USCIRF says ‘troubled’ by denial of food to Pakistani Hindus, Christians amid Covid-19 crisis

The USCIRF pointed to the reports that Saylani Welfare International Trust, a NGO established to aid the homeless and seasonal workers, had refused food aid to Hindus and Christians, arguing the “aid is reserved for Muslims alone” amid the Covid-19 crisis.
Policewomen keep watch as women wait to collect cash through a bank under the Pakistan governmental Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme for families in need during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Karachi on April 13, 2020. (Photo by Asif HASSAN / AFP)(AFP / Photo used for representational purpose only)
Policewomen keep watch as women wait to collect cash through a bank under the Pakistan governmental Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme for families in need during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Karachi on April 13, 2020. (Photo by Asif HASSAN / AFP)(AFP / Photo used for representational purpose only)
Updated on Apr 14, 2020 10:52 AM IST
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A US bipartisan panel that monitors religious freedom around the world has expressed concern over reports that Pakistan’s Hindu and Christian minorities were being denied food aid amid the Covid-19 crisis.

According to several media reports, Hindus and Christians in some parts of the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi were denied aid during the distribution of relief materials by the NGO Saylani Welfare International Trust last week.

“The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is troubled by the reports of food aid being denied to Hindus and Christians amid the spread of Covid-19 in Pakistan,” the panel said in a statement early on Tuesday.

“These actions are simply reprehensible,” said USCIRF commissioner Anurima Bhargava.

“As Covid-19 continues to spread, vulnerable communities within Pakistan are fighting hunger and to keep their families safe and healthy. Food aid must not be denied because of one’s faith. We urge the Pakistani government to ensure that food aid from distributing organisations is shared equally with Hindus, Christians, and other religions minorities.”

The USCIRF pointed to the reports that Saylani Welfare International Trust, a NGO established to aid the homeless and seasonal workers, had refused food aid to Hindus and Christians, arguing the “aid is reserved for Muslims alone”.

USCIRF commissioner Johnnie Moore said, “In a recent address by Prime Minister [Imran] Khan to the international community, he highlighted that the challenge facing governments in the developing world is to save people from dying of hunger while also trying to halt the spread of Covid-19. This is a monumental task laying before many countries.

“Prime Minister Khan’s government has the opportunity to lead the way but they must not leave religious minorities behind. Otherwise, they may add on top of it all one more crisis, created by religious discrimination and inter-communal strife.”

In its 2019 annual report, USCIRF had noted that Hindus and Christians in Pakistan “face continued threats to their security and are subject to various forms of harassment and social exclusion”.

Following the reports about Hindus and Christians in some parts of Karachi being denied food aid, other NGOs such as the Edhi Foundation and JDC Welfare Organisation had delivered rations to members of the two minority communities.

The Jamaat-e-Islami carried out disinfection spraying in temples and churches in Korangi and Clifton areas of Karachi and distributed cooked food and rations among Hindu and Christian families.

Karachi is home to a substantial number of Hindus and Christians. A majority of Pakistan’s Hindu minority live in Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital.

The USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan US federal government entity that monitors and reports on threats to religious freedom across the globe.

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