LAHORE: Although minorities’ localities should be prioritised when it comes to allocation of development schemes, this does not seem to be the case for Youhanabad — said to be the largest colony of Christians in the country.
The number of Christian voters there determines the fate of any election, but the MPA to whom the constituency belongs is not concerned enough to even visit the area.
The MPA happens to be Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif himself. Locals say the CM has not visited Youhanabad since the general elections of May 2013.
“The efforts to uplift minorities can be judged from the attitude of the rulers,” said Yaqoob Mubarik while talking to The Express Tribune on a visit to the impoverished neighbourhood. “We feel alienated as we do not have functional water filtration plants, a dispensary or even a public school, despite being South Asia’s largest Christian colony.”
Roads in the area are broken and sewage can be seen on several streets when one enters Youhanabad.
“[People] living here do not have access to what is considered fundamental rights,” he said. “Water and Sanitation Agency had installed a generator here [to operate a suction pump] so that the accumulated sewage water could be done away with, but it has gone and exists only on paper.”
Sajid Christopher, who runs a non-profit organisation in the locality, said the sewerage system and potable water were issues that needed immediate attention.
“We had high hopes when the chief minister contested from here, but he has mostly neglected the area,” says Christopher, who believes the minorities are nowhere in the government’s agenda.
Youhanabad Union Council Chairperson Asif Sohail Khokhar said Christians living in the area could not even utilise the 5% job quota reserved for minorities, despite living in an area that falls under the chief minister’s jurisdiction. He said locals could not even reach the chief minister, despite trying to contact him through his social media accounts.
“The former governor of Punjab, Chaudhry Sarwar, once told me that only 1.5% of the students in educational institutions of Punjab are from the minority communities,” he claims. Tall claims were, however, made nevertheless when the votes of the people of Youhanabad were required. “During the election campaign of 2013, he [the chief minister] stopped by here and announced that he would turn Youhanabad into Paris,” Asif Sohail said.
Although the Punjab Assembly was informed during its session in May of Pakistan’s largest Christian locality not having a public school, the area still remains without one. The house was told so in response to a question put up by minorities MPA Shehzad Munshi. “The situation of minorities cannot be changed if they are not educated,” Napoleon Qayyum, another local, said. “The chief minister speaks about education being his priority, but nothing has been done to build schools in Pakistab’s largest Christian locality.”
However, Shazia Tariq, an MPA on seat reserved for minorities, and chief minister’s coordinator for Youhanabad said the chief minister had appointed coordinators to communicate with people in Youhanabad as he was extremely busy. “We have so far done development work worth Rs120 million in Youhanabad,” she said. “A school is in the phase of completion near Christian locality. We didn’t build it in the colony as there wasn’t any space available.”
As far as the dispensary is concerned, she added, Lahore General Hospital is quite near from the area and locals go there for treatment. “Problem sometimes arises in implementation of job quota but the chief minister tries to stay in touch with people,” she maintained. “[Moreover] around four water filtration plants have been installed here. There may be some functional problems but they normally work.”
Published in The Express Tribune, October 23rd, 2016.