Christian business owners in Pakistan face severe discrimination, according to an entrepreneur speaking at an event last week.
“We understand that. Christian businessmen are usually frightened of allegations of blasphemy and extrajudicial killings. Anybody can exploit us,” said Dil Nawaz.
Harking back to his time at Punjab university, the managing director of clothing brand Zarshu, said:
“Once I objected to the growing pile of rubbish in the canteen. The owner replied that a chura [low caste] will clean it. The discrimination exists but we learn to ignore it.”
The event was organised by Pak Mission Society (PMS), a relief and development agency based in Islamabad. The speakers addressed over 250 experts, academics, researchers and clergy about the entrepeneur landscape in Pakistan and how to bring Christian business leaders into the mainstream.
At the event, the PMS instituted the first competition for Christian entrepeneurs in Pakistan. Participants will pitch an idea in a 2-minute video for the chance to win 400,000 rupees ($2,500).
PMS’s program manager Kiran Peter encouraged attendees to support the competition.
“The competition winners will be connected with mentors and faith-driven investors from around the world who will support their business ideas,” she said.
Noting the paucity of Christian female entrepeneurs in Pakistan, she outlined the opportunities provided.
“There are very few Christian women entrepreneurs in the country. We offer programs on clubs for Christian CEOs, mentors and female entrepreneurs.
“Regional Christian businessmen will be divided into chapters,” she continued, “developed into chambers and integrated with mainstream industry from local to national levels.”
“It is a journey of changing the mindset and the prevalent slavery mentality. There is a job-based culture among Christians.”
According to human rights organizations, non-muslim business owners must hide their identity to survive.
Pakistan’s Christians have faced severe financial challenges during the pandemic. Christians make up 1.6% of Pakistan’s 220 million, according to the 2017 census, 60% of whom are reported to live below the poverty line.
“Around 25 percent are on the verge of losing their jobs, 60-70 percent saw a drop in monthly income, 80 percent of businesses closed or collapsed in Christian communities during the lockdown and 60 percent have reported exhausting their savings. The income of churches has dipped by up to 80 percent,” according to a report from Pakistan Partnership Initiative, a Christian organization, found last year.