severe disciplinary action.
  9. The blasphemy laws of Pakistan have been promulgated to serve the good cause of Islam -- so that the true Islam is followed and practised. Are these laws, in reality, serving that purpose? Aren't these laws, as they stand now, causing un-Islamic activities (attacking others, ransacking houses and places of worship, looting of valuables, setting fire on properties and grabbing lands illegally) in the name of Islam? How many more people need to get killed, how many more villages and settlements of minorities need to be ransacked and burnt down, how many places of worship need to be desecrated and how many innocent people need to flee their homes and settlements before anything concrete is done to redress the unjust situation arsing out of the present state of blasphemy laws?
  10. Pakistan needs to think deeply on the blasphemy law issues and their repercussions: (a) A country that wants all its citizens to grow up responsibly and patriotically and make the country strong, cannot deprive a section of its own population of their basic rights. (b) Today, the minorities may be in insignificant number, but their number will increase in next 10, 20 or 3o years. Such a deprived group of people will not remain passive in their behaviour in the long run. There are plenty of examples in history that such type of deprivation and injustice create fertile grounds for insurgency and revolution. (c) A section of the population (religious fanatics and extremists, landowners and the like) can't hold another section of population hostage at the cost of the greater interest of the country. (d) Hatred breeds more hatred, violence breeds more violence. The world history is full of such examples. (e) Regarding the blasphemy laws, Pakistan needs to take a lesson from the Christian Europe of the Medieval period. At that time, the Catholic Church controlled and influenced the national and private life of people. In the name of religion and in the name of saving the country and Church from blasphemy (at the time, mostly heresy), thousands upon thousands of people were incarcerated, persecuted, tortured and even put to death. Inevitably, revolts in the form of Protestant Reformation Movement, French Revolution and the like happened. The monolithic Catholic Church divided into many Churches. In addition, with increasingly widespread education among the masses of Europe, things began to change for the better. The grip of the Church on the lives of people loosened. After losing everything, the Catholic Church learned its lesson. Pakistan should give more importance to universal education among the masses to break the hold of ignorance, exclusivist attitude, bigotry and hatred. Madrassa education is too narrow in direction in the sense that it gives prominence in teaching religion (Islam) almost at the exclusion of arts, science or commerce subjects. As a result, madrassa students in later life find it difficult to cope with the secular life and issues.
  11. Where are the majority of the Muslim Pakistanis and saner section of the society, who are good and want to see real Islam to be preached and practised? Where are they who want to live peaceably with the religious minorities? How long will they let their country earn a bad name in the name of Islam? They have a grave responsibility regarding this matter. When will they put pressure on their government to bring reforms to the present ineffective laws?
Some Quotes to Note

In doing research on this subject, we came across some quotes that are worth noting and reflection. We present them below for our readers.

  • "Blasphemy law is used as a weapon to settle personal scores. Many innocent people are killed and incarcerated due to its misuse of blasphemy laws. Similarly, in the cases of blasphemy, the families of the accused are also threatened and they faced harassment and victimization." -- Shahbaz Bhatti (in June, 2006), Chairman of All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, Founder-President of the Christian Liberation Front, and the Executive Director of the Pakistan Council for Human Rights. (At present in 2009, he is the Minorities Affairs Minister of Pakistan in the Prime Minister Asif Ali Zardari's government)
  • "The blasphemy laws of Pakistan are a handy tool to silence debate and dissent. They are also used to detain people when the real motivation includes land issues or professional rivalry." -- The Amnesty International (the human rights organization based in the U.K.) that called for the abolition of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan
  • "The Christians are the easiest targets in Pakistan because they are poor, they can't raise their voices, they can't fight cases." -- A Pakistani human rights worker, who wants to remain anonymous
  • " Not a single murderer who killed anyone for blasphemy has been punished for murder. In fact, such murderers get hero's treatment in police stations. And those police officials who openly honour such murderers have never been tried for their illegal and reprehensible action." -- An Islamabad-based Pakistani human rights activist who also wants to remain anonymous
  • "This is not the first time that people have been falsely accused of blasphemy. Discriminatory blasphemy laws are being used against Christians on one pretext or the other -- personal enmity, vested interests or bias without a semblance of truth in the allegations." --Bishop Max John Rodrigues (of the Catholic Diocese of Hyderabad, Sindh Province, while speaking of the recent attacks on Christian villages of Korian and Gojra
  • "Religion is a personal matter. Every person has a right to observe his religious doctrine or teachings. Nobody has the right to persecute another in the name of religion." --Allama Mohammad Abbas Komeli (a Muslim cleric attending an iftar (breaking of fast) programme organized by Catholic and Protestant Churches at St. Thomas Cathedral in Hyderabad on August 29, 2009 where representatives of major religions were present
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Thursday, September 17, 2009

