A radio journalist who has worked in development media sector as a media trainer and mentor. She tweets as @swidad (twitter.com/swidad)
For a community that is self-sufficient, encourages education and is an inspiration for others, I do not think a church is too much to ask for. PHOTO: REUTERS
This Good Friday, on April 18, 2014, I met a wonderful Christian housewife named Seema, in Lassori. Christians make up 1.6% of Pakistan’s population, and have been serving in every profession. Seema explained that for the last 60 years, 58 Christians have been working as farm labourers in Lassori Tobatake Singh. She and her husband, Allah Ditta, work in the fields and own two goats and a cow.
She explained that the entire street comprised of 40 houses on each side and that all the residents present were Christians. Her parents had migrated during the British colonial rule, when the latter allotted their land in Jalinder, India to other landowners.
Allah Ditta further added that, in Lassori, Muslims and Christians lived very happily together and there was a sense of brotherhood between the two religious communities. He explained that despite incidents like Joseph Colony and the Gojra tragedy, the Christians of Lassori never faced any animosity from the local Muslims.
Seema is a mother of eight, lives in a small, clean house made of clay. The house was large enough to accommodate approximately 20 people, but it was in their little house that the entire Christian community of Lassori congregated for praying this Good Friday.
Confused as to why the congregational prayer took place in the house and not a church, I put forward the question to Naveed Prest, a local from a nearby village, Miankot. Naveed explained that an affluent member of the Christian community had donated a piece of land in Lassori but the residents did not have sufficient resources or funds to build a church on it. I suggested that they approach a particular political party and through their affiliation have a church built. But because the residents were all affiliated with different political parties, he was of the opinion that collaboration was impossible.
At this point, I contacted Colonel (R) Sardar Ayub Khan Gadhi, a member of the Provincial Assembly, and asked him when our Christian brothers and sisters in Lassori could get a church. He responded that no one from the community had informed him of this issue. He also stated that to resolve the issue the residents of Lassori would have to identify a piece of government-owned land and file an application with the District Coordinator Officer to have it allotted for the purpose of constructing a church. He explained that politicians did not have the authority to fulfil such public demands and for that the residents would have to approach the government.
Naseem, a mother of three and labourer by profession, said that because of stagnant water, the entire street was enveloped in unbearable stench and this had already caused numerous health issues. And even then she said,
“All we need is a church in our own Lassori.”
Mr Hafiz Khalid Hanif called the local Christians his brothers, having lived with them since before partition. He said that their demand was very basic; they required a place of worship exactly like the way Muslims required a mosque to pray.
“I think the government should do something and provide a church since it is their right as citizens of Pakistan.”
While I was there, I noticed that the people of Lassori, Muslims and Christians, were very particular about education. They said that in order to get a good life, good education was key and they wanted all the kids to acquire an education before they started earning. Despite their deplorable financial situation, their keenness towards education was very inspirational.
Seema explained that many of the children who were educated here became teachers and some even went abroad for further studies who now earn very well for their families
For a community that is self-sufficient, encourages education and is an inspiration for others, I do not think a church is too much to ask. It is their right, they deserve it and I hope this year, they will be able to celebrate Christmas at a church and not in Seema’s house.