On March 9, 2013 a fierce mob of Muslim rioters descended upon Joseph Colony in the Badami Bagh area of Lahore torching more than 150 houses and two churches. Inept police personnel proved to be no match for this charged group of violent thugs who dealt paralyzing blows to an innocent Christian community. Although this unprecedented level of destruction left all Pakistani Christians, and most responsible Muslims, stunned and perplexed, perhaps the most heavily affected were Christian children for whom the trauma of this incident will linger for a long time.
Joseph Colony, located on a piece of immensely valuable real estate and owned by the Lahore Municipal Corporation is home to very pricey industrial estate because of which it has always been the target of controversy and vested interests. It consists of makeshift homes and is occupied by poverty-stricken Christians whose spiritual leader, Bishop Sadiq Daniel, gave expression to the feelings of many of its residents in the following words, “We don’t want to leave. But we are not safe here. We need protection.”
When news of the Joseph Colony attack and arson made headlines there was an outpouring of remorse and affection by Lahoris from all walks of life for their Christian brothers and sisters. Many organizations and civil society groups got together and visited the area, taking gifts with them and helping the children get over their trauma through painting and storytelling activities.
However, in a country like Pakistan, besieged by innumerable problems a violent event can soon be forgotten among the plethora of headline-generating incidents that replace the preceding one. That is why the recent Christmas drive to take toys to the children of Joseph Colony was a worthy cause. Initiated by Haroon Samuel and his close friends, this drive’s aim was to provide gifts to the underprivileged children of Joseph Colony. It became a reality when Haroon combined his resources with a friend from overseas. He felt that providing gifts for grief stricken children within the Christian community would help lift their spirits, and ultimately allow the community to help regain its trust in humanity.
Sporting goods such as cricket bats, balls, badminton rackets, and shuttlecocks were chosen as gifts. These items were specifically sought to help children play and grow together, enable social contact and to spread warmth within the community.
Enough gifts were purchased for the entire Joseph Colony community. Mr. Habib Azher, a local sporting goods distributor, helped provide a substantial discount on the purchase of these items. Another close friend and student of Haroon Samuel, Irfan Nazar stepped in to help with the collection, transportation and distribution of the gifts. Haroon’s father, Mr. Samuel Imran, provided the Santa Claus attire worn by Irfan Nazar.
The unsuspecting children were all smiles and laughter when they saw Santa Claus descend on Joseph Colony on Christmas Eve 2013. There was a palpable feeling of elation and warmth in the air. Even the parents of the children seemed to delight in Santa, for the gifts their children received weren’t merely objects but reminders that these children were loved, wanted, and cherished again by outsiders.
The consequences of failing to integrate religious minorities within Pakistan have become apparent. There has been a mass exodus of Pakistani Christians from the country which has tarnished Pakistan’s image and caused it significant embarrassment. Initiatives of this kind are absolutely essential in helping our minorities feel integrated and to do justice to the white part of our flag.