In the Name of Blasphemy, Pakistani Christians Under Frequent Attack - 17

Some Observations on
the Blasphemy Law Issues in Pakistan

Some news headlines on attacks on Christians in Pakistan
Layout © Joachim Romeo D'Costa (Sept., 2009)

If we carefully review the blasphemy law situation and reflect on the blasphemy cases against Christians and other minorities in Pakistan, what do we see?

  1. The initial blasphemy laws were promulgated by the British in undivided India in 1927. Pakistan President Zia-ul-Haq in 1986 added several sections in the Pakistan Penal Code. Later there were some amendments added to make the blasphemy laws of Pakistan the most severe in the world. From 1927 to 1986, there were only seven recorded blasphemy cases in the region that now constitutes Pakistan. After 1986 until 2005, about 4,000 blasphemy cases have been filed.Minorities, including Christians, living in Muslim majority countries know well the consequences of a wrong move regarding the Quran and Prophet Mohammad. No minority person in his or her right mind would dare do anything that would bring in devastating ire and retribution from the majority community and jeopardize one's own life and security. So blasphemy by a minority would be the rarest thing in the world. Moreover, is it believable at all that minorities, especially Christians in Pakistan, would be in the sudden suicidal march in the field of blasphemy when they had been living in quite harmony with their Muslim neighbours in last several hundred years? The present overproduction of of blasphemy cases in Pakistan point to a greater malady in that region. A person with a common sense understands that there is something wrong with these so-called blasphemy cases.
  2. If we view the issues from different angles of the blasphemy cases, we see the following: a) Governments: The Provincial Governments are the first ones that are supposed to deal with the blasphemy issues and cases. These governments proved time and again that they had failed to prevent wrongful blasphemy cases and marauding attacks on religious minority villages and settlements as well as their places of worship. Officials of these governments always rush to the devastated areas only after the event and express their sympathy and grant compensation to the victims and relatives of the dead. Neither these governments took appropriate measures for arresting ring-leaders of the mayhem nor the inciters of riots. The Central or Federal Government, on the other hand, failed to stop the abuses of the blasphemy laws. It has been giving a deaf ear to the cry of the religious minority communities for abrogating these infamous laws or reforming the laws in such a way that blasphemy cases are taken by authorized government officials after thorough scrutiny and investigation and provisions are made to severely punish the accusers who file blasphemy cases by making false accusations. b) Fanatic and Extremist Groups: It is extremely sad that they are able to publicly (over the microphones of mosques) incite fellow gullible Muslims to attack minorities in their villages, settlements an places of worship. These groups also recruit the local imams (prayer leaders in mosques) and madrassa (Islamic religious school) students in their evil deed which is contrary to the real Islam. In most instances, these imams, extremist groups and their leaders get away from any prosecution. c) Law-Enforcement Personnel: Some of these people are ready to violate the country's laws to side with the unreasonable and lawless religious fanatics for personal gains. This type of behaviour is un-Islamic because instead of bringing about justice, instead of helping the vulnerable, they side with the rich and powerful who use unlawful means to reach their objectives. d) Judges: Some of the judges give in to the pressure and intimidation of the fanatics and give wrong judgment against innocent people of the minority communities. They, thereby, act against Islamic principles and teachings. Being in authority position, if they perform their duty under duress, they can't do justice to the blasphemy cases. The government has the duty to give proper protection to the judges and punish anyone who threaten them to give wrongful judgment. e) Religious Minority Groups: Religious Minorities in Pakistan consist of Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and Ahmedis (Qadianis). Besides the Ahmedis, other minority groups belong to the lowest stratum of the society. Financially and socially they are in most vulnerable position. After the blasphemy laws of 1986, these minorities are being hunted down by some of the Muslim rich and powerful in the name of blasphemy. The vision of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, is being trampled upon in the name of blasphemy laws. In a speech to the Pakistan Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947, he had said: "You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State" (
  3. Mosques are prayer houses of the Muslims. These are sacred places. These places are supposed to be used for praying to Allah (God), for hearing enlightening sermons on bettering one's religious, moral and ethical life and living peacefully with others who are not Muslims. But, in reality, we see that certain mosques have become a vehicle for preaching hatred, for taking revenge on others, and for inciting simple and gullible Muslims to murder kaffirs (infidels, i.e. non-Muslims), to ransack their houses and places of worship, to loot household items and to grab lands illegally. All these un-Islamic activities -- condemned by the Quran and Sunnah (tradition of Prophet Mohammad) -- are being done in the name of protecting Islam. In short, certain mosques are being used to violate Pakistan's civil and criminal laws in broad daylight.
  4. Madrassa is an Islamic school which is supposed to teach and help youngsters practise real Islam. They are supposed to behave with others showing proper respect following Islamic principles. Some madrassa students are regularly being used and abused. They are being instigated to participate in hate speech, rampaging houses and places of worship of the minorities, looting valuables and setting fire on properties, and in certain cases, even in murdering others. If these young people can do these in their primes, what will they do in their later ages? What will they teach their children in future?
  5. If the law-breaking ceremonies (by way of filing wrongful blasphemy cases with the help of some of policemen, by lying and inciting people by falsely claiming blasphemy, by attacking people, homes and prayer houses, and by participating in arson) continue unabated, they become a habit. In future, these very people will do the same with other Muslims and the Government. So, instead of practising real Islam -- that asks for tolerance, peace and equality of all -- they will turn into a bunch of rowdies, anarchists and habitual lawbreakers. This situation is never a healthy one for progress and prosperity of a country.
  6. The preaching, teaching and defending of Islam are being hijacked by certain groups that use Islam for their own political, economic and social gains and interests. They want to be the guardians of Islam by violence, intimidation and other illegal means.
  7. Pakistan is officially called the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, where 96% people are Muslims. In this type of republic, Islamic laws and principles are supposed to be followed by Muslims in all spheres of their life. Real Islam is supposed to be taught, propagated and observed. In this type of country, minority communities are also supposed to be protected and given proper security. "Islamic Republic" is not supposed to be only a slogan, but a reality in life.
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Sunday, September 13, 2009

