- Youhanabad locals allege that Christian lawmaker Mary Gill’s father Raja Nathaniel Gill attempted to grab graveyard land, desecrated graves in the process
- Several Christians say this is not the first time Nathaniel Gill has set eyes on Christian property
- Nathaniel Gill says graveyard land is State Life property and local Christians are not a party to the matter
Residents of the mostly Christian locality of Youhanabad are up in arms over an alleged attempt to grab land of a graveyard by a family member of a female lawmaker belonging to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Today has learnt.
Following incessant protests by local Christians over the alleged land grabbing attempt a week ago, Pakistan Today visited the locality where it was informed that the father of PML-N’s Member of the Punjab Assembly on a reserved seat from Raiwind, Mary Gill, was ‘directly involved’ in the incident.
“About six months ago, Raja Nathaniel Gill, the father of PML-N MPA Mary Gill, bought a house adjacent to the graveyard in Youhanabad and started expanding it towards the graveyard,” Zeeshan Mall, a resident of the area, told Pakistan Today.
The graveyard is located at the back of the small house of Raja Nathaniel Gill, who is himself a former senior vice chairman of Minorities Advisory Council of the Punjab government.
Zeeshan said that Gill had demolished some graves with the intention of expanding his house. He also showed Pakistan Today the remnants of the construction material still present at the graveyard.
“Gill has constructed a set of steps on the land of the graveyard after opening a new back door,” he said, adding that he desecrated four graves in the process.
Another resident of the area Lala Saleem Khokhar said that there used to be a hand-pump and a toilet for the public at the graveyard, but Gill demolished both to construct a garage for his vehicle.
“All this is being done with the patronage of his daughter Mary Gill and the support of the ruling PML-N,” he alleged.
“Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif was elected MPA from this constituency (PP-159) in 2013. But he has never set foot in this neighbourhood which is why the area is often targeted by land grabbers,” he said.
He alleged that Nathaniel Gill was involved in several cases of land grabbing in Raiwind and that he had now begun these activities in Youhanabad “since his daughter is an MPA of the ruling party”.
Another person who introduced himself as Pastor Shakeel told Pakistan Today that he owned a property in Raiwind a few years ago where Nathaniel Gill wanted to arrange a gathering to celebrate the selection of his daughter as MPA.
“I gave him permission to hold the gathering on my land but have never been able to recover the property from his possession since then. Nathaniel Gill threatened me with dire consequences if I pressed him for my land,” the pastor said, adding that Gill’s family is close to the PML-N leadership which is why he thought it best not to put up a fight.
“His daughter is an MPA of the PML-N. They are powerful people. Nathaniel is infamous for filing fake cases against people to grab their property and the entire Christian community of Lahore and Raiwind knows this,” the pastor said.
Youhanabad, one of the largest Christian neighbourhoods in the country houses some 200,000 Christians. There are only two graveyards where the people can bury their loved ones after they die.
Arif Masih, 70, told Pakistan Today that he has been living in this neighbourhood for the last 40 years and has never seen such an activity where people grab the land from the dead.
“There is already a scarcity of land here in the graveyard. People grabbing it for personal gain is a matter of serious concern,” he said.
Asif Sohail Khokhar, the chairman of Union Council 246 from Youhanabad, told Pakistan Today that the local Christians would not allow any person to grab their land.
“The Christian community received the land for the graveyard after a long and tiresome effort. We will not allow anyone to grab it,” Khokhar said, adding that an application has been submitted to the Nishtar Colony Police Station demanding stern action against the accused person.
Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) of Kahna Circle Iqbal Hussain Shah confirmed that the house adjacent to the graveyard belongs to Raja Nathaniel Gill and that he had tried to expand his property towards the graveyard.
However, he assured that stern action would be taken against the accused without any political pressure. He did not confirm to Pakistan Today if the accused had been summoned for investigation or whether a case had been registered against him over the alleged land grab.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) MPA on a minority seat, Shunila Ruth told Pakistan Today that she has been informed by the people of Youhanabad about the incident.
“Places like graveyards are sacred for everyone and the alleged act of land grabbing there by Nathaniel Gill is a shameful act,” she said, adding that the locals would not allow any influential person to get away with such crimes.
This is not the first time the PML-N MPA’s father has been accused of grabbing Christian property.
On Nov 2, 2006, Church Times, an Anglican church publication based in Britain, had reported that Nathaniel Gill had brought false charges of his wife’s murder, land grabbing, sexual infidelity, and drinking against then Bishop of Raiwind, Samuel Azariah, to gain control of disputed church property in Raiwind.
The bishop was later acquitted of all charges by the court but the allegations had tainted his reputation across the world.
Pakistan Today made repeated attempts to contact MPA Mary Gill but neither did she receive phone calls nor did she respond to the several text messages sent on her number.
Commenting on the allegations leveled against him, her father Nathaniel Gill said the graveyard land that he was being accused of grabbing was not Christian property.
“The Christians of Youhanabad have in fact occupied this piece of land illegally. The land originally belongs to State Life Insurance Corporation therefore if anyone has an issue with me it should be State Life and not the people of Youhanabad,” he said.
“I constructed a staircase and a wall on my property and I have documentary evidence to prove that it is my land. Some locals demolished the wall and the stairs in my absence and I will move the court against them,” he said.
Gill also denied charges of illegally occupying Pastor Shakeel’s property in Raiwind, claiming that he had bought the property from Shakeel’s stepbrother. He also denied that his lawmaker daughter was influencing the case in any way.