In late October, only a month and a half before Christmas, Christians living in the slums of Islamabad were forced to watch as a provincial Government agency destroyed their homes. Read more (here).
Christian homes were destroyed because they were ugly, whereas Muslim homes made of similar construction were left standing, in an action that was highly discriminatory.
It is not known if any court has sanctioned the demolition, however, the bulldozing of homes, without first providing alternative housing, is in contravention to a Federal Housing Policy that was ratified in 2001 (click here). This has left human rights activists in Pakistan extremely bewildered.
Moreover, in 2015, the Capital Development Agency (CDA) had been castigated in Pakistan’s media and by leading Christian and Muslim voices over (click here), their bigotry towards Christians. A racial bias that was evident in a poorly written and extremely offensive diatribe submitted to the Supreme Court. Even the Senate of Pakistan declared that the CDA had tried to mislead the senate due to anti-Christian bias (click here).
Despite a visit from Member of the European Parliament also in 2015 (click here), the October 2022 demolition, went ahead, surprising many humanitarian activists.
Hundreds of Christian families have been left sheltering under makeshift homes made of spare cloth and bamboo, or tents. They say they have spent their worst Christmas ever but have no other choice but to restart their lives in the same slums.
These former breeze block made homes that they had built themselves, had withstood the recent record-breaking Monsoon in Pakistan and now Christians fear another similar-sized Monsoon, may cause severe discomfort and the type of danger that could lead to deaths.
They are calling on the Government of Pakistan, to either provide them with suitable homes elsewhere, or to compensate them for their lost buildings and the few possessions that they had, that were stolen or destroyed by ruthless CDA employees.
On October 18th 2022, hundreds of Christians were made homeless after their slums at H9-Islamabad, a well known shanty town consisting mainly of Christian families was demolished by Islamabad’s Capital Development Agency.
We revisited the families just after Christmas (27th December) to hold a celebration of Christ’s birth and to give some small gifts to the children in the community. We decided on this action after hearing how depressing Christmas day celebrations had been for this beleaguered community.
Christians in the community had not been able to afford to buy gifts for their children, nor were they able to purchase the usual foods they would for this time of year, as their income had taken a big hit. The demolition of their homes had the loss of their charpai (rope beds) and other household essentials, through theft or destruction by unscrupulous staff from CDA, meant that any savings and earnings was being spent on replacement furniture and household goods, new food for spoiled food, and of course some cloth, bamboo sticks and other materials to make new make shift homes.
For families that live hand to mouth, there simply was no other option. Moreover, the families have all suffered a huge income loss as all the men have decided not to go to work, so they can be prepared to stop any future demolition workers by protesting and other non-violent methods. They could not bare to return from work to their community to find their new makeshift homes and possessions gone.
Christmas has been heartbreaking for these disenfranchised and extremely impoverished Christians. Mrs Sabra Saeed, a lead figure for the community, said:
“Our celebrations for Christmas have been muted.
“What celebration can a poor man hold, without a roof over his head?”
Mrs Saeed, did explain that he was happy because of the birth of the Redeemer, but the cost of Christmas this year was beyond her family and most Christians in the community.
She described the fact that local children, felt disappointed that they had not received any gifts like in previous years.
“When our children look at the gifts other children have received they obviously feel upset that their own parents have not bought them anything.
“They think we love our children less, but this is not the case we just have no money to buy them anything.”
It was explained to us by several local people, that families in these communities focus on food on the table first and gifts of new clothing most Christmases. But this year even eating simple roti (bread) and dal (pulses) had become difficult, as families depended on the smaller income of women working as domestic servants, while men stopped their work as sweepers and sewage cleaners to protect their homes.
Mrs Saeed, further added:
We place the highest importance on our Children at Christmas.
“When they are happy, parents are happy too.”
“…this year our children were extremely upset.
“Look at the rags they are wearing.
“They are wearing worn our shoes and old clothes at Christmas – normally as a minimum we would buy them new clothes.
“We are so embarrassed we did not even visit any family members this Christmas.
Mrs Saeed, also explained that that was not even the worst of it. He advised us that their is deep anxiety and depression in the community as Christian families have been told that after Christmas any homes in the area will be removed via further CDA action. The pending doom has left people in a state of chronic dismay.