In the Name of Blasphemy, Pakistani Christians Under Frequent Attack - 16

Bishop John Joseph (1932 - 1998):
A Human Rights Martyr of Pakistan (Contd.)

Bishop John Joseph of Faisalabad, Pakistan, before his death
Photo Courtesy:

Why Is He Called a 'Martyr'?

Although the Catholic Church does not condone suicide, yet common Catholics and other Christians in Pakistan call the late Bishop John Joseph a 'martyr.'

Father Bonnie Mendes, a close associate of the bishop in Faisalabad, said that his death is never described as a "suicide" -- an act condemned by the Catholic Church -- but as a "sacrifice on behalf of his people." He also said: "The very night he made his sacrifice, people sent out messages, first in the city of Sahiwal, later by telephones all over the country. At once there were demonstrations, processions, rallies and the unanimous slogan, 'Bishop John Joseph the martyr.' For the people, he is no less than that."

Bishop John Joseph can be called a martyr, because:

  • Common people, especially Christians, know how much he loved them, empathized with them and cared for their welfare. They know how sincere he was in trying to help them in most difficult and adverse situations.
  • He sacrificed his life to save more lives in future.
  • His suicidal death was not a self-defeating one, but one to defeat a greater force of evil so that greater good comes for the minority communities in Pakistan.
  • Like Jesus Christ, he took upon himself the pains and sufferings of the people and sacrificed his life for their deliverance.
  • Like Moses of the Old Testament of the Bible, he tried his best to liberate his people from the oppression of the modern pharaohs (persecutors and usurpers).
  • Like Jesus he spoke and fought for the human rights. He became a voice of the voiceless people.
  • He only chose this method of dying only when all the avenues were exhausted, only when the minorities -- including Christians -- were being persecuted in greater numbers in the name of blasphemy laws.
  • He chose to die like a martyr to make a dent on the juggernaut -- the selfish and self-serving system of governing in Pakistan.
  • People consider him having heroic virtues, like: a) tremendous love for his people; b) sacrificial leadership; c) integrity in his words and deeds; d) courage to face injustices; e) hard work for the development of the poor and marginalized; f) patriotism; g) loyalty to the Gospel values, and h) approachability.
An Awami (People's) Bishop

Common people called Bishop John Joseph an awami bishop -- people's bishop. They gave him this dear epithet because they felt very close to him. He was a person who could be counted upon at their emergencies and sufferings.

