Someone on my GChat list had an intriguing link included in their status message. I saw “inauguration”, and since that historic event is still very much on my mind, I clicked it. I was led to the Boston Globe’s website, to a feature called “The Big Picture: News Stories in Photographs“.
Yesterday was a historic day. On January 20th, 2009, Barack H. Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America – the first African-American ever to hold the office of U.S. Commander-in-Chief. The event was witnessed by well over one million attendees in chilly Washington D.C., and by many millions more through coverage on television and the Internet. Collected here are photographs of the event, the participants, and some of the witnesses around the world. (48 photos total)
Picture number 38 caught my attention, setting my browndar off before I could even read the caption underneath it (which I’ve quoted, well, underneath it):
Pakistani Christian children hold portraits of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama during a prayers ceremony for global peace in Islamabad, Pakistan on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009. (AP Photo) [Globe]
At first glance, I didn’t notice the word “Christian”. I just saw “Pakistani children”. I thought I’d just post the picture plus a quick blurb about where I found it, and isn’t it sweet, etc. But for obvious reasons, I started surfing around, and a rambling post was born.Over the past five years, I’ve made numerous references to my family’s faith and Christianity as it exists in Kerala, but Christianity exists in every South Asian country (admittedly in miniscule numbers, in some of those nations). The first non-Indian brown Christian I ever met was my ruthless Montessori pre-school teacher in San Francisco. She was Sri Lankan and my parents strongly encouraged her to get old-school naddan on me, if I were naughty enough. That meant that if some little white kid did something wrong, they were gently scolded. If I did something wrong, I got hissed at and pinched. My parents were overjoyed that they were really getting their money’s worth.
It would be 14 years until I met another Desi who was Christian; at Davis I discovered that someone wasn’t just using an anglicized nickname. “Wait, that guy’s actually named ____??”
“Yeah. He’s Christian.”
“Not like you. He said he’s Pakistani.”
“Yeah. Now there are two of you…and three hundred of us!”
I still don’t know all that much beyond a vague, depressing sense that it’s rather dangerous to be a Christian (or a Hindu) in Pakistan, due to the brilliantly just Blasphemy laws, which require nothing more than the insinuation of disrespect towards Islam, to ruin someone’s life:
Ten years ago today, Bishop John Joseph, Catholic bishop of Faisalabad in Pakistan, shot himself dead on the steps of the Sahiwal district court in protest at the abuse of the country’s blasphemy laws. Ten years on, little has changed in Pakistan.
The blasphemy laws impact everyone, regardless of religion – and the tragedy is that almost every case is completely fabricated. When the laws were first introduced, they were used primarily as a tool by extremists to target religious minorities – Christians, Hindus and others. These days, however, Muslims have got wise to the potential for using the blasphemy law against each other to settle personal scores.
The reason is simple. The blasphemy law requires no evidence other than an accusation made by one person against another.
There is no proof of intent, and an inadequate definition of blasphemy. When it comes to court the accuser does not even have to substantiate the charge. If the judge asks what the accused actually said, the accuser can refuse to elaborate, on the basis that by repeating the alleged statement they themselves would be blaspheming. [Guardian]
This made me wonder about the Christians in Pakistan; we all know that Sikhs and Hindus had been there before partition, but I’d never heard much about the history of Christianity in that country. I have a deplorably lazy habit of assuming that the answers to such questions tend to involve colonizers and missionary types. Let’s see if I get lucky:
The exact introduction of Christianity to the South Asia is a debatable topic, with the Syrian Christian community in Kerala, South India being recorded as the earliest. Missionaries accompanied colonizing forces from Portugal, France and Great Britain, but in north western Ancient India, today’s Pakistan, Christianity was mainly brought by the British rulers of India in the later 18th and 19th century. This is evidenced in cities established by the British, such as the port city of Karachi, where the majestic St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Pakistan’s largest church stands, and the churches in the city of Rawalpindi, where the British established a major military cantonment. [wiki]
Had no idea about any of this:
Christians in Punjab and Sindh had been quite active post 1945 in their support for Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s Muslim League. Even before the final phase of the movement, leading Indian Christians like Pothan Joseph had rendered valuable services as journalists and propagandists of the Muslim League. Jinnah had repeatedly promised all citizens of Pakistan complete equality of citizenship, but this promise was not kept by his successors….In the mass population exchanges that occurred between Pakistan and India upon independence due to conflict between Muslims and followers of Indian religions, most Hindus and nearly all Sikhs fled the country, but the Christians remained. [wiki]
I have a million reasons for wishing my Father were still alive, but the one which is relevant to this post has to do with Jinnah, specifically the declamatory 15-minute rant he used to launch in to upon hearing his name. When I was younger I thought it was odd that my Dad, who was born in 1937, was so much older than everyone else’s parents. Now I wish I had written it all down.
I wanted to find out more about the ceremony for global peace in Islamabad at which that picture was taken, but all I found were a few more photographs of the event and no news story. Oh, well. It’s poignant how the inauguration of our latest President has affected not just this nation, but the world. South Asians for Obama, indeed.