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August 9, 2018

PPP’s Christian MPA-elect aims to advocate rights of minorities


August 9, 2018

Last week a large number of Christians gathered outside a church to greet Anthony Naveed, a well-known minority rights activist and a Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader, for his election to a reserved minority seat in the Sindh Assembly.

“We thank the PPP leadership, especially [party chief] Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, for making Naveed an MPA,” said Aslam Masih, a 55-year-old resident of Karachi’s low-income Akhtar Colony.

“He [Naveed] lives with us and understands our issues. He has been resolving our issues since the past several years, and hopefully he will now do so from the floor of the Sindh Assembly.” Naveed, who was elected Naib Nazim (deputy councillor) for the Akhtar Colony union council in the 2005 local government polls, actively advocates the rights of minorities across the city.

“I thank the party leadership for sending me to Parliament, where I’ll try my best to promote the rights of various non-Muslim communities living across the province,” he told The News. Naveed, who is the Sindh information secretary of the PPP’s minority wing, also served as special assistant to the chief minister on interfaith harmony for six months. A man of humble origins, he is the provincial cabinet’s only member who works at a textile factory.

“The PPP is the only political party that is taking concrete steps to protect the rights of all minorities, including the Christian community, and empowering them socially, politically and economically.” Naveed said he will try to implement the decision of reserving five per cent of the job quota for religious minorities, which can help marginalised people raise their standards of living. “Because of British-era Christian family laws, the community has been suffering a lot. I’ll legislate about it.”

He said he will also try to resolve other key issues Christians are facing, such as graveyard shortage and absence of a special residential scheme, as well as provide relief in admission in academic institutions.  

Urban Christian votes

While Naveed has the honour of becoming the PPP’s Christian MPA, he will also be the only member of the new Sindh Assembly who belongs to the minority community..

In the past three general elections, to select its candidates for the reserved seats in the provincial assembly and the Senate, the PPP’s Sindh chapter has ignored Christians, the largest minority community in Karachi.

The party mainly accommodates its Hindu leaders for the reserved MPA, MNA and senator slots because of a significant Hindu vote bank in rural Sindh, especially in Tharparkar, Umerkot and Jamshoro.

Of the nine seats reserved in the Sindh Assembly for non-Muslims, only one went to a Christian, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s (MQM) Arif Masih Bhatti, in 2013, while the PPP elected its Sindhi-speaking Hindu leaders for seven of them. Bhatti joined the PPP last June 7.

Because of its continuous rule over the municipality, the MQM enjoys support among Christians, as many community members are employed in it as sanitary workers.

Moreover, because of its majority in the City Council and in three quarters of Karachi’s districts, the MQM has elected dozens of Christians as councillors at city, district and union council levels, strengthening its support base.

However, to take advantage of the MQM’s internal crisis, the PPP has been working hard to make inroads into the city’s urban areas. Realising the importance of Christian votes in some of the constituencies, the PPP has started sending Christians to Parliament on reserved seats. And it has worked well.

PPP Karachi chief Saeed Ghani won his provincial assembly constituency PS-104 (East-VI) easily because of Christian votes in the localities of Azam Basti, Akhtar Colony, Kashmir Colony and Junejo Town.

This March, before Naveed, the PPP made Anwar Lal Dean, the party’s old Christian leader from Karachi, senator for the single reserved minority seat from Sindh.  

Christians in Karachi

After Lahore, Karachi is considered to be host to the largest number of Christians in the country. Although official statistics based on last year’s census are yet to be released, Christian activists estimate that the number of their community members should be between 500,000 and 700,000.

Essa Nagri, Manzoor Colony, Akhtar Colony, Azam Basti, Pahar Ganj, Khuda Ki Basti, Ittehad Town, Michael Town, Christian Town, Mariam Colony, Saddar, Father’s Colony and Grax Colony are Christian-dominated neighbourhoods with more than 5,000 voters from the community.

Around 90 per cent of the Christian population speaks Punjabi, while the remaining is English-speaking. Punjabi-speaking Christians started migrating to Karachi from Sialkot, Narowal, Kasur and other Punjab districts in 1965.

“In Punjab they were mainly involved in the agriculture sector,” said activist William Sadiq. “But after their migration to Karachi they started working in industries, the municipality and the health and education sectors.”