Haroon Arif, from Dera Ghazi Khan in Punjab, got A grades in both his matriculation and intermediate exams but was just 0.0255% off the mark required in his final aggregate to attend a government-run medical university.
He argued that his knowledge of the Bible was equivalent to that of a Muslim who had memorised the Quran, and that he should therefore qualify for the extra 20 marks they receive; this would boost his final result by about two per cent.
I deserved it and yet just because I am Christian, I have been put at a disadvantage.
I know of students who did not perform well in the test and had lower marks in their matriculation and intermediate exams, but they got in, just because of these twenty marks.
Haroon tried to show the university his three certificates in Bible education, but the authorities said they had no policy to accept them.
Mohammad Atif, head of public affairs at the University of Health Sciences, which conducts the medical tests, said:
We realise this is against human rights and have debated a lot on this policy, since minorities are being marginalised – but we follow government orders.
Haroon took the case to court with the help of a human rights organisation, arguing that his rights had been violated. He submitted two letters, one from the Church of Pakistan and the other from the Bishop of Islamabad, that stated that Haroon’s religious education was on a par with any Islamic education. But the court did not acknowledge that this was a human rights issue.
And it does not seem that the policy, which has been in place for over 20 years, is likely to change any time soon.
Punjab’s education minister Mujtaba Shuja-ur-Rehman said:
We cannot change the system because of a nominal amount of people.
A state-run medical school, which charge only ten per cent of the cost of a private university education, was Haroon’s only hope of training to become a doctor. His parents are lowly paid health workers.
He said, “I have seen my parents in this profession but only as support staff. Is that all Christians are destined to do?
I am as much a Pakistani as any Muslim, we are all equal citizens and the government will realise this.
Pakistani Christians face widespread discrimination in public life, which means that most can get only menial and low-paid jobs, keeping them trapped in poverty.