Bishop John Joseph was quick to stand by their side -- listening to them, providing them encouragement, hope and support. He was the true neighbour described in the Gospel of the Bible.

Bishop John Joseph kept every Monday and Tuesday designated for meeting his people, who were mostly poor asnd marginalized. Christians from town slums and villages would be allowed to meet him on these days without making any pre-appointment and unload their pains and voice their grievances against their unjust employers, landlords and government officials who were to serve the people.

He mediated disputes and helped them with financial assistance in different ways. He also helped them get their relatives released from jails or make appeals to higher courts to reconsider the unjust blasphemy cases. (pp. 163-174 of The Christians of Pakistan: The Passion of Bishop John Joseph by Linda S. Walbridge (London: RouteledgeCurzon, 2003).

Not Without a Controversy

Bishop John Joseph was not without a controversy -- nepotism, giving more time and money to the poor and marginalized than others and the like. Whereas most other Bishops and many priests in Pakistan were, as typical, of pietistic, patronizing and hands-off type, Bishop John Joseph was of participatory and "go-getter" type. He was an "activist bishop", no doubt -- participating in protest demonstration, rally and hunger strike side by side with the common people. If he is measured in totality, his strengths are more weighty than his weaknesses.

Why Was He an "Activist Bishop"?

Bishop John Joseph was in Rome doing doctoral studies in theology when the Second Vatican Council (1963-1965) was going on. He was greatly influenced by both the Second Vatican Council and the ongoing "Liberation Theology" of Latin America. The Vatican Council opened the windows of the Catholic Church to make it a real Church with participation of common people in different aspects of its life. As a result, the bishops and priests, leaving their former aloofness and "arrogant attitude", tried to become more humble, participatory and accessible. The Church wanted to be the Church of the People of God.

The "liberation theology", on the other hand, was a movement in the Catholic Church, especially in Latin America, partly inspired by the Second Vatican Council and the 1967 papal encyclical Populorum Progressio (of Pope Paul VI). Father Gustavo Gutierrez of Peru, Father Leonardo Boff of Brazil, and Father Juan Luis Segundo of Uruguay were the leading exponents of this theology, which received encouragement from the Latin American Bishops -- especially, in resolutions adopted at 1968 Bishops' Conference of Latin America in Medellin, Columbia.

According to this theology, the Gospel of Christ demands that the church concentrate its efforts on socio-economic justice -- that is, liberating people from poverty and oppression. Others in the Catholic Church objected to this theology that also used some Marxist ideas, supported for revolutionary movements and criticized traditional Church institutions.

What Others Say of Bishop John Joseph

On the eighth anniversary of the death in 2006, Bishop Andrew Francis of the Catholic Diocese of Multan described Bishop John Joseph as "perennial voice of ecumenical and inter-faith dialogue," who "preached the words of the Gospel with all his life." He also said that Bishop John lived "according to the words of Mahatma Gandhi: 'We must be the change, we wish to be in the world.'"

On May 6, 2006, at the seminar "Bishop John Joseph and Protection of Religious Minorities", Bishop Joseph Coutts of Faisalabad said that Bishop John Joseph was known as a "Bishop of the downtrodden and had served the people of God till his death." Mr. Peter Joseph at the same seminar said: "Bishop John Joseph rose above and fought against the discriminations based on belief, gender and territories." Mr. Cecil Chaudhary said: "Bishop John was not the only Bishop of Christian community, but a Bishop of whole Pakistan and had been struggling for a peaceful and non-discriminated society. The movement of struggle for equal rights would continue." Joel Amir Sahotra said: "Bishop John was a religious as well as leader. He motivated the youth to come in the forefront and led the community and would always be remembered in all struggles against the injustices." Yousaf Pirandita said: "Bishop John laid down his life so that others may live in peace."

The termed Bishop John Joseph as the "Qui Yuan of South Asia." "Qui Yuan, who was living in China in 200 B.C., was a clear-headed person in a very confused country at a difficult time. He knew his people, therefore, he gave advice to the emperor to make things better for the people. The emperor ignored his advice. To stress on the importance of his advice, Qui Yuan drowned himself in a river. His protest drew attention of the people. Similarly, Bishop John Joseph is a modern hero who was a clear-headed person living in a confused country. His country's blindness came from religious fundamentalism where under blasphemy law persons were condemned to death. After protesting against this for a long time, the Bishop realized the depth of the problem, when mobs encouraged by fanatical [Muslim] clerics killed one of his people in front of the court. As short time later, the Bishop promising that he will sacrifice his life to stop this from happening, shot himself to death in front of the same court. His death shocked whole world and Pakistan in particular. Bishop John Joseph represents the great spirit of protest not only for the people of Pakistan but also for South Asia in general. This needs to be celebrated and the cause for which he gave his life needs to be pursued with courage and dedication."

