THERE is an air of serenity at the Punjab Christians Ministries International Trust Hospital in Clarkabad, a Christian village in Punjab, in Kot Radha Kishan, Kasur district. The broad daylight penetrating the windows brings with it a certain warmth and calm. There is no sense of urgency, no pounding of loud footsteps, no buzz or murmurs of people sauntering or the sharp bells of cellular phones that are all too familiar at many hospitals.
The hospital was established four years ago by a Christian man who now resides in the United States and had built it on his own land in Clarkabad, a village now famous for producing paramedical staff. As I enter the foyer, I notice a room with the door left ajar and an amiable woman sitting in her white lab coat in what looks like an administrator’s room. When I introduce myself, she postulates that I have come to enquire about Shama and Shahzad Masih, the Christian couple heinously burned to death a few weeks ago. Within minutes, more staff surrounds me, each assuming I’m here to ask questions about the recent tragedy.
There’s an almost palpable silence that I break with a polite question about the staff and personnel at the hospital. I’m here to find out more about these professionals. What is it like being in the first Christian village in Punjab? What problems do they encounter in their personal and professional lives? And why have so many people from their village opted for the paramedical profession?
Shakeel Ijaz, Samina Rose and Pervez Shahbaz are sitting around me in the administrator’s room. They work as a lab in-charge, nurse and OT technician respectively.
“My mother was a midwife, and I wanted to be in a profession that was just as giving,” said Rose, in response to my query on her choosing the medical profession. “I always wanted to help people and this seemed like the perfect field.”
This giving nature of the hospital staff was then corroborated by Ijaz, who said that most Christians find nursing to be a “very giving profession”. He lives near Raiwind and commutes each day to Clarkabad on a train for his shift as a lab in-charge.
“I studied 10 grades only and my options were to either join a factory or this hospital,” said Shahbaz. “Naturally, I opted to work in a hospital as there is more prestige here in our community.” He added that nursing itself finds its roots in Christianity. Rose then chipped in to give a reference to Florence Nightingale, a famous English medical reformer and the founder of modern nursing, who came to prominence while serving as a nurse during war, while tending to wounded soldiers.
Sharing brief snippets of history, the three staff members told me that a missionary by the name of Robert Clark gathered Christians from all over and brought them to what is now Clarkabad for agricultural work about 150 years ago. “The only Muslims who came and settled with Reverend Clark at that time were lohars and dhobis,” said Shahbaz, after excusing himself for possibly sounding impolite by mentioning the low-earning vocations of the Muslims who settled here.
“In Clarkabad, we have no fear. We have beautiful churches and schools and are confident that Muslims will protect us. People who are educated do not make an issue out of religion.” However, this optimistic view of a sense of security is not shared by Alphonse John Sahutra, Chairman of the Aman Committee. “No one is safe. I am wary and cautious with friends. People can do anything to you over professional jealousy,” he said.
Sahutra himself resides in Faisalabad, where he was also the former nazim of the Christian community but visits Clarkabad to meet relatives and friends. He thinks the optimistic views of those residing in the village currently are difficult for him to comprehend given the recent incidents of torture on Christians.
“You will notice that most Christians here are very soft natured. That is how we have been brought up, to be peace loving,” said Ijaz, who then told me about the churches and schools that Reverend Clark built in the village.
As Ijaz and his colleagues affirmed information on the number of institutions that had been built in the village by the reverend, I wondered if their optimism on never having to face a mob like Shama and Shahbaz was delusional or credible. I wondered if Sahutra was indeed accurate in saying that not a single Christian person is safe anymore and whether the hospital where they clearly worked ardently was a hideout from the reality.
Published in Dawn, November 28th, 2014