Christian and Parsee institutions played an outstanding role during the partition and early years of Pakistan’s development. Though the Parsees are gradually dwindling, the Christian community has continued to serve Pakistan in the field of education, technical education, defence, health and social work. Today while Parsee centers of excellence and properties in Karachi give a deserted look, many Christian institutions countrywide have fallen prey to institutional intrigues, corruption and loot sales by local Christian bigwigs.
The only exceptions are institutions run by the Roman Catholic Church. Though these institutions are affected by the dwindling foreign funding, they continue their apostolic mission despite odds. Unlike other denominations they have a strict military like hierarchy. The checks and balances are effective leaving no room for corruption. The Catholic Church despite acute financial difficulties continues to keep these facilities function. Most notable amongst them are Fatima Hospital Sargodha, technical training facilities in Yuhannabad, Don Bosco and Sargodha Institute of Technology. Holy Family Hospital in Rawalpindi was handed over to the government and Burn Hall School to the Army.
Let us not ignore institutions Pakistan inherited from Hindus and Sikhs in the form of colleges, libraries, hospitals and trusts. Their religions are not represented in the boards. Even today, most of them being run by the government are providing outstanding services in Pakistan. Tragically, the Auqaf Department and Evacuee Trust have failed to protect places of worship, some of which are of historical significance. The tragedy of Ketas Raj Temple in Kallar Kahar is well documented. It has yet to become a vibrant Hindu place of worship and pilgrimage. While the government is busy selling the Kartarpur Corridor as a peace building measure between India and Pakistan, centuries-old Guru Nanak Palace in Sialkot was recently demolished by vandals and land mafia while antiques were sold in back market.
The Buddist temples and sites spread all over North Punjab, KPK, Gilgit Baltistan and some parts of Kashmir have been relegated to tourist spots. Had some of them been astutely managed, Pakistan would have spread indelible roots in predominantly Buddhist countries of the world located in Far East and Pacific Rim.
Jains are classified amongst Hindus in Pakistan. They have not only lost their identity but also suffered the worst outrage due to Babri Mosque. The Jain Mandir has yet not been restored in Anarkali Lahore while all Jain places of worship in Nagarparker were destroyed or damaged as reaction to Babri Masjid. These have yet not been restored and remain a source of vandalism.
Tragically the worst damage to Christian institutions has not come from intolerance but come from the hands of Christian thugs who have done so in collaboration with land mafia and local revenue departments. According to government laws multiple legislations protect minorities. No properties can be sold or transacted without a ‘No Objection’ from the National Commission on Minorities. Yet this heinous business of loot sale continues with impunity. The situation has worsened ever since the subject of minorities was devolved to provinces under 18th Amendment.
In the 60s, Christian Town Sialkot with its towering church and wide expanses was a land mark of Sialkot. It was flanked by Murray College and Christian Training Institute (CTI) known for producing best basketball players. Today what remain are narrow pathways and congested streets? All church lands have been illegally sold. The Mission Hospital in Sialkot or the eye hospital in Daska is no more the elite institutions they used to be. In Gujranwala, The Technical Training Center and the Seminary at Khokarki were once centers of excellence. Small industries in Sialkot, Wazirabad, Gujranwala and Gujrat owe a lot to these skill development centres. Khokarki is also under siege due to Christian intrigues supported by local mafia.
There is a pending case of landmark Holy Trinity Church in Murree that was sold away by a Christian minister and his partners few years ago. The case is still pending police investigations. In Peshawar, Rawalpindi, Karachi and Quetta many places have been commercialised and lost forever. With dubious documentation, they sold church lands and began managing institutions with nepotism and whims. They got support from right wingers, property mafia and revenue departments bringing to an imminent disaster, the golden era of Christian services in Pakistan.
In the field of health, Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre operated by the Roman Catholic Church eradicated leprosy from Pakistan in 1998. During partition, the Roman Catholics, Adventists and Parsees combined to run relief centres and field hospitals in Sindh. Christian Hospital Taxila also played a major role in housing and treating refugees.
Last but not least, the most commendable service to refugees was provided by combined Christian denominations in Lahore. The biggest refugee camp in 1947 was established in FC College Lahore in two hostels and grounds. Soon it became the biggest facility treating refugees. The first speaker of the Punjab Assembly, Dewan Bahadur S.P. Singha, in his speech of January 20, 1948 said, “Before anyone, even before the state, I drew public attention to the injured in Kasur and made an appeal. Christian doctors and nurses arrived in Kasur before anyone else … It was a Christian college which was turned into a hospital where Christian professors and other staff members along with their families day and night took care of the injured”.
This facility later became the United Christian Hospital funded by Church World Service, Anglican Communion, United Methodist Church, Church of Scotland Mission, West Pakistan Christian Council, United Presbyterian Mission in North America, and Christian Reformed Church. Due to dedication and volunteer doctors and nurses from USA, the hospital became the centre of medical excellence in Pakistan. By 1965 it was carrying out open heart surgery, much ahead of other hospitals in the region. Elites rushed to this hospital for treatment.
The downslide began after Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s nationalisation policies. Visa restrictions were laid on foreign Christian missionaries working in Pakistan. This continues even today. The problem began with non-Catholic church organisations that were loosely aligned and usually at loggerheads with each other. As the count of foreign missionaries in board of governors declined, local hierarchies and elites took over. Greed and corruption set in.
United Christian Hospital Lahore remained Pakistan’s ‘state of the art’ medical facility till the 80s. The revenues it generated from the rich elites were many times more than its expenses. Due to internal politics and strikes, the foreigners left and Pakistani specialists went on to establish their own hi-tech private hospitals in Lahore. Once revenues dwindled and corruption increased, it dawned on the administration that despite being a charitable, ‘not for profit’ organisation all electricity and gas connections were commercial. As the equipment outdated, the infighting between strong family groups and denominations increased. Some members within the administration were also caught red handed selling land and taking payments from Shinwaris of Peshawar.
What remains of UCH today is a haunted building with skeletal medical organisation. What remains in control are family cartels involved in affairs of the hospital since 1964. Like the political families of Pakistan knit together by marriages and relationships, these powerful minions are grinding UCH to a halt. Chief Justice of Pakistan already took notice of UCH has since retired. But why the Chief Justice, why not the federal and provincial governments?
Since these organisations are registered with the government, it is high time the provincial and federal governments act in unison against malpractices of vested groups in name of religious freedom. There are ample constitutional provisions and laws in which the government can act as a regulator and watchdog without infringing the sanctity of faith. As PTI in its election campaigns had promised to do so, it must act.