The whole of civil society and Christian community the world over condemned this heinous crime. People from all walks of life came to show solidarity with the Christian community at the funeral of Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti on March 4, 2011 at Khushpur in Faisalabad district. He was a born leader who throughout his life demonstrated exceptional skills in leadership qualities that were not restricted to the cause of the Christian community but were used across the board in the service of the weaker segments of society. According to his elder brother, Dr. Paul Bhatti, from his student life he was engaged in movements of social and political concern and would hardly care about people supporting him. There were numerous incidents in which when he felt zeal for some issue he would spend his pocket money to make pamphlets and posters and paste them in surrounding villages to mobilize people for his cause. He was a leader who moved beyond the barriers of narrow affiliations and endeared himself to people of all faiths who knew him as person and leader genuinely interested in human development and dignity. His death is not just a loss to his family, to the Christian community and to religious minorities, but to the whole Pakistani nation, which has been deprived of an educated, visionary and gifted leader.
The Christian Study Centre takes this opportunity at his first death anniversary to pay tribute to this remarkable person whose life and death holds great significance for polity in Pakistan. His life vividly calls to mind chapter 14 of Job: ‘Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. He comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not…’ (Job 14:1-2).
Shabaz Bhatti was a gem of a person who, after experiencing the challenges faced by religious minority communities in Pakistan, made a resolve to play a proactive role in bringing about a positive transformation in society. He began working to create an environment in which people from different faiths and religions could come together with mutual acceptance and tolerance, respecting each other’s creeds and convictions. His ideals involved developing space for dialogue, initiatives for peace, communal and social dignity involving policy makers, leaders and change makers.
In 2002, he founded the first ever, umbrella organization of religious minorities in the name of All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA). This organization was formed to represent all the religious minorities living in Pakistan. From the platform of APMA he ably raised a voice for the constitutional rights of religious minorities to bring them into mainstream of national life. APMA under Shahbaz Bhatti worked to promote national unity, interfaith harmony, social justice and human equality.
The honor of being the first Christian to become a federal minister in the government within the Christian community he was a face and name that was accepted as leader without controversy and debate. He had roots in his people and effectively represented his people in the echelons of power and in public and private fora. He relentlessly worked for the promotion of democratic culture, uplift and empowerment of downtrodden and marginalized communities of Pakistan. He was endowed with tremendous courage and insight. He raised his concern over misuse of discriminatory laws in the beginning of his career and till his death in 2011 he continued to struggle for an even footing for religious minorities.
That is why perhaps about four months before his assassination he made a statement to be released in the event of his unnatural death. This recorded message was made public by the BBC’s Orla Guerin who reported just a day after his death that Shahbaz Bhatti had called her to say he had been clearly warned of dangers to his life but that appropriate security arrangements were not provided for him by the Government. His statement can be viewed on this link.
His words still echo from that recorded message: ‘I am living for my community, and for suffering people, and I will die to defend their rights. I prefer to die for my principles and for the justice of my community rather than to compromise.’
Shabaz Bhatti was a person who, knowing the nature of the threat and danger that confronted him, continued on the path of righteousness and moral principles. He chose the cup of death rather than reneging from his people. He died a death that has made him stand in the ranks of martyrs and surely will be given with them the victory of eternal peace and love.