ISLAMABAD/RAWALPINDI, Dec 25: For Yaqoob Masih, a motorcycle mechanic in sector I-9, Tuesday morning meant extra excitement because it was “Bara Din”, Christmas in local parlance for the Christian community.
Yaqoob’s family was one of hundreds of families who visited Rawal Dam, which saw heightened security like the rest of the federal capital with the local administration closing roads to traffic outside churches as well.
Sadiq Masih, a representative of Fatima Church, told Dawn that he was quite satisfied with the security arrangements.
“Police blocked the road outside the church, and people were only allowed to enter after checking,” he said.
Sadiq’s spirits were not dampened by the harsh economic situation he is currently facing: living in a rented house in Hansa Colony in sector G-8, he admitted that he was barely able to make ends meet and could not do anything special for the occasion.
Similarly, Ashraf Masih, a resident of Bank Colony in sector G-7/1, after attending service at St. Thomas Church told Dawn that he arranged new clothes for his family and also “cooked good food like mutton and sweets”, but with difficulty.
Their predicament was shared by 300 Christian community members employed by the Rawalpindi and Chaklala Cantonment Board who had not been paid advance salaries. Even the City District Government Rawalpindi (CDGR) Solid Waste Management failed to provide advance salaries to over 600 workers.
“I spent my last three days in distress when my officer informed me that the advance salary will be given to regular employees only,” Amjad Masih, a sanitary worker with RCB, told Dawn.
“I had to borrow money from my friend,” he said.
George Bhatti, who lives in a slum near Holy Family Hospital, added: “The residents of these slum areas are poor but everyone tried to take part in the Christmas celebrations wholeheartedly and give gifts to their children according to their financial position.”
Bhatti said he too was forced to borrow money to buy new clothes for his wife and six children.
Despite repeated attempts, Dawn could not get through to RCB Additional Cantonment Executive Officer Shakeel Anwar Jappa.
However, another official of RCB said that the total strength of sanitary workers was more than 1,700 and the civic body gave advance salary to its regular staff.
“We did try to help those who were most needy among the daily wage workers,” he said.
Meanwhile, Haji Farooq Khan, Sanitation In-charge of Solid Waste Management of CDGR, admitted that they had given advance salaries to 900 workers and remaining 600 workers on daily wages will get their salaries in January.
He said that the area supervisors gave Rs500 to the sanitation workers on daily wages during the Christmas and that it was difficult for the accounts section to count 22 days salary for Christmas.
It is pertinent to mention that neither CDGR nor the Chaklala Cantonment Board hold a ceremony for over 3,000 sanitary workers belonging to the Christian community.
In the past, city district nazims had distributed gift items among Christian community on the behalf of district administration to express their joy and happiness over minorities’ celebrations.
On the other hand, Capital Development Authority (CDA) organised a Christmas Festival in collaboration with Christian Unity Forum, Aim Association for the Christian community, at Open Air Theatre, Shakarparian.
The CDA also fixed Christmas trees at different places in the federal capital.