KARACHI: The Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), one of the best-known Christian institutions here, was plunged into turmoil following the controversial dissolution of its governing board on May 7.The move to suspend the board was unnecessarily
Members of the outgoing board, led by Dr. Sarfraz Lloyd, complained that they weren't told about the dissolution order at all. "We challenged the authority of the usurpers who wanted us to vacate the premises immediately on the strength of the alleged government notice," a former board member said, referring to opponents of the board who forced their way into the YMCA building. Apparently the intruders flashed copies of a provincial government order suspending the YMCA board. "But, how could we believe them?" he asked, "when the government didn't provide us with a copy of the same notice."
News of the dissolution was first carried by Fazal Shahzad, a one-time member of the board, and a Catholic priest Fr. Joe Paul, who entered the YMCA premises together with a dozen or more people. Their backers claimed they had the support of Yaqoub Ilyas, a provincial minister alligned with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement. The notice that the two men brought along with them had allegedly been signed by the provincial governor Ishratul Ibad. Under the document, Fr. Joe Paul was appointed administrator and, as such, empowered to conduct fresh polls for a new board within 90 days.
But the situation soon became foggier when provincial lawmaker, Shakir Ali, also of the MQM, stepped into the conflict. He rushed to the YMCA building, located opposite the governor's house, and expressed his support for Dr. Lloyd and the outgoing board. The provincial government later withdrew its notice in an attempt to avoid a serious clash involving supporters of Dr. Lloyd and Fr. Joe Paul. Although a month has passed the authorities have not made any public announcement about how it intends to resolve the matter.
Some minor incidents of coercion and harassment were reported on May 7, but these allegations could not be independently confirmed. A few staff claimed they were locked up in the restrooms and beaten up. "All the keys were taken from us. We were locked up in the restrooms and beaten up. The staff were released after the intruding party consolidated their position," a YMCA worker said on condition of anonymity. A man who witnessed the events of May 7 said, "it was as if martial law had been declared" at the YMCA. "The hostel and school were left open but all the administration staff were sent home," he said. Another witness, a little relieved, remarked that finally the rules might be changed at the YMCA. "I think Christians will at last be allowed to gain membership," he said in half-mocking tone, alluding to the difficulty experienced by his co-religionists in securing membership cards in the recent past. "It was easier if you were a Hindu or a Muslim. Very few Christians qualified for membership lately. The policy was really strange." Insiders say the outgoing board was wary about new membership and often rejected the
Applications of Christians, because some members "feared an influx of unfriendly votes in the YMCA Board's constituency".