ISLAMABAD: Blasphemy allegations against Christians in Pakistan are not just a religious issue, according to the country's top Christian politician - they also show that the old feudal caste system has not gone away.
The position of the Christian minority in the overwhelmingly Muslim nation has come under the spotlight in the past fortnight with the arrest of Rimsha, a young Christian girl accused of blasphemy for allegedly burning papers containing Quranic verses.
Anti-terrorist police with automatic rifles guard the large Islamabad home of Paul Bhatti, the Minister for National Harmony whose brother and predecessor Shahbaz was gunned down last year for speaking out against Pakistan's strict blasphemy laws.
Bhatti, the only Christian cabinet minister in Pakistan, where the population is 97 percent Muslim, felt a rush of fear two weeks ago when Rimsha was arrested in a poor Islamabad suburb.
When furious Muslims threatened Christians in the area the next day after Friday prayers, Bhatti contacted imams to try to calm things down, saying if they had encouraged the worshippers, "it would have been possible to have another Gojra".
"What is happening is the misuse of this law," said Bhatti.
Bhatti said even if the law were changed, allegations of blasphemy provoke such visceral fury that people would take the law into their own hands.
"This is a very difficult time for Pakistan, there is sectarian violence, there is extremism, there is terrorism," said Bhatti.
"The people who want to destabilise the country, they can use easy victims. And many times, easy victims are Christians like in this case."
But the cases are not solely a matter of religion, he said.
"It is not just a religious problem. It's a caste factor, because it is a certain group of people who belong to the poorest and most marginalised people," Bhatti said.
"Unfortunately they are Christians and this caste system creates lots of problems."
Solving the problem means promoting tolerance and helping the poor and the marginalised, Bhatti said, but there is a great deal of work to be done.
"You cannot change this problem in one month or two, it takes (a) long time," he said.
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