Christians in Pakistan, a discriminated community made up mostly of farm workers or domestic workers, are losing their jobs due to the coronavirus crisis, and many will spend the Easter holidays on an empty stomach.
“We were already outcasts but now the rich believe that the poor can bring the coronavius home,” says Aamir Gill, who was fired overnight by the wealthy family who gave him a job as a cleaner.
Along with other domestic workers, he worked part-time in one of Islamabad’s huge mansions, mainly cleaning after parties.
He could only enter the mansion when they gave him the order and made him wait in a small special room for the staff.
“I do not know how many rooms there were but it was large,” he says, assuring that his employer had companies abroad and many cars.
Aamir Gill, 30, was also working as a salesperson in a clothing store, but the store closed on order by authorities to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which has left 66 dead in Pakistan.
“My children asked me for new dresses and clothes for Easter but I told them that this year we would not have Easter,” she explains in her small apartment, in a slum.
Christians represent 2% of the population of Pakistan and are a discriminated minority in this country of 200 million people, mostly Muslims.
Many of them are descendants of the untouchables or outcasts, the lowest Hindu caste, and are discriminated against for this reason.
Extremist groups hate them and were attacked during the 2000s. This is why Christians fear being accused of blasphemy, an incendiary issue in several South Asian countries that can lead to lynchings.
In Islamabad, many Christians live in the “colonies”, unhealthy neighborhoods where it is impossible to practice social distancing against the coronavirus.
“In this crisis, in which they are confined in overcrowded spaces with few resources, we cannot force them to choose between famine and infections,” says Omar Waraich, from the NGO Amnesty International in South Asia.
“They have taken what little bread we have left,” says Haroon Ashraf, 25, who was fired from the restaurant where he worked as a waiter.
For Pakistani Christians, Easter is a feast of joy with numerous meals, but this year it will be difficult to celebrate.
“This year there will be no Easter, just depression and despair,” says Haroon Ashraf. Along with his brother, he has to feed a family of seven who lives in only two rooms.
Unable to attend churches, Christians hope to celebrate Mass virtually over the phone or to go up on the rooftops to hear sermons and chants at a distance.
Churches also organized food banks to help a “very vulnerable” community, according to Lahore Bishop Alexander John Malick.
For Sharoon Shakeel, 20, times are especially tough, after his father died in late March and he lost his job as a street sweeper in a hospital. This Easter will be, for him, “a nightmare”.
Without work, he cannot return the money his family lent him for the burial and his relatives are also unemployed.
“We lack food (…) How are we going to celebrate Easter? I have self-love, I cannot go begging,” he says.