British Asian Christian Association, has opened an appeal for these families, we will purchase rope beds, tents, bedding, and warm clothes for these families to help them through the cold winter ahead. We would like to raise around £2000 for this fund. If you have been moved by the plight of these families and would like to help, please donate (here).
Community morale at Shahbaz Sharif Colony at the outskirts of Rimsha Colony is at its lowest ebb. Electricity, water and gas utilities that had been serving the community have been removed by CDA, in an attempt to eradicate ‘the ugly Christian community from the area.’ The attempts to do so, have been unsuccessful, because although a few demoralised families have left the area to begin their lives elsewhere, the majority have remained albeit in more difficult circumstances.
Water is being brought by bucket from sources far away from the community and bathrooms (purpose built toilets with proper drainage now protected by cloth walls instead of breeze block) are now only present at Mr Saeed’s home and his mothers. The two of them allow usage by other members of the community but of course the sheer number of people needing them suggests that hygiene is a low priority and the risk of disease and poor health high. Especially, as there is no mains water and flushing and handwashing has to be conducted through the use of water collected through buckets.
Families cook in clay ovens they have built themselves using wood taken illegally from local forests as these families have no other option. Families have had to put new toilets were old ones had been present and pipe them into the sewage canals that pass by their homes. The plumbing is dangerous and flushing can only happen if enough water has been collected to bucket flush. Living near sewage canals has meant these Christians are always surrounded by pungent fumes, but even more so since the less porous breeze block homes were destroyed and replaced with cloth walls. Mr Saeed, has had to repair her toilet a third times due to local authorities having destroyed her toilet once previously.
Mrs Saeed is the defacto leader for this community and generally their spokesperson. She is planning to lead her community into a series of protests, if the CDA continue to pursue, the demolition of the Christian homes. She said:
“When the nest of a sparrow is taken away it spreads its wings to save the nest.
“We shall not sit silent.
“We will protest in front of Parliament house.
We will not stop protesting until we get new houses for those we have lost.”
On 27th December 2022, British Asian Christian Association (BACA), returned to the community at Shahbaz Sharif Colony and held a belated Christmas Service at the behest of local residents. We sponsored Evangelist Munir Masih to preside over the service and local resident Maqsood Masih led the worship playing harmonium and drumming on a table. The Service for 1 hour and ended a sumptuous meal for all who came. Food provided was chicken biryani and was prepared for us by a professional Christian cook at discounted rate.
Moved by the distress of local children BACA also paid for gifts of clothing for every child, having obtained sizes for the children before Christmas to ensure sizes matched the needs of individual children. Prayers were said for these families and families have asked for some Bibles and BACA is ordering some to be printed by the Bible Society of Pakistan, at a discount rate so we can share them with those who can read in this community and others that we serve.
Mrs Saeed, spoke about the Christmas service, she said:
“I am thankful to the [BACA] team from Lahore for coming and bringing smiles to my people.
“My people have been miserable since our homes were demolished by the CDA.
“The CDA has done committed a great injustice with us.
“The food and gifts for Christmas have brought some much needed joy to our community and reminded us of God’s faithful promise to help His people.
“We hope others will support our community as we go through great tribulation.”
The CDA have warned local residents that they expect to return on 5th January and we urge people across the world to contact their local MP’s, Congressmen, Lords, Ladies and Senators, calling for them to have dialogue with the Government of Pakistan and to stop this seemingly unlawful action – certainly inhumane treatment.
Juliet Chowdhry, said:
“We are still unclear of any legal basis for the CDA to demolish Christian homes like this.
“We have written to the Pakistani Embassy and written to parliamentarians and politicians across the world to express our disdain and seek their help.
“This matter is not one that will go away soon, these stoic Christians will not relinquish their land, homes or rights easily.
“For all intents and purposes the CDA is required to offer other homes/land in compensation for removal from this area.
“This is being ignored by the Federal Government, Senate of Pakistan, judiciary and other bodies and is a poor indictment of the nations governance and rule of law.
“The targeting of Christians in particular is a human rights matter and should be investigated by the UN and international religious freedom departments of every democratic nation in the west.
“Foreign aid to Pakistan must be ceased until they can prove that they are a nation that not only ratifies human rights conventions but makes them intrinsic to their governance structures.”