Minority rights: Aiming for the stars, bounded by a wall

Published: September 15, 2011

School providing free education is attended by Christians only. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS

ISLAMABAD: The Masihi Foundation School in France Colony is open for all but attended only by Christians. That is because France Colony, so-called because it is located in the area where the French Consulate used to be, is a walled-off parcel of land where some 600 Christians live segregated from the rest of Islamabad.

“People from outside the wall don’t want to come into the colony,” explains Xavier William, the country head for the Masihi Foundation. He compares the wall surrounding France Colony, which has only four entrances, to the Berlin Wall.

Worthy aims, limited access

Over 50 children sit in the classrooms of the school, which opened earlier this year and offers free education to anyone who wishes to enroll up to the primary level. The instruction is in English, making this a rare, English-medium school in a slum area and, as a student there says, they are given books, schoolbags and uniforms for free.

The Masihi Foundation, says William, is combating extremism by “bridging the gaps between communities and strengthening the marginalised communities by providing education, training and skills.”

Interestingly, the Masihi Foundation is also providing legal protection to Aasia Bibi, a Christian languishing in jail on blasphemy charges.  In France Colony, these worthy aims are stymied by the fact that only Christians are attending the school.

Squalid, congested

Ironically, France Colony is a squalid area, despite a majority of its residents working as cleaners for the Capital Development Authority. According to Yaqoob, a resident of the colony, the surrounding wall was built on the orders of influential Muslim residents in the area who didn’t want to have to pass through the area every day.

Each family lives in a tiny room, with as many as eight people packed into the constricted space. Despite living here for decades, residents have not been given ownership rights to the land by the government. There is also no provision for clean water and the sewerage system is overloaded.

Schooling options in France Colony are also severely limited. Nearby schools never give admission to the children from the colony and so they are forced to rely on charities, mostly those run by Christians. Rashida Bibi, a resident of the slum area, says that her daughter attends the Khatoon-e-Fatima School, a Catholic school run by nuns, and gets there courtesy a free bus service provided to France Colony children by NGO FemAid.

Meanwhile, the school set-up by the Masihi Foundation is the only functioning school in the colony. Unlike the other schools opened by the foundation in Quetta, where both Christians and non-Christians are enrolled, the France Colony school seems destined to be limited only to this minority.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 15th,  2011.

Reader Comments (4)

  • Waseem
    Sep 15, 2011 - 7:28PM

    a very sad Paksitan.
    How can we grow as a nation where we have ignored one part of our brain, where we do not care about Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Ahmadis, No wonder Allah is sending azab on us, its only us who need to realize it. It is azab e elahi people wake up and be friends with everyone, with a christian and hindu, with a sikh and Ahmadi, give them equal right let them speak and let them help Pakistan.

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  • R.A
    Sep 15, 2011 - 10:08PM

    Minority rights is the duty of only
    non Muslim countries
    Recenty Birmingham council put
    a ban on selling poppies because
    some Muslims did not like it.
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  • Doctor
    Sep 15, 2011 - 11:40PM

    This is shameful and this is happening in ISB right under the government’s nose. Sickening. We should let all minorities have safe passage out of Pakistan so that they may live in peace and prosper in countries that appreciate them.

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  • Well Wisher
    Sep 16, 2011 - 7:39PM

    Thank the Lord that the Masihi Foundation has stepped up to the mark to help these people out of their predicament of alienation in their own country due to their religion.
    What a sorry state of affairs when the Christian Community is forced to live in such conditions by their own countrymen and women and not afforded simple human rights.

    It is horrifying to see that as the rest of the World has brought walls of confinement and prejudice down that in Pakistan’s capital we see the very people who, through their work for the Capital Development Authority, are helping to keep the city running being treated in such a way.

    Not only does this “wall of separation” need to come down but the Pakistan government needs to ensure that at the VERY LEAST in their Capital’s back yard things are kept clean!!!

    Why does it take NGO’s to come in and provide the basics to Pakistani citizens?

    I thought the very foundation of Pakistan was built upon acceptance of minorities, but it seems that not just the public but their leaders have forgotten that – I am ashamed to be a Pakistani when I hear of stories such as this.

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