Dawn News

The tireless educators of Karachi

Karachi’s Christian schools have been catering towards the provision of education to all fractions of the city’s socio-economic strata of citizens. – Illustration by Faraz Aamer Khan/Dawn.com
Karachi’s Christian schools have been catering towards the provision of education to all fractions of the city’s socio-economic strata of citizens. – Illustration by Faraz Aamer Khan/Dawn.com

“The discipline inculcated in me by my teachers at the Convent has stayed with me through the years,” says award-winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy.

Obaid-Chinoy, who was schooled at the Convent of Jesus and Mary, says the school was run “in a very meticulous manner.” Similar is the case with several other Christian schools spread across Karachi.

Stop a passer-by and ask them the way to the Mama Parsi School, the St. Josephs Convent, the Trinity Methodist School or one of the five branches of Dar-ul-Sukun, and surely, you will receive a satisfactory reply.

Carol Fernandes, a Personal Assistant at a private university* smiles when you ask her if she is happy in Karachi. “Pakistan is my homeland. We have food, shelter, jobs. We are happy.” she says. “In Canada, we would have to slog it out, travel long distances and live hand-to-mouth. My children have received good education here and have managed to acquire respectable jobs. So leaving Pakistan would be stupid!” she adds with a laugh.

Carol’s* optimism though, is not ubiquitous amongst Pakistan’s minority communities.

Represented by the white stripe on Pakistan’s flag, minorities have been granted the right to profess, practice and propagate their religion and to establish, maintain and manage their religious institutions under Article 20 of Pakistan’s constitution. Furthermore, they have been granted protection and representation in federal and provincial sectors under Article 36. Very seldom, though, are these rights granted. The dark shadows of the killings of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti – the only Christian minister in Pakistan’s Cabinet – in 2011, have left Pakistan’s minorities – particularly Christians – in a frenzied state. As of now, there are two Christian representatives, eight Hindu representatives and no Parsi, Sikh or Ahmadi representatives in the present parliament.

Living in a Hindu locality close to Shireen Jinnah Colony, Jamna and Rajoo say things have gone from bad to worse. “The boys in my son’s school tell him to recite the kalima and when he does not, they beat him up. Deva [her son] hides each morning because he doesn’t want to go through such misery. I want to educate my children and secure their future,” says Jamna.

Belonging to the community that added the magnificent Narayan Jaganath High School to Karachi’s cityscape 157 years ago and founded the Diwan Dayaram Jethamal (DJ) Science College in 1887 – both buildings have been declared heritage sites and attract visitors from remote locations – Jamna’s plight is indeed pitiful.

Elizabeth D’Souza, who works at Ziauddin University and hails from Mumbai, is pensive: “There are times when the instability mellows down and everything seems okay. But then, suddenly, the violence increases and I feel like fleeing.”

When asked whether urgent governmental reform is needed, she nods: “We are a minority and we need representation. When I compare Mumbai and Karachi, I see a vast difference. In Mumbai, reforms were not needed because we were on the same platform as the Hindus, the Sikhs, the Christians and the Parsis. We were given equal opportunities. But here, that is not the case.”

But what is similar between Mumbai and Karachi, is the influence of minority communities – mainly Parsis and Christians – in the provision of education via the private sector.

Whilst Mumbai boasts of the famous Maneckji Cooper School, the Bai Avabai Framji Petit High School and the St. Joseph’s Convent amongst its host of Christian and Parsi institutions; Karachi does not lag behind, providing its 18-million strong population with immaculate standards of education through reputable private sector institutions such as the St. Joseph’s Convent – established by the Daughter’s of the Cross in both Mumbai and Karachi –, the St. Patrick’s High School, the Mama Parsi School, the BVS Parsi High School, St. Lawrence’s School and several others.

Suzana Victor, a lecturer at Ziauddin University’s College of Pharmacy, staunchly advocates the fundamental role played by Christians in Karachi’s society. Born and bred in Hyderabad, she reiterates the philanthropic nature of Pakistani Christians. “When I was in college, my friends and I used to stay back in school and teach underprivileged children. The Christian community of Pakistan wants to help the country prosper – they’re simply too scared to come out into the open and render their services through the public sector. The Notre Dame Institute of Education in Karachi, for example, trains young girls – not restricting itself to only Catholics – and awards them with B.Ed. and M.Ed. degrees, giving them the opportunity to develop careers and give back to society,” she says.

