Christian woman thrown into hay cutting machine denied justice

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Saima Bibi was serving tea to guests at her quarters in Punjab Province, Pakistan when her

Photo: Saima Bibi was thrown into chaff cutter in Ram Diwali Chak No. 6 village, Faisalabad District, Pakistan on April 12, 2024. (Christian Daily International-Morning Star News)

Muslim employer dragged her outside and pushed her towards an electric chaff cutter, tearing off her ear and cutting most of her scalp, her husband said.

Chaff cutters typically consist of a rotating cylinder with sharp blades or knives mounted on it. Straw or hay is fed into the machine through a hopper or chute, where it is cut into smaller pieces by the rotating blades. The chopped chaff is then discharged from the machine through a spout or conveyor belt and collected for feeding to animals.

The 24-year-old Christian mother of two children was working last month with her husband, Shahzad Masih, on the farm of two Muslim landlords in Ram Diwali Chak No. 6 village, Faisalabad District, he said. Relatives had come to visit them on April 12, the third day of the Muslim festival of Eid Al-Fitr, Masih said.

His wife was making tea for them when one of the landlords, Muhammad Mustafa, arrived and rebuked them for not cutting fodder for the cattle, he said.

“I immediately got up and started to cut the fodder in the electric chaff cutter, but as soon as my wife came outside to give me tea, Mustafa started hurling abuses at her and told her to get to work,” Masih told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News. “When Saima said that she’ll begin work in 10 minutes, Mustafa pulled her from the hair and pushed her towards the chaff cutter, causing her to fall and hitting her head in the running machine.”

Besides the wounds to her right ear and the skin of her head, the chaff cutter also injured her right eye, he said.

“Blood started gushing out of Saima’s head, and she screamed and cried in pain,” Masih said. “Seeing her in a bloody mess, Mustafa fled the scene.”

Her cries brought a large number of villagers to the site, including the other Muslim landowner, Muhammad Imran, who took her to a hospital in his car, Masih said. Upon reaching Government Allied Hospital, however, Imran warned them not to tell anyone how she had been injured.

“Imran threatened me with even more serious consequences if we did not say that the incident was the result of an accident,” he said. “Saima was in great pain, and naturally my priority was to get her treated immediately. The doctors gave her first aid and shifted her to the plastic surgery ward, where she’s still under treatment.”

The impoverished Catholic laborer said that on April 24 he tried to file a case against Mustafa with the Nishatabad Police Station in Faisalabad, but officers refused to accept it.

“We were occupied with Saima’s treatment, which is why I couldn’t file a complaint earlier,” Masih said. “When I went to the police, they showed reluctance in filing a case against Mustafa because of his influence. Instead, they pressured me to withdraw the application and settle the matter directly with the accused. It’s been nearly a month now that we are trying to register a First Information Report [FIR].”

Attorney Akmal Bhatti, chairman of the Minorities Alliance Pakistan, said the aggrieved family had contacted him to obtain justice.

“The police’s inaction and bias against the victim’s minority status exemplifies systemic challenges and discriminatory practices prevalent in rural policing,” he told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News.

Bhatti said that he had filed a petition in the Faisalabad sessions court asking it to direct police to register a case against Mustafa and initiate legal action against him.

“I’ve also filed applications with senior police officials to apprise them about the intentional negligence of their subordinates to give access to justice to Saima,” he said.

Bhatti said the Muslims also hindered medico-legal examination of Saima Bibi, resulting in an inordinate delay.

“The medical examination has finally been done, and now we are waiting for the police to register an FIR and arrest the accused,” he said. “The perpetrators tried to show this incident as an accident and have used all their political and financial powers to not let the medico-legal certificate be issued, which is essential to the pursuance of the case.”

The counsel said that the incident underscored deep-rooted issues of intolerance and discrimination against Christians.

“Saima’s case shows the vulnerability of religious minorities, particularly women, in rural settings where power dynamics and societal hierarchies often perpetuate injustice and impunity,” he said, adding that there was an urgent need for comprehensive legal reforms, enforcement of existing protections and community engagement initiatives to combat religious discrimination and violence against minorities in Pakistan.

“We demand that authorities must expedite efforts to apprehend the accused and ensure that the victim is given justice,” he said.

Pakistan ranked seventh on Open Doors’ 2024 World Watch List of the most difficult places to be a Christian, as it was the previous year.

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Photo: Saima Bibi was thrown into chaff cutter in Ram Diwali Chak No. 6 village, Faisalabad District, Pakistan on April 12, 2024. (Christian Daily International-Morning Star News)