Life-Sketch of Bishop John Joseph

Bishop John Joseph was born on November 15, 1932 at Khushpur of Faisalabad District under the Punjab Province of British India.

He passed his Matriculation Examinations (Grade 10) from St. Thomas High School at Khuspur in 1949. He then passed F.Sc. from the Government College of Faisalabad. After studying in Lahore Seminary, he pursued his philosophical and theological studies at the Christ the King (Major) Seminary in Karachi. He was ordained as the first Punjabi priest on January 18, 1960. In 1964, he received his Ph.D. degree in theology from the Angelicum (the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, run by the Dominicans) in Rome. In 1958, he completed his Urdu Fazil studies and in 1969 did his Masters in Urdu from the Government College of Faisalabad. He also played a pioneering role in the modern translation of the Bible as well as Catholic liturgy and prayers in Urdu.

In 1970-1980 he was Professor and Dean of Studies at the Christ the King Seminary, Karachi. On October 24, 1980, he was nominated as the Auxiliary Bishop of Faisalabad. He was consecrated a Bishop on January 9, 1981. On January 24, 1984, he became the bishop of Faisalabad.

He also served as the Chairman of the National Commission for Justice and Peace, National Commission for Christian-Muslim Relations, and Catholic Literature Board.

If you are interested in reading about the dedicated life of Bishop John Joseph, please go to and type in The Christians of Pakistan: The Passion of Bishop John Joseph by Linda S. Walbridge.

Bishop John Joseph Shaheed (Martyr) Trust

To continue the outreach programmes that Bishop John Joseph was personally involved with, Johnson Michael, a Catholic layman and nephew of the late bishop, established Bishop John Joseph Shaheed Trust in 2001 in his honour.

These programmes are in health (to bring medical care to neglected rural areas in the diocese of Faisalabad), in human rights (to continue the fight of Bishop John Joseph against discriminatory laws) and in the promotion of social harmony. Father Shafiq Hadayet, director of Faisalabad diocese's Inter-religious and Ecumenical Commission, told the UCANews that "the trust continues the work of Bishop Joseph had started. The bishop wanted to reach out to those who are unreached."


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In the Name of Blasphemy, Pakistani Christians Under Frequent Attack - 15

Bishop John Joseph (1932 - 1998):
A Human Rights Martyr of Pakistan (Contd.)

Bishop John Joseph is articulating his point
in a speech in Pakistan

Photo Courtesy:

The Blasphemy Case Against Ayub Masih: A Critical Test for Bishop John Joseph

Ayub Masih (25) of Arifabad (also known as Arifwala) Village in Sahiwal District was a member of the Catholic community under the jurisdiction of Bishop John Joseph of Faisalabad Diocese. He was a bricklayer in Karachi, where he was also studying at the Bible College.

In August, 1996, he returned to his village to visit his family which was facing trouble from a Muslim landlord who wanted to grab all residential plots of the Christians. His father and brothers refused to give up the land rights to their properties. One day Ayub and one of his brothers were beaten in their family house by several dozen Muslims. They dragged both of them to the local police station. They were not arrested that day.

On October 14, 1996, Ayub was arrested for blasphemy against Prophet Mohammad -- a crime punishable by death in Pakistan -- following a complaint made by the landlord Muhammad Akram. His complaint was that Ayub Masih urged Muhammad Akram and his family to know the truth of Islam by reading Salman Rushdie's book Satanic Verses and he also told them to convert to Christianity. It is to be noted carefully that the case against Ayub relied solely on verbal testimony of the complainant. No other evidence was sought or submitted. The police never investigated the veracity of the alleged incident. After his arrest, Ayub's family and other 13 Christian families fled the village and their properties have been grabbed illegally by the usurpers.

The Sessions Court of Sahiwal, under pressure from Muslim extremists, on April 27, 1998, sentenced Ayub Masih to death and imposed a fine of 100,000 rupees (about US$ 1,667).

Bishop Kills Himself As a Deafening Protest Against Pakistan's Infamous Blasphemy Laws

The death sentence of Ayub Masih was the fourth one given against Christians of Pakistan since early 1990's. Ayub's unjust death penalty represented the persecution Christians were facing in that country.

