Khushpur, near Faisalabad in Punjab province, is the largest Christian settlement in Pakistan and the area where the former minister for minorities came from and where he is buried.
The Saint Anthony of Padua training centre will be located in the Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti Complex and will offer sewing and midwifery courses, among other things. The centre will not be operational until November, but a garment factory in Sialkot (250km from Khushpur) is already up and running, and so far 40 women have enrolled in the courses, according to AsiaNews.
“Our women are being harassed by [members of] the majority [Muslim] community,” Fr. Anjum Nazir, parish priest of the village church of St Fidelis, told the news site. “In particular, those who work as domestic workers are often accused of stealing money, gold or jewellery. The situation of poor Muslim women is not different. The new centre is a great opportunity for the women of the village.”
“The facility continues the mission of the murdered minister,” said Nazir Bhatti, coordinator of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), which Shahbaz Bhatti co-founded. “We have always believed in human rights. The women who receive the training will become in turn mentors as well. We will make sure that they can study in a family-like atmosphere.”
Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian in the Cabinet at the time, was assassinated in March 2011 for seeking reform of the country’s controversial blasphemy laws and for preaching co-existence between different religious groups. He died after an attack by suspected militants from a Taliban offshoot on the car in which he was travelling near his home in Islamabad.
Bhatti was known to support Asia Noreen, better known as Asia Bibi, a Christian woman still on death row for blasphemy.
The investigations into Bhatti’s murder have been mired in suspicions of a possible cover-up. In January 2015 police requested the case be heard in a closed military court “to speed up the process and reduce interference from radicals”.
However, last year World Watch Monitor reported that little progress had been made, as key witnesses were reluctant to testify, for fear of being targeted themselves.
The family of the slain MP, in particular his brother Paul Bhatti, who took over the helm of APMA, were threatened as they prepared to testify in the trial of those accused of Bhatti’s death. His driver, Gul Sher, who survived the attack, fled to Thailand and filed an asylum case with the UNHCR for refugee status there.
Bhatti’s murder followed the killing of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer two months earlier, in January 2011, who was also murdered for his desire to reform the country’s blasphemy law and his support for Asia Bibi.
In May this year, another minister was who has championed the country’s minority communities, including Christians, was attacked. Interior minister Ahsan Iqbal was shot in the arm before police overpowered his attacker.