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The disappearing family

By Chris Cork
February 4 2014




There are no tearful farewells at the airport. No parting hugs. No requests to stay in touch and definitely, no farewell parties. They just disappear. No fanfare, no warning… just gone. There might be a discreet round of unannounced visits that leave one wondering, just why it was that X or Y came calling, and only later, after they have gone, comes the realisation that it was a kind of farewell.

They are gone so completely that there is nothing left of them. Into the void. Just an X or Y shaped space in the collective family photo where they once were.

After a few weeks, there is the first whisper. Thailand… en route, maybe, to Canada. There may be glimpses of The Missing on Facebook or Twitter, but they never answer messages or give any hint that though you were once a part of their social and working lives, you are anything other than a fading memory now.

And who are they? In my case, they are Christians, members of my vast extended Punjabi family, who have finally decided that they have had enough of the persecution, the discrimination, the intimidation, the attempts to get them to change their religion, and yes, the fear that dogs their steps from morning to night.

The fear that they might say a wrong word, be misheard or misunderstood, the fear that one day, they might just react and push back against the cuts and jibes and hisses, and in doing so, incur a mortal wrath that would see their churches and homes burned, their religious symbols desecrated and the deadly deployment of that most terrifying of weapons — the blasphemy card.

They sell everything. They have to because escape is not free. Few of them are rich or well educated. None of them is famous for all the wrong reasons, like Rimsha Masih, who was falsely accused of blasphemy and locked in an adult jail for her own protection. Protection from a latent mob that would think nothing of tearing her limb from limb for her supposed ‘crime’. Rimsha and her family were eventually spirited away to Canada; there to live lives of quiet anonymity, never rich, and for years dependent on the kindness of others — but safe.

Escape is not free because there are air tickets and visas to be paid for, money set aside for a start-up fund wherever it is that they eventually make a temporary stop. Escape means leaving behind everything that you have lived and worked for your entire life.

You take with you only what will fit inside your baggage allowance. Vital documents, essential clothing, a few small keepsakes. Photographs. You lock the door as you leave, knowing the key in your hand will never turn the other way again. And you disappear.

For the Christians quietly fleeing, it is the churches that help them along the way. I know now that they helped members of my family to leave last year. But there are others — the Ahmadis, who travel the virtual tunnels helped by their own diaspora, the Sikhs and Hindus who have left Balochistan and south Punjab, straggling across the border to India and a future almost as uncertain as the past that they so recently left.

The minorities of Pakistan are leaking slowly out of innumerable wounds, death by a thousand cuts, every cut inflicted by the knives of intolerance.

Intolerance drives them to divest themselves of all that was once near and dear, to cut family ties at a stroke in a land where family is everything, the be-all and end-all, the very reason to live and be.

Intolerance underpins the failure to protect them, to give them legal redress for the many injustices heaped upon them and is the engine that drives the cull that proceeds in a dreadful silence.

They were dear to me, those who have disappeared. I hope that they find the peace that they were robbed of in their own land, a monument to intolerance.

Originally published by Tribune Pakistan

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