Pakistani Christians have received some Christmas help through a series of subsidized Christmas Bazaars set up for them by the provincial government of the Punjab.
Main Muhammad Rafique, Member Punjab Assembly, Ch. Amjid Ali Javed, District President PML N, Ashfaq Fateh and others opening the Christmas Bazaars
They were also sponsored by a Christian group called Doulos International Pakistan.
The government of Punjab, under the leadership of Main Muhammad Shahbaz Sharief, the Chief Minister, set up Christmas bazaars at a Tehsil [administrative division) level throughout the province.
This follows on from previous subsidized Ramadan Bazaars for Muslims.
These bazaars have been organized since 2009 to support the poor population of both communities.
During Ramadan the bazaars are set for one month and now the Christmas Bazaars ran from December 22-24, 2010.
In 2009, the Provincial government gave a nine billion Rupees subsidy on sugar, wheat and flour during the Ramadan Bazaars. There was no restriction of religion; any Pakistani either Muslim or Christian could purchase subsidized eatables all through the month.
Ch. Amjid Ali Javed, District President, addressing the Christian community
Doulos International Pakistan then launched a campaign all over the country and pressed the Chief Minister to set up subsidized Christmas Bazaars on a similar pattern to the Ramadan Bazaars.
The Punjab government accepted the demands and set up the subsidized Christmas Bazaars in 17 districts of the province from December 22-24, 2009 and allocated millions of rupees for the subsidy on sugar, wheat and flour. Fruits, vegetables and meat were also sold at cheaper rates.
The Christians all over the province hailed the Punjab government for setting up these bazaars but expressed dissatisfaction over the subsidy provided during 2009.
The government promised to increase subsidy in 2010 for these bazaars. However, due to floods, the provincial government faced a severe financial crisis, but even then set up the Ramadan and Christmas Bazaars 2010.
A priest being interview during the event
However, there was no special subsidy on sugar and cooking oil and because of this, it did not get much attraction from the poor Christians. However, the government did provide a subsidy on wheat and flour, which are the staple foods in the province.
As the ANS Special Correspondent to Pakistan, I attended one of the Christmas bazaars set up in St. Peter’s High School Mubarkabad, Toba Tek Singh. The event, one of several in the region, was attended by Main Muhammad Rafique, a member of the Punjab Assembly, Ch. Amjid Ali Javed, District President of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML N), myself, and Rasheed Jalal and we all jointly inaugurated the Christmas Bazaar set up for the Christian Community.
Main Muhammad Rafique told ANS, “My party believes that all Pakistani citizens are equal and CM Main Shahbaz Sharief has taken minority friendly steps to empower them with the allocation of a five percent quota in all kinds of government jobs and also setting up subsidized Christmas Bazaars which are a reflection of PML N policy for vulnerable groups of the society.”
He went on to say, “I know that year there is no subsidy on any of the commodities of life. I feel ashamed and I apologize to my Christian brothers and sisters and hope that they will understand the difficulties of the provincial government as it is facing financial crises because of floods.”
However, he issued a directive to make “all-out efforts to support the poor Christians” of the area, adding, “PML N wishes all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. May Peace Prevail on the earth in 2011!”
Ch. Amijd Ali Javed said, “Christian brothers and sisters here in Pakistan are contributing a positive role in the country’s development and our Christian PML N workers are very active in the Toba Tek Singh area.”
However, Johnsons Gill, a buyer complained that there was no subsidy for “sugar” so therefore “there is no attraction for the people in these bazaars.”
He appealed the Chief Minister of Punjab to announce subsidized rates to help the poor people.
Rasheed Jalal, District President PML N (Minority Wing) told ANS that since the Chief Minister of the Punjab had taken over the control of Punjab government, it “has been working day and night for the weaker groups of the society.”
He added, “Despite the economic crises, the Chief Minister has set aside a budget for poor Christians of the province. There is no doubt that he is Christian friendly.”
Sadly, ANS observed a near zero turn out in these bazaars for lack of subsidies on the first of three days.
A Christian buyer is seen asking the rates at one of the Christmas Bazaars
Doulos International, A Pakistan a Christian groups working to “empower the Christian community in Pakistan” on seeing the situation, called an urgent meeting and decided to give its own subsidy on sugar and cooking oil.
Robin Peter, a Doulos International Pakistan member, told ANS, “The sugar per kilogram is sold in Christmas Bazaars at 63 rupees and cooking oil at 156 rupees on the first day Dec 22, 2010.
He added that under the Doulos International Pakistan subsidy program sugar was to be sold at Rupees 50 and cooking oil at rupees 115 (Doulos International purchased per kilogram sugar at Rs. 63 from the open market and sold it on Rupees 50 and cooking oil purchased at 156 and sold at Rupees 115).
“The subsidy will be a great support as poor Christians from rural and urban areas will get benefit from the Doulos International Pakistan program,” said Robin Peter.
Doulos International Pakistan also told ANS that it expected between 1500-2000 families would get subsidized sugar and cooking oil for their families and added that wit would give more subsidies if it could get funds that it says “will really support the poor of the poorest.”
ANS-Pakistan wishes all of readers around the world a merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Ashfaq Fateh, 38, studied civic and human rights, at Pakistan’s leading University, the Aga Khan University in Karachi. He has been working to promote peace, human rights and particularly for Christian’s rights. He has also been working against the discriminatory laws prevailing in Pakistan. His wife, Rafia Salomi, is serving as deputy director for Society for Human Development, popularly known as Human Development Center, an icon of Christian’s rights in Pakistan since 1984.