KARACHI: September 12, Some 60 Christian families left homeless by an expressway project have taken shelter in two colonies near Keamari Town. "Almost 60 percent of the displaced Christian families in Shershah (Keamari Town) are now living in Baldia
Their church is likely to be the first among seven churches and two chapels to be torn down ahead of the Lyari expressway's construction. Members of the displaced families say most of them had to spend a week out in the open. "It took a week for us to find lodgings elsewhere. We slept amid the ruins, surrounded by rubble and smashed pieces of concrete," said Younus Masih, reliving the horror of displacement. "Before the walls of our homes could be Bulldozed we realized we had only one place to go and that was our church," he said, convulsing slightly. His neighbor Yousuf Masih then explained that most of the Christian families took their belongings to the church building for safekeeping until they could find another shelter.
Rev. Robert Mukhtar, moderator of the Presbyterian Church, said although the church itself was on the demolition list, he allowed members of the Congregation to keep their personal effects on the premises. "Plus, I was alive to the danger of theft. In all the chaos, I am happy to report that not a single incident of theft occurred, at least during and after the actual demolition. Praise t! He Lord, we had ample place to accommodate the most desperate among families," Rev. Robert said with a smile. But there was one unfortunate episode as the bulldozers swung into action. Arshad, a Christian youth, who was attempting to recover all his family's possessions, broke his Spine as he fell off the roof of his house.
His brother, Fayyaz, says Arshad is confined to his bed though he is slowly recovering from his injuries. "My household suffered the most because our house was burgled a few weeks before the demolition. We had been told earlier to vacate our homes and we did in anticipation of the demolition. Thieves struck while we were away. Then we learnt that the operation was put off and so we returned only to discover that we had been robbed," Fayyaz recalled. Resettlement plan in jeopardy after families demand church plot displaced families have refused to resettle in alternative plots in Hawke bay, some six kilometers away from their old neighborhood in Shershah, until the government allots them space for a church.
Almost all the representatives of the sixty Christian families whose homes were bulldozed two months ago said they would forego their rights to plots of land in case their demand was not met. speaking at a meeting of representatives of the Uprooted families with housing experts, development workers and media men, Younus Masih said the government should include the provision of a church in its Hawke Bay resettlement scheme for the affectees. "Through reliable sources we have been informed that the National Highway Authority has drawn up plans for the construction of two mosques in Hawke Bay. Our demand is simple. Give us at least one plot for a church and another plot for our pastor," he said. "We'll move there right away after we have been
guaranteed that." Flashing a copy of a letter written to the project coordinator and senior administration officials, Younus said the affectees had put up their case before the authorities a month ago. "We have not heard from them as yet," he said, unable to conceal his disappointment. According to the ARP church moderator Rev. Robert Mukhtar, the Christian community would need two churches-- one each in Shershah and Hawke bay--after Dr E Getty's memorial church is razed to the ground.
"Since the community will be divided into two groups--one that will relocate to Hawke bay and the other that will be left behind, the people's demand is fair," he said. Built in the early '70s, the ARP church is spread over an area of 400 square yards.
Mehmood Shahbaz, an area councilor and church official, said those evicted from their homes had been deliberately slow with the paperwork for their allotted plots of land. Caritas-Karachi has offered to provide the affectee's food rations for a week as well as makeshift huts on their respective plots. "Knowing it would be difficult for them to construct houses at short notice, we offered them makeshift huts and food rations," a Caritas-Karachi worker said. "But they are dithering over the matter," he claimed.
"They wanted us to construct their houses but we expressed our regrets. Instead, we suggested that we would put at their disposal our housing and construction experts who would counsel them on what to do with the compensation money they received," he explained. The government has handed out cheques of Rs 50,000 among each of the affected families. "I personally suspect they might have already spent that worker, adding that he could back his claim with empirical data. But at Sunday's meeting the evicted families vowed not to accept their plots of land until the government allotted a plot each in Shershah and Hawke Bay for a church building. Several Christian groups have pledged to lobby on their behalf. The affectees are expected to hold a meeting with a senior project official this week to secure an official guarantee.