Pakistan capital wants to bulldoze “ugly” Christian slums “to protect the beauty of Islam”

The demolition of Christian homes in Islamabad was defended in a report written by Pakistan’s Capital Development Authority (CDA) to the Supreme Court. The authority justified its actions to demolish slums in Islamabad where tens of thousands of the capital’s Christian population live by arguing that these “ugly” settlements are an eyesore to the otherwise affluent capital city and they threaten its strong Muslim majority.

Human rights activists took to the streets of Islamabad on Tuesday (3 December) to protest against the CDA’s statements last week. The slums, known as “katchi abadis” in Urdu, house mainly Christians and Afghan refugees.

“It is necessary to identify the fact that most of the katchi abadis are under the occupation of the Christian community who are shifted from Narowal, Sheikupura, Shakargarh, Sialkot, Kasur, Sahiwal and Faisalabad and occupied the Government land so boldly as if it has been allotted to them,” wrote the CDA, effectively denouncing the slums as illegal and defending their demolition.

Threatened by the high proportion of Christians in these slums, the CDA says: “It seems this pace of occupation of land may affect Muslim majority of the capital.”

Also offended by the poverty of the katchi abadis, the CDA wrote: “They look like ugly villages, whereas Islamabad was considered as one of the most beautiful cities of the world.”

The poverty of the slums combined with the fact that they are mainly Christian means that the “removal of katchi abadies is very urgent to provide better environment to the citizen of Islamabad and to protect the beauty of Islam,” said the CDA in its document to the Supreme Court.

Daniyal Masih, a Christian who lives in sector H-9 in Islamabad, said, “the CDA has been trying to displace us just because we are Christians”.

But what the CDA appears to have forgotten, says human rights activist Farzana Bari, is that the majority of the city’s Christians are sanitary workers, the very employees of the CDA, and the ones “who work very hard to keep the city clean”.

The Supreme Court, by contrast, has acknowledged that the government is required to provide the poor with the housing that they need. Speaking on a Supreme Court panel in August, Justice Qazi Faez Isa said that, “the CDA is the worst run organisation in the world” after it emerged it had demolished thousands of houses in a katchi abadi overnight.

Christians in Pakistan are marginalised and discriminated against, which keeps them in a cycle of poverty from which it is difficult to break free. Pakistan’s Christian population in this 95% Muslim country is significant, estimated to number over 5 million in total.

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