Karachi’s Christian schools, as a matter of fact, have been catering towards the provision of education to all fractions of the city’s socio-economic strata of citizens. Bernadette, General Secretary of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), and Delphine Ashfaq, principal of YWCA’s Little Star’s School assert that the provision of education via the YWCA is impartial towards all religions, classes, creeds and socio-economic backgrounds. However, when it comes to granting girls accommodation in YWCA’s hostel, they prefer students from the rural areas of Pakistan. “We are staunch advocates of women’s empowerment and believe that children living up north or in interior Sindh do not have sufficient access to good education. That is why we prefer that they take up accommodation in our hostel and study in our school. Their parents trust us when we take their girls under our wing. They trust YWCA because of our discipline,” they say.

Meanwhile, the Nadirshaw Edulji Dinshaw (NED) University of Engineering and Technology, established in 1922, stands as a symbol of its benefactor – after whom the University has been named – who was part of another one of Karachi’s philanthropic minority communities: the Parsis.

The population of Parsis in Pakistan has declined to 1,893 – as per 2009 records. Their diminishing size however, has not served as a hindrance in their efforts towards educating Karachi. The imposing structure of the Mama Parsi School on main MA Jinnah Road is a towering example of how the Parsi community has been educating young girls since 1918. Says the principal, Furengeez Darius Tampal, “We have never commercialised education, throughout the 94 years of existence of this school. Our fee has always been nominal. Our goal has always been to impart education and instill good moral values within our young girls and make them productive members of society.”

Notable for their discipline, Karachi’s Parsi and Christian operated schools have churned out masses of refined students who, in turn, have managed to establish themselves as vital members of society.

Aban Jamal, a social-worker and chairperson of the Al-Umeed Rehabilitation Association, was a student of the Mama Parsi School in the 1950s and recalls her days in the beige building of the school with delight. “We had three pairs of twins in our class, including myself and my sister, and we used to get to all sorts of pranks and mischief back then. Those were great days,” she says with a soft laugh.

But the managements of these institutions understand the threat posed to them in the form of extremism and political instability. Furengeez Darius Tampal says that it hasn’t been an easy task. “We’ve put up a brave front. We’re located in one of Karachi’s most contentious zones – but we haven’t wavered from our mission of providing quality education,” she says with a smile.

These institutions have withstood the tremors of the partition of India and creation of Pakistan, the Indo-Pak Wars of 1965 and 1971 and today, are providing quality education to the students of Karachi, despite the existence of the dark cloud of political instability and turmoil that has shrouded itself over Karachi’s cityscape.

The existence of these institutions is vital for our metropolis. They serve as sanctuaries for Karachi’s young, vulnerable minds, shielding and preparing them for the tests and trials that they shall have to face in times ahead. In the end, the inspiring school song of one of Karachi’s oldest institutions rings clear: ‘Let us march onto knowledge, the girls of the Mama school’.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

