“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” Nelson Mandela asserted. But how can one think about changing the world when your right to education has been taken away from you?
It has been happening in Pakistan with Christians for a long time. But now it is becoming an issue for public agitation and Christians have come out on the streets to draw attention to this discrimination.
Education is the key to success in life. It unlocks many doors of growth and provides opportunities. Without it, there can be no progress and a bleak future for those deprived of it.
Pakistan is a country rich in culture and religion. Islam is the major religion but along with it, there are minority religions such as Christianity, Hinduism, and Sikhism. Christians are the largest minority community in Pakistan. They constitute about 1.6%of the Pakistan’s population.
Despite some of the most eminent educational institutions owing their origins to Christian missionary organizations, the Christian community of Pakistan ranks lowest among the educated in the Pakistani population. An assortment of up to date facts, provided by Dr. John Patrick, reveal that:
Moreover, under the present constitution, the poor standard of education among Christians is intensified because the political system in which Pakistani Christians live is undemocratic. It ensures their voices will never be heard. Under the prevailing system, the Christians of Pakistan do not have equal political rights or socio-economical status, and they do not have equal access to available opportunities in playing a role in national life. Though Christians consider themselves to be first class citizens of Pakistan, the present political system believes that Christians are second-class citizens and are, for all practical purposes, at the lowest level.
They are constantly reminded at every level that it is not their country. Constitutionally, no Christian is allowed to become President, Prime Minister, Chairman of the Senate, or the Speaker of National Assembly (Parliament) of Pakistan. Following the Constitutional lead, all government and judicial functionaries ignore and neglect Christians everywhere and at all levels of business and administration. Employers and political leaders at lower levels have adopted a rule that means no higher position or rank is given to Christians.
Before independence, Christian educational institutions were run by Churches. But they were taken over by force and nationalized by the Bhutto government in 1972. Now, there is no more Christian character to these Islamized institutions. After the Bhutto government, many of these previously non-Muslim institutions were denationalized and given back to their owners. But no Christian institution was denationalized. These institutions were the basic centers for learning, social and cultural gatherings, and spiritual development for Christians. Christian teachers, professors, or students are not seen there anymore.
In 1987 the government passed an ordinance to give 20 extra marks to Muslim students who are Hafiz-e-Quran (Muslims who have read and learnt the Holy Quran fully). This ordinance not only contradicts the statements and claims of equal rights for minorities by all the Presidents, Prime Ministers and Ministers of Pakistan. It is also against the constitution of Pakistan and violates individuals’ human rights and the international treaties signed by the government of Pakistan.
This ordinance distinguishes between Muslim and non-Muslim students and also diminishes the chances for non-Muslim students in obtaining admission in colleges and universities. Consequently, non-Muslim students are deprived not only of educational opportunities but also of their access to jobs that can follow gaining qualifications.
Until 1956, there was a 5% quota that meant that this percentage of for non–Muslim students had to be among those gaining access to educational institutions. But with its abolition nine years after Independence, the chances for non-Muslim students to gain admission to colleges and universities have declined.
Even though Christian missionary schools were integral to the establishment of education in Pakistan, Christians are deprived of education. At the time of establishment of Pakistan (1947), these Missionary schools were the foremost source of learning and vocational training. With the passage of time, government-owned schools started to outdo these admired institutions.
In 1972, the Bhutto Government made Islam the state religion and the government took responsibility for running Christian educational institutions. The nationalization of Christian schools broke the educational backbone of the Christian community. At Independence in 1947 the Christian Missionary Schools were the primary source of education for Pakistan.
Nonetheless, today missionary institutions like Convent, Cathedral and Convent of Jesus and Marry schools are still highly esteemed institutes in the country. They are owned and run by Religious Congregations and dioceses.
On 12 December, 2013, Christians protested in front of Lahore Press Club against land lords who, with the support of leading political parties, illegally occupied land that had been home for Lahore’s St. Francis Boys’ High School. The protestors wanted the government not to allow the school buildings to be demolished but rather be returned the school and access to it given to the Christian community. The school was started by missionaries in 1842 and is one of the oldest Christian schools in Lahore.
In late 1990s, it was appropriated by the Government for construction purposes. Subsequently a Muslim Principal and Muslim staff were appointed and employment at it was open only to Muslims. All Christian staff were made redundant. Now the government is allowing the demolition of the school to make way for a Shopping Mall.
Although the school was de-nationalized in 2004, it was not given back to Christians. Moreover, less than 1% of students in the school are Christians. Even admitting that education is a universal right, it is a violation of that right in that Christians are deprived of rights to access what was founded as a Christian school. Indeed, if non-Muslims can study in Christian Institutes, then why are Christian Students not given the right to study in Muslim institutes?
Christian parents are reluctant to send their children to this school because of discrimination and because there is no Christians Religious education offered and only a Muslim syllabus is provided.
Schools/colleges/universities like Kinnaird College, Aitchison College, GC University, LUMS are those institutes that were founded and led by missionaries and are now led by Muslims, charging fees that Christians cannot afford. The reality is that only the high officials in government and the military along with rich people can send their children to these schools.
In these circumstances, many questions arise:
Where do Pakistani Christians have to go in this world to find place to call home? We are Christians for Muslim states and so not welcome in them. We are Pakistanis for other countries and so not welcome in non-Muslim countries either.