Friday, September 30, 2011

Pakistan Accuses Girl of Blasphemy for Misspelling

Young Christian girl beaten and expelled from school for ‘blasphemous’ spelling mistake

On Thursday a simple spelling mistake by a Christian teenage girl in a test at school resulted in a chain of events that casts severe doubt on the suitability of David Cameron’s £650 million in education aid to Pakistan.  The teenage girl, Faryal Bhatti, took part in a school Urdu test around a poem in praise of Muhammad, and made a tiny spelling mistake that resulted in a word roughly equivalent to ‘damn’.

"Faryal spelt the word  "naat" (hymn), in the Urdu language  as "laanat" (curse) during an examination  in which she was asked a  question about a poem written in praise of prophet Muhammad (PBUH)."

Her teacher, Fareeda Bibi, spotted it, recalled her, scolded and physically beat her.  She then reported the matter to senior officers at the school.  Overnight, word spread and male students at the school, aided by some local Muslim religious leaders, held rallies the next day demanding the girl be driven from her home and have criminal charges filed against her.  At prayer sessions that day, Imam’s demanded that not only the girl, but her entire family should be punished.  Officials called a meeting of the school and religious leaders where the girl and her mother were required to appear.  They apologized and said that it was just a simple spelling mistake, but to no avail.  The next day, not only did the school expel her, but her mother, a nurse was moved by authorities from her job in a nearby hospital to another hospital much further away from the school. 

This is not an isolated incident.  Christian and other minority children in Pakistani schools are forced to take Islamic lessons, often face pressure to convert or do Islamic worship, sometimes with beatings, and have to read textbooks that erase their faith’s contributions to history and the Pakistani state, and also often denigrate or demonise their own faiths.  

The head of human rights organisation BPCA (British Pakistani Christian Association), Wilson Chowdhry said ‘This is the education system that Cameron has decided to pour UK taxpayers money into with very lax, if any, monitoring on their use, especially in relation to minority faiths.  Part of the rationale of the aid was supposed to be to strengthen mainstream education as a bulwark against the Madrasa educational establishments of extremist Islamic groups.  This latest incident demonstrates that too often there is all too little difference between the ‘mainstream’ and ‘extremist’ educational establishments in Pakistan.  David Cameron and the coalition government have in effect committed £650 million of UK taxpayers money to a system that routinely and systematically discriminates against and oppresses children of minority religions, and effectively increases Islamic extremist practices.  We call on the Cameron government in the strongest possible terms to reconsider its pledge of aid to the Pakistani education system, especially in the light of Imran Khan’s recent warning about the corrupting effect of much Western aid on Pakistani society.   Without extremely stringent controls and monitoring, it is highly likely that even without any of the regular brand of corruption, Cameron will have pledged hundreds of millions of tax-payers money to an education system that effectively furthers Islamic extremism and imperialism at the expense of minority faith children.’

In the light of these conditions on the ground, BPCA has already floated the idea in recent months of bursaries for Pakistani students with strict conditions and on the ground monitoring of the lessons in the schools involved.

Please sign our international petition calling for Britain to use foreign aid as a lever for change:

Here is a further petition for UK residents only:

Listen to Wilson's interview on Premier Christian Radio:

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