Islamabad Christian residents rejoice X-mas celebrations

Islamabad – Christian residents of the federal capital on Monday celebrated Christmas with religious fervour. However, the insecurity, redoubled in the aftermath of Quetta church attack, and the never-ending poverty dampened their joys.

On this Christmas, the Christian residents were wishing more for a peaceful environment than the strict security, which further added to their sense of insecurity. Moreover, the Christian residents of the capital city, like other parts of the country, live almost below the poverty line and majority of them have no proper shelter, seriously cutting their ability to celebrate the day in a befitting manner.

Even then, the minority community members did well whatever in their capacity to mark the festival. Weeks ahead of Christmas, the Christian colonies, actually slums around torrential streams were beautifully decorated with Christmas trees and other traditional artwork. Majority of such slums are inhabited illegally while two of them, in G-7 and F-7, have been regularised by the Capital Development Authority (CDA). Churches at these and other slums were also decorated with lights and the streets were also cleaned and beautified.

The Christians are mostly employed in government departments against minor positions, drawing meagre salaries. Others have little means to earn their livelihood with no education, practical skills or government support, due to which their living standards could not improve with the passage of time. Female members of the community work as housemaids in nearby bungalows.

Earlier we struggled against the poverty only, but now terrorism has also started haunting us, said Shakeel Masih, a resident of Allama Iqbal Colony in G7. He said that the fear of terrorists’ activity followed them like a shadow, leaving the community in distress. Though the police are providing security but why this occasion cannot be celebrated with freedom, enquired Shakeel.

After the recent terrorist attack on a church in Quetta, administration in the federal capital beefed up security for the Christian community for the Christmas. Where churches were provided extra security, police personnel were also deployed at the main entrances of slum areas populated by the minority community.

Along with the police officials, the community had also arranged its own security, assigning a group of people to keep check on every stranger wanting to enter a church. “These security measures are only for personnel satisfaction, however, it is impossible for us to stop any unpleasant incident with these wooden sticks,” said Shakeel.

Members of the Christian community in each sector of the capital decorate their shabby houses with monetary contribution from each household. The youth start preparations for the purpose three days before the Christmas. A small area is allocated for church where a Christmas tree is placed and other arrangements including stereo system and painting of Jesus Christ and Santa Clause are made for the religious services.

There is a competition amongst different colonies for better decoration for encouragement of youth, said Shakeel.

He said that there was a wide social gap between their community and the wealthy class of the city. But God sends happiness to our community in form of Christmas, he said.

In recent past, Christian community faced worst form of terrorism in which hundreds of people lost their lives as a result of suicide attacks and burning of houses. Growing number of blasphemy cases against their community members have also spread insecurity in them.

Aftab Bhatti, a community leader, said that the slum dwellers belonged to the extremely poor class of the society. They merely earn for their bread and butter, he said. “Our children do not wear new clothes even on Christmas despite their parents saving the whole year for the purpose,” he said.

According to him, poverty alone was a big challenge for the Christians and now they had become a target for the terrorists also. He said that the event which is waited for 12 months to be celebrated is gradually becoming fearful event now. He said that the already-marginalised community was now worried about their lives as well. “There is battle of property rights, salaries and poverty, but a cry to eliminate this discrimination falls on deaf ear,” he said.  He said that the poor community is peaceful and never involved in crimes or destabilising the peace but are the vulnerable targets now.

Aftab said that the people in slums were not very literate but aware of the fact that today, founder of the country Muhammad Ali Jinnah was also born who guaranteed a peaceful future for minorities of the country. “Though we are free to go to our churches and the government is providing security but it is not a free walk,” said Bhatti.

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