Karachi’s Christian community makes for an interesting mosaic of diversity in a city otherwise riven by disturbances and prejudices. Their numbers may be dwindling but certainly not their contribution to the welfare of the city.
In this teeming metropolis, the community was once synonymous with the Saddar area. The Christians of the city, both middle class and those a little further down the social scale, all inhabited this area. However, their numbers began to decline towards the late 60s or the early 70s.
One of the reasons was the way a whole lot of them were held on suspicion during the 1965 Indo-Pak war. They felt harassed. In the meantime, Australia and Canada threw open immigration for the South Asians and a large number of Christians emigrated to these two countries in large numbers, driven by a feeling of imminent danger after the events of 1965.
On hearing of the economic prosperity their relations overseas enjoyed, many of them, capitalising on having dear ones settled overseas, had them sponsor their immigration.
Prior to 1965, Saddar was inhabited almost wholly by the Goan Christians and Christians from other parts of the country. Even now, Saddar is synonymous with the community. While their numbers may have undergone a change, landmarks reminding one of Saddar’s Christian past remain, notably, the majestic Gothic Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, the Saint Andrew’s Church (known during the colonial era as the Scotch Church), the Garden Road Church, Saint Patrick’s High School, the Seventh Day Adventist Hospital, among others.
Whatever one may say, one could never deny the role of the Christian community in the fields of health and education and the area of Saddar serves as a timeless reminder of the fact.
As for the lessening of their numbers, this correspondent talked to some members of the community who replied on condition of anonymity. They were of the opinion that a major reason why Christians were emigrating to Western countries in such large numbers was the overall feeling of insecurity they faced which stems partly from “the wave of zealotry running through certain segments of the population presently” which has found its way into many laws, as also the economic insecurity.
Still, Karachi has a sizeable Christian community and they are making their due contribution in all fields of activity. Apart from the armed forces and the government services, we see them in the media (like this correspondent) and in the corporate sector and in the latter case, it is worth mentioning that a Christian lady, Sima Kamil, has been appointed the CEO of one of the largest commercial banks in the country. She brings with her rich experience in the field of banking and finance, having worked for leading multinational and local organisations.
There have been high-ranking police officers, notably the late Almeida, a Superintendent of Traffic Police. There have been Christian lawyers and members of the judiciary like ML Shahani who also served as a judge of the Sindh High Court for a short time, and Justice Raymond of the Sindh High Court.
However, one could not help recalling the past with all the nostalgia when the level of broad-mindedness was such that despite Pakistan being a Muslim country, the chief and deputy chief of the Pakistan Air Force were both Christians; Air Marshall Eric Gordon Hall and Air Vice Marshall Michael O’Brien. The chief justice of the country, the second-highest office in the presidential system, was occupied by a Christian, Justice AR Cornelius. It was a clear indication that what mattered was merit and that merit took precedence over personal matters such as faith. It was a testimony to the intellectual magnanimity of the majority community.
Even now certain sections of the town contain large numbers of Christian inhabitants, like Saddar and Baldia, and they are all contributing to all fields of development. It may be mentioned here that there are 110 churches in Karachi and all of them have sizeable congregations, unlike Western countries, notably the United Kingdom, where a large number of churches remain locked on Sunday mornings because there are not enough worshippers.