Bishop John Joseph, who was actively fighting for the rights of the minority communities, especially Christians, of Pakistan, saw that all efforts were not bearing expected results. Persecution of the minorities was increasing day by day. He wanted to do something drastic so that the government of Pakistan is forced to do something concrete regarding the blasphemy laws so that the minorities might enjoy their appropriate freedom and safety.

It was May 6, 1998. In late afternoon, Bishop John Joseph attended a prayer service for the victims of Pakistan's blasphemy laws -- in particular, for Ayub Masih who was condemned to death. Later, at the instruction of Bishop John Joseph, the vehicle driver drove the bishop and a fellow priest, Father Yaqoob Farooq, several hundred kilometers to the the premises of the Sessions Court in Sahiwal. It was about 9:00 in the evening. At one point, Bishop prayed with the priest and driver near the corridor of the Sessions Court and told them to leave him alone for some time. Upon hearing the sound of a gunshot, the priest and driver rush to the spot where they left the bishop. They then find the bishop lying dead on the ground with a revolver nearby. It was exactly the same place where, on November 6, 1997, the complainant Muhammad Akram shot and wounded Ayub Masih just as he was coming out after the court hearing. It was the same Sessions Court that, on April 27, 1998, gave the unjust death penalty verdict against Ayub Masih.

The news of this sentence was a hard one for Bishop John Joseph. He desperately searched for lawyers and others to appeal the death penalty of Ayub Masih in the higher court. There was none to come forward for fear of their lives in the hands of the Muslim extremists. He looked back to the past and reflected on the sad events that unfolded due to the use and abuse of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan.

Ultimately, the bishop sacrificed his own life for the greater good of the minority communities in Pakistan.

Bishop's Death Was a Planned One

For quite some time, Bishop John Joseph hinted at sacrificing his life if the abuses of the blasphemy laws of Pakistan continue.

At the funeral of Manzoor Masih in April, 1994, Bishop John Joseph had promised to give up his own life before he allowed anyone else to be sacrificed for the infamous blasphemy laws (p.163 of The Christians of Pakistan: The Passion of Bishop John Joseph by Linda S. Walbridge, London: RouteledgeCurzon, 2003). According to Father Bonnie Mendes, a close associate of Bishop John Jospeh in Faisalabad, the exact words of the bishop at this funeral were: "Manzoor, we are sorry this happened to you. If anybody's blood was needed, I should have been the first. I shall shed my blood but will not allow the blood of my people to spill in this country." Manzoor Masih along with Salamat Masih and Rehmat Masih were arrested on blasphemy charge of writing derogatory remarks on Prophet Mohammad on a mosque wall at Ratta Dhotran of Gujranwala District. On April 4, 1994, Manzoor Masih was killed by an assailant and two other defendants were injured in front of the court house in Lahore.

The other hint of sacrificing his life was in the public address he had prepared and faxed to a seminar to be held in Rome in conjunction with the Synod of Bishops for Asia in March of 1998. Father Bonnie Mendes quotes these two last paragraphs of his speech: "I shall count myself fortunate if in this mission of breaking the barriers, Our Lord accepts the sacrifice of my blood for the benefit of his people. As St Paul wrote, 'It makes me happy to suffer for you, as I am suffering now, and in my own body to do what I can to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the church' (Colossians 1:24).

"This is the only effective response to the ever-growing phenomena of violence around us. Are we ready to take up the challenge and follow him, carrying this cross on our shoulder? Are we ready to drink the cup of suffering to the bitter end as Jesus did? Each one of us has to formulate his or her personal response. May the crucified and risen Lord give us the courage to do so. Amen." (from:

There was another hint of sacrificing life in his letter to the Dawn, the daily newspaper from Karachi. In the letter, published one day before his death, Bishop John Joseph urged fellow Bishops, NGOs, parliamentarians, Muslims, Christians, Hindus and all sections of the society to struggle for the repeal of the Section 295B and 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code. He also added: " we must act strongly and in unity, Christians and Muslims, in order not only, to get this death sentence suspended but to get 295B and C repealed without worrying about the sacrifices we shall have to offer, dedicated persons do not count the cost."

Immediate Reactions to His Death

The unexpected death of Bishop John Joseph was a bombshell to all. The news spread like a wildfire both within and outside Pakistan. Messages of condolence began to pour in from everywhere. Christians and non-Christians alike condoled his death and appreciated his untiring and dedicated work in the field of human rights. Although his death was a suicide, which is usually looked down upon, most people took his death as a self-sacrifice for a greater cause. His spirit lighted the hearts of many.

