Home Commentary A Catholic perspective: Caste bias in Pakistan

A Catholic perspective: Caste bias in Pakistan

Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha, born in Mangalore, was archbishop of Lahore, Pakistan, for many years. His family was among those who had opted to remain in Pakistan after partition.

He wrote a brief note in an email forum on caste in Pakistan and the peculiar situation of the Pakistani Christians, suffering the triple ‘demerits’ of a minority faith, largely a poorer or ‘lower’ caste identity, and mostly, darker than their north Punjab neighbors. The retired archbishop, who now lives in Canada, wrote the below.

I would like to relate my own experiences about the discussion on the caste system. I was born by accident in Mangalore to my parents, Lawrence and Lillian Saldanha, but I spent much of my life in Lahore, Punjab in what is now Pakistan.

In my childhood days in Lahore, caste was not a big deal. We led a privileged life as part the ruling class of British India. We had a Westernized education and egalitarian outlook. Our parents taught us to accept and respect every human person and be kind to the poor.

But then came Partition in 1947 and we opted to remain in Pakistan. It was then that the identity of Christians in Pakistan became a burning issue. Islam became all-important. Non-Muslims were considered outsiders.

Although Islam does not adhere to a rigid caste system yet there exists a division of upper and lower castes. Those who claim to belong to the clan of the Prophet Muhammad like the Qureishis or the Sayyids are considered to be upper class.

Indeed, Indian Muslims have their own special caste system inherited from Hinduism. It is subconscious but real. And it has become became more pronounced in recent years…

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