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Pakistani woman in the front line to defend the rights of minorities


Date:  2012-11-25

Romana Bashir is the first lady to be appointed as consultant for Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue in Pakistan

By Shamim Masih
Special to ASSIST News Service

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- It was on February 6, 1997, when between 50,000 and 60,000 zealots stormed Shanti Nagar, a Christian village in the Pakistani province of Punjab and ransacked 13 churches, and destroyed hundreds of homes by fire.

A young boy sits among the devastation
in Shanti Nagar

The attackers started from Khanewal, a stronghold of the militants, and by the time they had finished, some 2,500 were left homeless.

After the riots in Shanti Nagar, many Christians decided that they would become involved in defending the rights of religious minorities and also the promotion of inter-religious harmony.

One is Romana Bashir, the other is Arif Gill, but both share the same mission.

Romana Bashir started as a social activist, in early 1998. She began working at a grass roots level, and developed the idea of nationalism; working with community members and she promoted interfaith harmony.

She joined Christian Study Center, as a trainee, and worked to promote freedom of expression, dignity, justice and fairness, and equality.

Working hard since then, in 2009, she was appointed as head of the program in the Christian Study Centre, a well-known centre in Rawalpindi, which had prematurely lost the previous director, Francis Mehboob Sada.

Romana Bashir

She is now conducting various activities and programs, meeting with Muslims, tribal and civil society leaders, to develop a culture of dialogue and harmony for the common good.

Romana Bashir is also involved in the field of education, particularly the education of women, hoping to change the mentality and culture of Pakistan.

It is needed to train people with new approach, based on equality and rights, which could influence the opinion leaders at a national and international level.

I recently when to see Romana and discovered that she is the first Pakistani Christian lay woman, who was recently appointed as a consultant for the Commission for Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue (PCID). The PCID is the central office of the Catholic Church for promoting inter-religious dialogue in accordance with the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, in particular the declaration Nostra Aetate (Latin: In our Age) which was the Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions of the Second Vatican Council. It was passed by a vote of 2,221 to 88 of the assembled bishops, this declaration was promulgated on October 28, 1965, by Pope Paul VI.

Talking about this status, she said that Pakistani women have "grown-up", especially women of religious minorities, and added, "this is great consolation for us".

Romana Bashir being interviewed
by Shamim Masih

She added, "At a political and social level, women are increasingly present in our nation," citing Hina Rabbani Khar, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Asma Jhangir, ex-president Supreme Court Bar, Islamabad.

"This presence is a positive sign," she told me. "Women in Pakistan are convinced that the nation needs to change and extremism should be fought. It is a very important message that gives hope to the nation."


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