ASIA/PAKISTAN – The Supreme Court returns former nationalized universities to Christian communities
Islamabad (Agenzia Fides) – The former Gordon College in Rawalpindi, a prestigious Christian educational institution founded in 1893, returns to the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan. The Supreme Court of Pakistan, in a November 10 ruling, ruled in favor of the Sialkot Mission of the Presbyterian Church, restoring ownership and management of Gordon College in Rawalpindi, in the Punjab region of Pakistan. This decision resolves a legal dispute regarding the institution which was nationalized by the Pakistani government in 1972, during the reign of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.
The issue has been the subject of controversy, especially among students and faculty at the college, who are concerned about the economic impact of private management at the institution on families. In previous years, school staff also opposed the institution’s return to the Church. Students and teachers at Gordon College staged a protest against what they called “privatization of the state college”, proposing to change its name to “Government Mohammedan College”.
However, this was not a question of “privatization” but, as the Court decided, of the restoration of the original property rights, exercised by the Presbyterian Church from 1893 to 1972. The public administration, after lawsuits filed by the Presbyterian Mission and the ruling of the Supreme Court, prepared to restore the academic institution historic to the original owner. After the ruling, students and teachers threatened to take to the streets again to prevent the return of the building. According to lawyers, a new “intra-judicial” appeal against the Supreme Court decision is possible.
According to observers, this legal victory marks a turning point for the religious and educational rights of Christians in Pakistan. In fact, the decision is not limited to the legal resolution of just one case, but will create a legal precedent, marking an important moment in the country’s educational history, reshaping the relationship between the government and the private sector, between the education system and legal property rights. , between state administration and private entities involved in education in Pakistan.
Hundreds of educational institutions in the Sindh and Punjab regions, including Christian schools and universities, were included in the martial law “Regulation 118” imposed by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1972, which excluded private bodies and organizations (such as churches) and were nationalized. , prioritizing the country’s need to promote and provide public education.
This action is not without consequences. A recent study conducted by the Center for Social Justice (CSJ) links the nationalization of Pakistan’s state schools to the low literacy and education levels of Pakistan’s Christian community, the weakening of ecclesiastical institutions, and a discriminatory mentality that has insinuated itself. into society – and developed over the last 50 years – from the school environment itself.
The CSJ report, entitled “Lessons from the Nationalization of Education in 1972”, noted that 118 Christian or missionary institutions were nationalized, and of the many institutions in Punjab and Sindh, only 50% had been returned to their original owners and founders by November. 2019. In fact, in 2004, President Pervez Musharraf ordered the return of educational institutions to religious minorities, and 59 institutions were exiled and returned to the church by the state. Among the cases still open is that of a former Christian educational institution in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province, Edwardes College in Peshawar, owned by the Anglican Church: The Supreme Court rejected its restitution in 2021, confirming its management by the public education service.
Founded as a Christian school in 1893, Rawalpindi College was named in honor of Andrew Gordon, who later headed the American Presbyterian Mission to India. Originally affiliated with the University of Calcutta, British India. Later, with the separation of India and Pakistan in 1947, the country transitioned into a Muslim-majority country, still under the auspices of the Presbyterian Church, which ruled until 1972, maintaining it as a flagship institution: As one of the oldest academic institutions in Pakistan, the College offers – and continues to offer – degrees such as degrees in the sciences and humanities.
According to local press, the college, which accepts both male and female students, will now be managed by Forman Christian College University, a prestigious Christian university of the Presbyterian Church in Pakistan.
(PA) (Agenzia Fides 17/11/2023)
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