Comments (32) Closed

Jun 12, 2012 03:45pm
Sorry WIPRO was founded by Azim Premji, a Muslim.
Shoeb Khan (Ajmer)
Jun 12, 2012 06:28pm
Birla group belongs to marwari Hindu and Wipro to a muslim name azem premji
Shoeb Khan (Ajmer)
Jun 12, 2012 06:25pm
Christian comunity here in India or in Paksitan has always been on the fore on social service. It is intresting to read how still minorities educational instiutes are running the show in Pak. I would suggest the editor if they could do a similir news report on contribution made by minorities especially christians and paris in the field of health in Pak metros
bhujang patil
Jun 12, 2012 06:25pm
Birlas are Marwari and the owner of Wipro (Azeem Premji) is a Shi'te Muslim
Irfan Baloch
Jun 12, 2012 02:47pm
I hear stories from my elders that how in the pre-partition days educated Hindus, Parsis, and Chritians would come. To & explain to them the importance and the need to educate their kids. They would take their kids to school provide them with free uniforms and books. Things changed a bit after partition educating their kids became a little difficult. "Bache ko Urdu kyun nahin aati" "Bachon k saat Urdu mein kyun baat nahin karte" became common questions confronting us when we took our kids to admit them in a school. Unfortunately these questions are still asked today. I believe we would have been better off if these minorities were a majority. But it's just me thinking loud u can have a different opinion have every right to do so. questions are still asked today
Jun 13, 2012 06:02am
wah re Ahmad. Keep talking do nothing
Agha Ata
Jun 12, 2012 12:18pm
Every time the words "Christian Schools" is mentioned, I think of Zia, who nationalized schools and colleges. That alone took the nation back when there were no schools in India (with the exception of Aligarh University and educational institutes affiliated with it) besides, we are prepared to go to China (and America) for knowledge, as we say, but we never learned how to educate our children, from these Christian schools.
Jun 12, 2012 01:31pm
We Indians owe a lot to the Parsi community. Some of the big stalwarts from this community have worked with Nehru from the days of Indian independence to build a modern India.
Jun 12, 2012 11:00am
Mr. Adil, I do not like the comment ("what Allah SWT has said about us being the best of people created for the benefit of mankind." ) you have made. Your this complexity is actually damaging more than it benefits. As per supreme creator all human are the same. Some are prospering because of they adopted right path, some are rotting because they are in illusion that they they are best. Your deed should be your best credentials. It is not new, all institution of excellence, ( education, hospitals, Charity homes etc.) are founded by Christian, Parsis or Hindus (in group or by individuals.)in the undivided India, because they did not shy way to adopt modern method of education unlike Muslims, who are very satisfied with their Madarsa education until Sir, Syed first set up Mohammedan Anglo Orient college in 1875. later it become famous as Aligarh Muslim University. But surprisingly 9 year before, in 1866, another educational institution, named Darul Uloom was founded for religious education. The reason behind the backwardness among Muslims are too much dependent on religion and lac of education.
Jun 13, 2012 06:30pm
Well way back in the 1980's St Patrick's School Afernoon shif was no different to the Shirin Jinnah School Where the Hindu Pupils were foreced to Learn the Catholic Religion.
Jun 15, 2012 12:44pm
I applaud the minorities in Pakistan and the missionary schools for educating the youth. Alas, in a country like Pakistan not all families can afford to send their children to these schools. It's never too late to have English and Urdu Medium schools at a high standard of teaching. If only, the powers to be would stop and think about the population that are poor and assist them with housing, medical and schooling needs.
Jun 12, 2012 04:29pm
Parsi were also were most favored sons and daughters of British bosses that played important role in this community getting ahead of Muslims and Hindus
Fatima & Aahad (@AahadsMommy)
Jun 13, 2012 11:01am
I graduated from The Mama Parsi Girls Secondary school. It is an amazing institute. But lets not forget Habib Girls Secondary School. Nor Habib Boys school. Both of which are also providing excellent education. And it isnt about Parsi, Christian or Hindu, Muslim. Its about promoting your society towards quality education. Empowering them. All of them.
Kamaljit Singh
Jun 12, 2012 06:25pm
It is all due to the christian Convent school education back in India that my kids did well in universities in USA. I salute to St Joseph , Mount Carmel schools in India .
Jun 12, 2012 03:48pm
Last sentence kinds of spoils the mood. Why are Muslims so worried and concerned about conversion of 'Infidels' to Islam. This is what causes mistrust about Muslims everywhere they go. I am yet to see a Muslim who genuinely talks about co-existence and respect for other faiths.
Jun 12, 2012 06:17pm
I agree about the fact that Parsi's, Christians and Hindus have contributed a lot, but its not that Muslims dont do anything. What would you say about TCF - The Citizen's Foundation, Eidhi, Ansar Barni, Sindhi Muslim and many others. Even many madrassas (which are often looked at in negative light) are actually performing similar function. But yes I agree that this philonthropy is much higher amongst Parsis in proportionate terms. Similarly Christian misssionries have done a great job in education sector.
Jun 12, 2012 02:28pm
Isn't it ironic that the only Pakistani muslims who follow the example set by their Prophet are those that have been educated in Christian/Parsi schools!! The Islam that is being practiced in Pakistan today is far removed from anything the Prophet taught; it is purely man made with its main objective being to gain power at any cost. In my opinion it is terrible dis-service to Islam to call the country the "islamic" Republic oc Pakistan. The only thing Islamic about Pakistan today is its name
Jun 12, 2012 06:45am
The accomplishments and gifts of Parsi / Christian and Hindu community are alll around us in Karachi. However, there is a large number of us from amongst majority Muslim community who realize that and we promise that we will realize the dreams of our founding father.
Jun 12, 2012 07:35am
Only Education can save the country. It brings enlightenment and empowerment and sense to differentiate between the good and the bad. Religion should be a private affair for attainment of God. It should be kept within and not flaunted. Humans dont have the right to decide who is on the right path or not and take any decisive steps especially violent ones. Let God be God.