On May 11, 1998, about 10,000 Christians -- both Catholics and non-Catholics -- mourned the death of their dear bishop John Joseph and participated in the burial of his body on the grounds of Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral in Faisalabad. At the time of the burial, Muslim extremists attacked and set fire on Christian homes and shops in a neighborhood of the cathedral. These Muslims shouted slogans in favour of blasphemy laws. They even threatened to bring down the government if concessions were made to the Christians.

In response, Christians attacked policemen for not responding fast enough to counter the Muslim rampage. The police used teargas to disperse the crowd and arrested 16 Muslim militants and five rowdy Christians.

On the day of Bishop's burial, about 1,500 Christians marched through Karachi and set fire to shops and vehicles. They raised slogans against the blasphemy laws that have been wrecking havoc in Pakistan.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

In the Name of Blasphemy, Pakistani Christians Under Frequent Attack - 14

Bishop John Joseph (1932 - 1998):
A Human Rights Martyr of Pakistan

Bishop John Joseph of the Catholic Diocese of Faisalabad.
He killed himself on May 6, 1998 in front of the Sessions
Court of Sahiwal in protest to the blasphemy laws under
Ayub Masih was awarded the death
sentence on April 27, 1998

Photo Courtesy: //

Bishop John Joseph was the Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Faisalabad, Pakistan. He was also the Chairman of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), the human rights arm of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Pakistan. Ethnically, he was a Punjabi. He was the first local Catholic Bishop of Pakistan.

A Committed Human Rights Advocate

Bishop John Joseph, a dedicated human rights worker, also called a "human rights activist" by some, was widely respected for his fight for human rights of the minorities of Pakistan, especially the Christians.

He vehemently objected to the introduction of the blasphemy laws by President Zia-ul-Haq and also against the inclusion of one's religious faith in the ID cards, as these would act as a hindrance to the Christian-Muslim dialogue in Pakistan.

Bishop Leads Two Nation-wide Protests in Favour of Religious Minorities

Bishop John Joseph gave leadership in two nation-wide protests of the Christian community in Pakistan.

The first protest was organized in 1992 against the Pakistan government's proposal for inclusion of one's religious faith in the national identity cards. Christians and other minorities were apprehensive that the new ID cards would lead to further victimization of already discriminated religious minorities -- such as, the denial of equal opportunities in employment, promotion in jobs, education, and political representation.

Bishop John Joseph, on his own, went on hunger strike along with about half-a-dozen Christians in a tent in the centre of Faisalabad city. They sang psalms from the Bible and their fast lasted for a week. By this hunger strike he sent a message to the government of Pakistan that the minorities would not react passively to discriminatory laws.

The second protest was in 1994 against the murder of Manzoor Masih. Manzoor Masih, Salamat Masih and Rehmat Masih were accused of writing defamatory graffitti about Prophet Mohammad on a mosque wall at Ratta Dhotran in Gujranwala District. When Manzoor Masih and two other accused came out of the Lahore High Court building after the court hearing on April 5, 1994, three gunmen on motorcycles opened fire at them. Manzoor was killed, while Salamat and Rehmat were injured.

According to the Amnesty International report, "prior to the alleged graffiti incident...Salamat Masih had argued with a neighborhood boy over pet pigeons. The boy then told village elders that he had seen Salamat Masih write on the mosque wall. There appears to have been a history of petty clashes and hostility between Christians and their Muslim neighbours." Manzoor Masih and Salamat Masih were illiterate -- neither could they read or write.

The second protest march started from the Cathedral grounds of Faisalabad and proceeded on to the streets. The protesters, headed by the bishop, protested against the assassination of Manzoor Masih. After the peaceful protest, Bishop John Joseph made three demands to the Faisalabad city authorities: 1) The murderers of Manzoor Masih should be arrested; 2) The blasphemy laws should be repealed; and 3) Christians should be given enough security to exercise their religion.

The Blasphemy Laws of Pakistan

The laws on blasphemy were first incorporated in the Penal Code by the British Government in the undivided India in 1927. Since then until 1986, when several new sections on blasphemy were added in the Pakistan Penal Code, only seven blasphemy cases were filed in the entire region of present Pakistan. After President Zia-ul-Haq's new blasphemy laws were introduced in Pakistan in 1986, more than 25 persons died due to blasphemy accusation and more than 4,000 blasphemy cases have been filed and more than 1,000 persons --- Muslims, Ahmadis, Christians and Hindus -- have been charged with blasphemy.

