Christian Colony Cries Injustice at House Razing Order

A Christian colony in Pakistan is in distress over a government order to vacate their homes within 72 hours so that workers can demolish their neighborhood and expand a main road.

The government is not offering the 48 affected families any compensation.

"We will never allow the administration to demolish our homes, since the local government does not treat us as equal citizens, and we are not provided the basic civic facilities as well," said Mansha Bhagat, 67, the chairman of Pakistan Masih Itehad (Pakistan Christian Unity) to Washington-based International Christian Concern.

"Our forefathers sacrificed for us and faced hundreds of hardships to build this colony and now it is impossible for us to leave this place for the dacoits (notorious criminals)," he said.

Bhagat then started to cry, according to ICC sources, and said, "I will be the first one to put down myself in front of the bulldozers when they come to bulldoze our houses."

A widow, 47, that lives in the Mariyam colony in the eastern city of Lahore shared tearfully that she bought her two small room house about two years ago and lives there with her five children.

"I have nothing except this property," the widow said in anguish. "I wash dishes and clean the bungalows to run my house and bear the educational expenses of my kids. This is injustice to us, the officials should set all of us on fire, instead of demolishing our houses."

The Lahore Development Authority (LDA) issued a notice on Oct. 28, 2008 to about 48 Christian families telling them to vacate their houses within three days. The Christian neighborhood is to be razed to expand the main road in Mariyam colony, Quid-e-Azam town.

In violation of eminent domain law in Pakistan, however, the government is not offering the families compensation.

Bhagat of Pakistan Christian Unity has urged authorities to allot alternative plots with complete civic facilities and compensation to all the affected families.

When ICC correspondents came to the neighborhood, they witnessed a number of women crying and shouting anti-government slogans. They also demanded reasonable compensation for their houses and a realistic time frame for moving.

The women had thought the ICC media personnel were government officials.

Children in the Christian colony are also being adversely affected by the land struggle. Parents complain that the children are experiencing severe emotional anxiety and can not go to school.

Some of the children started to cry when they saw ICC correspondents because they thought they were officials coming to bulldoze their homes.

Although none of the families had complied with the order as of Tuesday, families have already started to move their possessions to relatives' homes and nearby locations for fear of losing everything.

But residents are determined to stay in their own homes even if it means death. A group of about 70 people announced that they would commit group suicide if the government bulldozes their homes.

The general councilor of the locality, Zafar Maish, told ICC that he has met with the LDA about the situation. Maish requested that they reduce the width of the road to 95 instead of 100 feet to avoid demolishing the houses. He said he is optimistic about his appeal.

The residents of the Christian colony have been living in the neighborhood since 1984.

Christians make up a tiny portion, about 1.5 percent, of Pakistan's 173 million population that is overwhelmingly Muslim (97 percent).

Reports indicate that Christians are regularly persecuted by their Muslim neighbors who often abuse the country's blasphemy laws to take revenge on Christians for business or other non-religious related disputes.

In Pakistan, Christian girls are also reported to be kidnapped, raped, forced to convert to Islam and forced to marry a Muslim all without their parents' consent. Although Christians have filed complaints against their persecutors, police reportedly ignored these cases.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has urged the State Department to add Pakistan to its list of "countries of particular concern" – the blacklist for countries with the worst religious freedom violations in the world.