Gerry D'Cunha
Jun 12, 2012 07:43am
One should salute these great Christian/Parsi schools and its great teachers who have groomed Presidents;Prime Ministers;Chief Ministers;Home Ministers;Foreign Ministers;parliamentarians; Military personnels and other civil society of this country. Its only shame,these very people from these schools on top posts have not practice and taught our mass people to respect and honour the minorities of this country.
Jun 12, 2012 08:04am
A very thorough analysis of the educational contributions from our minority communities. Good job! However, one must also credit the discipline, impartiality and tolerance for others' beliefs inculcated in our youngsters, as pointed by Sharmeen Obaid.
Syed A.R. Adil
Jun 12, 2012 08:14am
This is the kind of information that should be published extensively in the Urdu media so that it is widely read and at the same time condition the minds of the masses to have a favorable opinion about the minorities in Pakistan. We the Muslims in India too are occasionally subjected to double standards and maybe even victimized, but mostly it is nothing serious and certainly to us India is by far a better place to live in because of its justice system and human rights. I do not wish to club the Kashmir issue with the rest of the Country because it is a political issue and should be solved politically eventually. It is high time, Muslims too, like the Parsis, Christians and even Hindus start making a contribution to the society regardless of religion, caste or creed and live up to what Allah SWT has said about us being the best of people created for the benefit of mankind. Quran 110. The sooner that we start looking inward and work towards bearing the standard that our Prophet Muhammad SAS has given us, we will sure starting impacting the hearts and minds of people all over the world just like how it was during the period of our Khulafa e Rashidin when people were embracing Islam in droves. Regards S.A.R Adil President, Deens Educational Trust, The Deens Academy School, Bangalore, India.
Jun 12, 2012 10:44am
No doubt Christians and Parsi schools have been serving Pakistan since long tym...NED university in Karachi, which is a post independence Uni/college is still serving Pakistan and will serve inshallah for all tym to come...Minorities shd be given more rights then the majorities wheather that is hindu, christian or sikh because we got independence from the subcontinent because our rights were not governed well...Many christian school, all starting with "St" are perhaps one of the best schools in Pakistan.
Jun 12, 2012 09:53am
I have always respected the Parsi community immensely. They never cried about minority rights in India, never grumbled about govt bias, apathy, reservation etc. Yet, they are the most prosperous and successful community. TATA, Birla, Godrej, WIPRO are a few of many world class mega organisations founded by Parsis, which directly or indirectly provide daily bread to millions. They just demonstrate that If you have a vision and will to achieve it, everything falls in its place.
Syed A.R. Adil
Jun 13, 2012 07:45am
Brother MKB, I was quoting the Quran and the idea was to address the Muslims in Pakistan and more importantly jolt them into taking note and work towards doing things that benefit mankind (people of all faiths) as enshrined and mandated upon all Muslims by God Himself. You do understand, the cornerstone of Muslim faith is the absolute belief in Quran being the word of God. Personally, I see myself as a devout Muslim and that enables me see all people as one regardless of their religion, caste, colour or creed. Regards S.A.R Adil
Syed A.R. Adil
Jun 13, 2012 07:48am
Khan Sahab, Muslims contribution should be seen in relation to the contribution the others have made. In that respect we fall well short. The sooner that we are able to correct this anomaly, the better for the community as a whole. S.A.R Adil
Syed A.R. Adil
Jun 13, 2012 07:56am
Pir Baba, Let there be no doubt, co-existence is what I am talking about. The context in which I said Muslims were embracing Islam in droves during the time of Khulafa e Rashidin was to drive home the point that Muslims were setting high standards of probity, welfare and honesty, which was attracting the people of other faiths to Islam. If you understand the context, I am sure will know what I was trying to convey. May Allah SWT Bless us all with wisdom to always do waht is pleasing to Him. S.A.R Adil
N. Rahim
Jun 13, 2012 08:03am
@Irfan, You are only speaking your heart out. I have similar thoughts. I studied at Corks (PECHS). Then migrated to Bangladesh. I was educated in KSA (Extended B.Sc, in a specialized field). I faced the same problems in Bangladesh. In Pakistan, I was a minority, when I moved back to BD, I was again a minority because I practically lived my life in Pakistan. I was told the same, "you don't know Bengali, you cannot get admitted. This attitude does not help the cause. Now I live in Canada, I am again a minority. Anyways, if the Karachi people allow me, I still consider myself a Karachite. I know how the Christians and the Parsis helped in educating Karachi. I was not sure of the Hindus. But they have tremendous contribution to education in Bangladesh. Muslims (some) also have, like the Isphahanis, the Adamjees the Ahsania's, the Bawani's and there are some other names, but mostly "immigrant" communities.
Jun 14, 2012 05:56am
I strongly believe that Missionary Schools like St. Patrick's School and Parsi Schools were more effective in imparting high class education and inculcating good practices among their students. If their honesty, commitment and dedication to education was adopted by other institutions especially government schools than we would not be confronted by the situation we are facing today. Nationalization of these academic institution and other businesses by Pakistan Peoples Party was a wrong decision for which the whole nation continues to suffer.
Jun 15, 2012 06:58am
I salute the work done by the missionaries and the parsi community in terms of educating the youth of Karachi but must also highlight the great work done by the Muslim group- Habib Group who has given two great educational schools to this city namely the Habib Girls School and Habib Public School. These two schools were established in the 19th century but are at par with the christian and parsi schools that were established in pre-partition era.
click here
Aug 22, 2012 10:26am
Educators in Karachi are best since they are tireless as per the post. It was a wonderful article and I must say that it had blown my mind out. Really a fascinating one...
Aug 22, 2012 05:45am