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Saturday, September 5, 2009

In the Name of Blasphemy, Pakistani Christians Under Frequent Attack - 13

A Christian house is in flame in Korian Village
Photo Courtesy:

Muslim Mob Rampages Through Korian Village
in Toba Tek Singh District

2009 (July 30): On the evening of this date, Muslims in the village of Korian, near Faisalabad, announced over the mosque loudspeakers to assemble near a certain mosque for teaching a lesson to the infidel Christians who were alleged to be protecting the accused of blasphemy by burning some pages of the Quran. The nearby villages also made similar announcements over their mosque mikes. More than 500 Muslims gathered and the announcements were continuously inciting them.

After shouting "Allah-u-Akbar" (God is Great), "Kill the infidels", the agitated mob armed with iron rods, guns, sticks and inflammable chemicals, moved on to the Christian homes, ransacking, looting and setting fire on them. Forty-seven homes were burnt with a special chemical thrown on them. Two Protestant Churches -- one belonging to the New Apostolic Church and the other to the Church of Pakistan (Anglican) -- were also ransacked. The mob did not forget to snatch away valuables (radio, TV, money), water pumps, and cattle from Christian homes.

As it was night, many frightened Christian men, women and children could flee away to nearby fields and bushes.

After their misdeeds, the assailants blocked the Faisalabad-Gojra Road by lying down on it to prevent the police or fire-truck from reaching Korian, where houses were still burning.

Catholic Bishop Joseph Coutts of Faisalabad reports that the problem started in Korian on July 26, 2009, when there was a marriage ceremony in a Christian house. Some children unknowingly cut up pages of an old book (Islamic Studies) to make ticker-tape to shower on the wedding party. Next day when some Muslims found pieces of paper with Arabic script and some Quranic verses scattered about, they started to create an uproar. However, the matter was settled amicably by both Muslim and Christian elders of the village when it became clear that this had been done by children who were illiterate and there was no intention of desecrating any Islamic holy texts.

Yet the sinister forces were at work behind the scenes. They were circulating the rumour among Muslims that the Christians of Korian had desecrated the Quran by tearing its pages and scattering them on the roadside to be trampled upon. They brought the accusation of blasphemy saying that Imran Masih (the bridegroom) burnt pages of the Quran that his father Talib Masih (a street vendor who sells sweets and ice-creams to children using used papers as wrappers), brought along with some papers.

On July 31, Shahbaz Bhatti, the federal Minister of Minorities, came from Islamabad to observe the destruction. Kamraan Michael, Punjab Provincial Minister for Minorities and Human Rights, along with some Christian MPs (members of the parliament) also visited the area. They gave assurance of some government compensation and of bringing the situation back to normal.

Even after the violent attack on the Christians of Korian Village, mullahs (Muslim clerics) continued to circulate malicious rumours of the Quran desecration by Christians. As a result, Christians surrounding villages and towns of Korian, began to receive threats.

Muslim Mob Attack on Christians of Gojra Town in Toba Tek Singh District

Burnt out houses and destroyed items on the street in Gojra
Photo Courtesy:

2009 (August 1): The latest threats came to realization on this day when about 1,000 Muslims -- armed with sticks, clubs, guns and flammable chemicals -- moved on Gojra, a small town where about 2,000 Protestant and Catholic families live.

The assailants, many of whom wore masks to hide their identity, ransacked and looted 100 Christian houses and burnt 50 of them and killed nine persons -- among whom six were of the same family burnt alive in their home.

Qadeer Awan, an official of the PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League party under the leadership of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif), sent his party people to Jhang to bring Islamic activists, who were masked during the attack on Gojra. They moved on this town firing their guns and some Christians on the other side tried to defend themselves by firing into the air to scare away the attackers, but they soon ran out of their limited ammunition. A few policemen there took evasive action and used only some teargassing. The vicious attack continued for five hours. Later when police reinforcements arrived, the destruction of Gojra was complete.

Salman Taseer, the governor of the Punjab Province, said on August 4 that the fundamentalist Taliban militants from the Swat Valley were responsible for the communal clashes in Gojra. Speaking to the media, he said: "We strongly condemn Gojra carnage. Such heinous acts of violence and brutality are not an enriching sign for any one."

Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said that a preliminary investigation showed there was no desecration of the Quran. "It was just a rumour which was exploited by anti-state elements to create chaos."



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