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Young Catholic victim of bullying now has Muslim friends (photos)

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Kinza Roma is a 27-year-old educator from Lahore (picture 2, the first on the left). When she was at school she was harassed by fellow students because she was Catholic. Now she has regained confidence in herself and found many Muslim friends.

She spoke to AsiaNews about the persecution she endured in school, when she lived in a hostel as the only Christian because of her father’s work. After so many years, she still bears the physical scars of the mistreatment.

In order to prevent other young people from suffering like her, she decided to become an educator and hold seminars on bullying prevention in Pakistan.

Usually school years are remembered as the most carefree time in a teenager’s life. But for Kinza this was not the case. In 2008 her father, an official with the Punjab Technical Education and Vocational Training Authority, was sent out of province.

She was studying computer engineering and was the only Christian student at her hostel. “Without knowing my family background, my classmates branded me a sanitary worker and a beggar. The girls spit on my face and made me clean the toilets. Nobody wanted to share a room with me. They used to lock me in a dark room where I cried for hours, alone and afraid,”

Kinza was pressured by the school not to tell her family about the abuse. “There were no cellphones at the time. We were only permitted to call home once or twice a month,” she explained.

Eventually, her health started to suffer and she began experiencing severe chest pain. After she was sent home, her father found out about her treatment and complained to the principal.

The experience of harassment left a deep mark. Today Kinza suffers from asthma and anxiety attacks and is followed by a psychiatrist. She gets nervous when she has to speak in public or deal with Muslims. “I could not even think of standing in front of them without shaking from fear,’ she said.

The educator blames the country’s textbooks, full of hatred and intolerance towards religious minorities, especially Christians and Hindus.

Recently she was selected by the Youth Development Foundation (YDF) to take part in a “diversity camp”, which brings together university students from every religious background, to improve mutual knowledge and respect. The camp was held in a hilly area and altitude made her asthma attacks worse.

However, this time, “my Muslim roommate took care of me during those four days. Socialisation and group training at the camp helped me gain more confidence. My perspective about the Muslim community has changed. I have many Muslim friends now. But the fear still haunts me in large gatherings.”

YDF executive director Shahid Rehmat explains that the camps serve as a training academy for peace activists and conflict resolution.

“Groups are broken up once they reach the site and people of different religions are deliberately accommodated in same rooms. Sometimes the discussion on peace and religion turns into a debate about theology and the role of religion in violence and peace building,” he said.

“Many misconceptions are born out of disconnect between religious communities,” he added. At the same time, “The authorities view organisations working on peace activism as if we were following a foreign agenda. In south Punjab, bureaucratic procedures make it very hard for organisers to get permission for school activities. The struggle for the soul of our country has never been so difficult.”

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