ASIA/PAKISTAN - Supreme Court returns historic college to Christian owners

Friday, 17 November 2023 education   christianity   religious minorities   university  

Islamabad (Agenzia Fides) - The historic Gordon College in Rawalpindi, a prestigious and originally Christian educational institution founded in 1893, returns to the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan. The Supreme Court of Pakistan ruled last November 10 in favor of the Sialkot Mission of the Presbyterian Church, giving it back ownership and management of Gordon College in Rawalpindi in Pakistan's Punjab region. The decision settled a long legal dispute over the facility, which was nationalized in 1972 by the Pakistani government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.
The issue has been controversial, particularly among the university's current students and faculty, who fear the economic impact of future private management of the institute on their families. In recent years, school staff have therefore spoken out against returning the institute to the church. Students and teachers of Gordon College staged a demonstration against what they called the "privatization of the government college" and suggested that it be renamed the Government Mohammedan College. However, this is not a "privatization" in the strict sense, but, as the court ruled, a restoration of the original property rights exercised by the Presbyterian Church from 1893 to 1972. Following the Presbyterian Mission's lawsuit and the Supreme Court ruling, the public administration is preparing to return the historic academic institution to its original owner. After the verdict, students and teachers threatened to take to the streets again to prevent the building from being returned. According to lawyers, a further appeal against the Supreme Court's decision is possible. Observers described the ruling as a turning point for the religious and educational rights of Christians in Pakistan. In fact, the ruling is not just a legal solution to an isolated case, but a precedent that marks a significant moment in the country's educational history and that defines the relationship between the public and private sectors, between the education system and legal property rights, between the state administration and the private institutions involved in education in Pakistan. Hundreds of educational institutions in the Sindh and Punjab regions, including Christian schools and universities, fell under Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's 1972 Martial Law Order 118, which nationalized private institutions and organizations (including religious institutions). The need for the state to promote and organize state education came first. This measure was not without consequences. A recent investigation by the Center for Social Justice (CSJ) blames the nationalization of public schools in Pakistan for the current low levels of literacy and education of the Pakistani Christian community, the weakening of church institutions and also for the discriminatory mentality that has developed has crept into society - and has grown over the last 50 years - and which is already taught in schools. The report titled "Lessons from the Nationalization of Education in 1972" states that a total of 118 Christian or missionary institutions were nationalized and that of the many institutions in Punjab and Sindh, as of November 2019, only 50 percent were returned to their original owners and founders had been returned. In 2004, President Pervez Musharraf ordered the return of educational institutions to religious minorities, and 59 institutions were returned by the state to churches. The still open cases also include another historic Christian educational institution in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), the “Edwardes College” in Peshawar, which originally belonged to the Anglican Church: the Supreme Court rejected the return in 2021 and confirmed the administration by the state education authorities. Founded in 1893 as a Christian school in Rawalpindi, the college was named after Andrew Gordon, who was then head of the American Presbyterian Mission in India. Initially it was affiliated to the University of Calcutta in British India. With the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, it passed to the Muslim majority population, but remained under the auspices of the Presbyterian Church, which ran it until 1972 and maintained it as an institute of excellence: one of the oldest academic institutions in Pakistan, the college offered and continues to offer qualifications such as degrees in scientific and humanistic disciplines.
As the local press reports, the college, which accepts both male and female students, will be managed by Forman Christian College University, a prestigious Christian university of the Presbyterian Church in Pakistan. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 17/11/2023)