It’s Christmas Eve at the 66 Quarters Colony in Islamabad’s Sector G-7/2. A group of excited children put ornaments on a large Christmas tree placed near the colony’s entrance. But for 12-year-old Areej, this year’s festivities have lost meaning and colour.
Much like every innocent little child, she wanted to celebrate Christmas in new clothes. But the harsh realities of life have caught up with her family. Since Areej’s father died six months ago, her mother, Rehana, has been working as a domestic helper to make ends meet. But it is difficult to support a family of five children in these tough economic times. “I am struggling to provide bread to my children, how can I manage new clothes for them?” Rehana said, adding, “I feel helpless for not being able fulfill the wishes of my children this Christmas.”It is not that Rehana did not look for a decent paid job. She applied in different offices for work as a secretary or receptionist. But more often than not, her employers – most of them Muslims – were repulsed by her religion. They offered her to work as a sweeper, Rehana said.
She refused the job offers over her dignity. In the same colony, Josephina’s story is similar to Rehana’s. Josephina, a widow, is a government employee with a monthly salary of Rs8,500. For Christmas, she altered the clothes she had bought for her three children last year for a relative’s wedding. She received her monthly salary earlier than usual because of Christmas, but she couldn’t even think about holiday shopping. “If I spend my salary on buying new clothes for my children, I would not be able to afford the utility bills and my children’s school fees,” she said.
Children on Christmas eve. PHOTO: AFP; MYRA IQBAL/EXPRESS
At the French Colony in sector F-7/4, the sadness in Haroon Masih’s eyes cuts through visible signs of holiday cheer. There, near booths selling holiday cakes, ornaments and bangles to celebrate the birth of Jesus, Masih walks with broken sandals on his feet. “I was able to buy new clothes for my children, but did not have enough money to buy new shoes for myself,” he said. Since Masih, 30, was fired from the sanitation directorate of the Capital Development Authority (CDA), he makes a living by washing cars or by working as a day labourer.
French Colony, unlike slum dwellings which often exist on the periphery of an urban metropolis, is located in one of the city’s posh sectors. The 300-house colony is a stone’s throw from one of Islamabad’s busiest commercial centres, Jinnah Super Market. But Masih said no one from the surrounding residential areas has ever asked after the Christians living there before or on Christmas Day.
“This world is built on greed,” Masih said. “If you have money, the world will be at your feet. Otherwise it will kick you.” For the young Christian men, there is also the harassment they face from the police around Christmas. “First, the government issues us liquor permits. But if we consume, the police comes after us,” Imran Masih, a French Colony resident, said. He said the police usually rip up their permits and hold them in custody until they pay bribes. Sometimes the police would also register a case against the Christian youth on trumped up charges, Imran Masih alleged.
In harsh socioeconomic conditions, the sparse Christmas lights in the 66 Quarters Colony and the French Colony become a way for many of the residents to forget their sorrows for a day. Perhaps, these lights will signal a bright and hopeful start for Islamabad’s Christians before the next Christmas.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 25th, 2012.