I believe in Jesus Christ, who gave his own life for us and I am ready to die for a cause. I’m living for my community and I will die to defend their rights. These were the words of late Shahbaz Bhatti that echoed with 3,000-plus members of the minority communities and other supporters, who came en masse from around the country to mark his first death anniversary.
They had gathered at the Jinnah Convention Centre on Tuesday for a vigil that was organised by the All Pakistan Minority Alliance (APMA).
Remembering the former minorities’ minister who was shot dead in sector I-8 last year, APMA Sargodha Youth Coordinator Farrukh Tanveer Chaudry called him a “revolutionary, who at a time when Pakistanis thought their actions can’t bring any change gave everyone hope”. Chaudhry added, “He proved by example that conviction is a powerful tool for revolution.”
Reverend Captain Munawar from Lahore noted that Christians have always been treated as second-class citizens, even though they have worked hard and tried their best towards achieving success for Pakistan. He said, “Christians fought in both wars between India and Pakistan, were active in opening the first colleges (FC College Lahore and Gordon College Rawalpindi), have been long associated with healthcare, and literally clean the streets of Pakistan.” Munawar further said that a Christian has never been found to be associated with terrorist acts in the country, but they still remain disempowered and on the fringe of society.
Participants showed approval that Shahbaz’s brother Paul has taken over as chairman and is fulfilling the void left by Shahbaz’s untimely death. Paul Bhatti said, “With Shahbaz’s death, the community felt abandoned and rudderless. We have tried to pick up from where he left off to continue his mission.”
He added, “At the beginning, I did not think I could succeed him and was very concerned, but now the concerns are fading away and I am increasingly aware of the importance of this duty.”
While talking about the ceremony, Ruby Naeem John told The Express Tribune, “I have never attended such a demonstration before and I think the speakers are very right in demanding that we move out of our comfort zone and peacefully elect leaders who can communicate our needs.”
John, a teacher at St Mary’s Academy in Lalazaar, spoke on the importance of education for empowerment especially if the youth are to become the leaders of tomorrow.
Fittingly, one of the Shabaz Bhatti Foundation’s main objectives is to fight poverty by promoting education and contributing to interfaith dialogue. Paul Bhatti also shared that a vocational school bearing his brother’s name is in the works.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 7th, 2012.