Remembering Hendry Masih
By Muhammad Akbar Notezai
“In our 7th grade textbook, there was a lesson on how to invite a Christian to convert to Islam. If this is the case, then how can our children learn to have tolerance towards religious minorities when they grow up?”
This question was asked by slain Christian MPA Hendry Masih lamentably at the Minister Provincial Assembly hostel in Quetta, two years ago. Hendery Masieh was gunned down by his bodyguard on June, 14, 2014. On the same occasion, he raised another issue: “Minorities, despite being equal citizens as guaranteed by the constitution, cannot hold the office of the prime minister or of the president.”
Although Hendry Masih was the MPA of Balochistan’s tiny Christian population, he also fought for the legitimate rights of other persecuted religious minorities in Balochistan, too. He would speak out against the kidnapping of Balochistan’s indigenous Hindus who were kidnapped for ransom and later released after paying a huge amount to the perpetrators. He vowed to do his level best to get these issues addressed by his Chief Minister Dr. Abdul Malik Baloch, as the above-mentioned minority has been living in Balochistan for centuries.
Unfortunately, his brutal murder at the hands of his own bodyguard reminded us all of former Governor Punjab, Salman Taseer’s tragic death, where he, too, was gunned down by his bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri. Whereas Salman Taseer was killed for defending Aisa Bibi, a woman accused of blasphemy, Hendry Masih had almost certainly been killed due to his faith: Christianity.
A mosque, which is the sacred house of worship for Muslims, was named after Mumtaz Qadri in a scruffy suburb of Islamabad. Although Hendry Masih neither committed blasphemy nor did he defend someone who was accused of committing blasphemy, he was still killed.
The vacuum left by Hendry Masih’s death can never be filled. He will not only be remembered by his own Christian community but also by Balochistan’s other religious minorities for serving and raising voices for their rights and issues at different forums. Not only was he easily approachable, he would meet his people (minorities) with respect and listen to their issues attentively. That is why Balochistan’s religious minorities, even if they did not belong to the Christian community, seemed extremely satisfied with him, as he always raised his voice against injustice and for their issues.
Hendry Masih started his political career on the platform of the Baloch Students’ Organization (BSO), and then he joined Balochistan’s current Chief Minister Dr. Abdul Malik Baloch’s party, the National Party. He was elected unopposed on a minorities’ seat by the National Party. Also, he would write his name as ‘Hendry Masih Baloch’, as minorities in Balochistan are a part of the Baloch society.
Additionally, what he enunciated on one occasion is still reverberating in my mind: “Balochistan’s Christians should not feel ashamed for being known as sweepers in Balochistan, as it is our profession.”
He further added that he himself had served as a sweeper in his hometown Mastung during his adolescent years, and he maintained that he was proud to be known as a sweeper by exemplifying that our society would be incomplete without this profession. Like doctors, engineers and teachers, if we exclude them from our society, it will be incomplete.
Unfortunately, bias against minorities is ingrained in our society, and we are exceedingly intolerant towards them. They are treated as second class citizens. And as far as the Christians are concerned, they are regarded as low castes by Balochistan’s majority, treated like the infamous ‘untouchables’. That is why they converted themselves to Christianity when Britain ruled the subcontinent. Like others parts of modern day Pakistan, the Christians of Balochistan also converted themselves to Christianity at the same time in order to escape discrimination.
Atrocities increased against the Christian community after 2001 when the USA invaded Afghanistan. Balochistan’s Christians were on the receiving end of this, too. They were considered as American and western agents. After that, piece by piece, the Christians have come under attacks by the mobs. What is most tragic is the irreparable loss of Hendry Masih for Balochistan’s minorities, particularly the Christians, who, at the moment, are plagued by a plethora of problems. Hendry Masih was a ray of hope for them.
He raised his voice not only for Balochistan’s Christians but for all minorities living in the province. Interestingly, Hendry Masih, despite holding the office of the minorities’ minister, would himself go door to door in order to spread awareness about education among Balochistan’s minorities so that they educate their children. Although he was a provincial minister, he lived in a rented house in Quetta’s suburb, Nawa-Killi – the same area where he was gunned down by his own body guard.
May his soul rest in peace.