do not spare our roads too!
The fight for land takes on a new life
By Waqar Bhatti
In what can best be described as a war for land, dark clouds of ethnic violence are once again hovering over Karachi. Much of this fear comes from the illegal activities being committed with the patronage and support of criminals, extortionists and, most importantly, land-grabbers. They work under the patronage of various political parties.
Unfortunately, instead of looking into the causes of violence, often described as rifts between two ethnic groups, rival political parties start supporting and owning criminals, which results in more violence and bloodshed. This has claimed the lives of innocent people besides hardened criminals.
In one such incident (about two weeks ago), a young boy was killed and dozens of people including the police and Rangers were injured in an armed clash in the Sharah-e-Noor Jehan police limits between. The disputing parties had political affiliations and the bone of contention was land.
Most recently, 62-year-old Izhar Ahmed Khan died near Old Sabzi Mandi on Thursday night because of heart failure – he received threats from six extortionists claiming to be activists of a political party.
The fears of ethnic violence, as a result of repeated clashes between activists, even led to the convening of a high-level meeting at the Governor House where leaders of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Awami National Party (ANP) resolved to take indiscriminate action against land-grabbers and extortionists.
At the meeting, Sindh Home Minister, Dr Zulfiqar Mirza, alleged that the activists of all three parties as well as some nationalist parties were involved in land-grabbing. When action is taken against them, he added, the incident is given ethnic or political colour.
Shahi Syed, ANP President, Sindh chapter, confirmed this to Kolachi, adding that when Dr Zulfiqar Mirza made the allegation, Syed told the meeting that if anybody who claims to be an ANP activist, encroaches on land, the ANP denies having connections with such elements.
"We are only against the demolition of Katchi Abadis where people have been living for the past two decades. If somebody tries to demolish the homes of poor people, we will definitely resist that" Syed said, adding that, otherwise, the party has no connections with land-grabbers using its name.
"If someone hoists an ANP flag on a disputed land, I urge him to let go of the land and if he still resists, I ask the police and administration to take action against him" he added.
When asked whether he would support the police and administration in getting the disputed land vacated from grabbers, he said he did not have the manpower to implement his directives but both him and the ANP would not support such elements by holding rallies, protests and press conferences.
Sindh Sports Minister, Surgeon Muhammad Ali Shah (affiliated with the MQM), when contacted said the meeting at the Governor House a few days back was aimed at minimising political differences between the ruling allies in Sindh. It is because of these criminals, according to Shah, that these parties are at odds with one another.
"During the meeting, the formulation of a joint strategy against these criminals, professional land-grabbers and extortionists was decided," he maintained.
When his attention was drawn towards the allegations made by Dr Zulfiqar Mirza, Shah pointed out that what he actually meant was that some people use the names of political parties, but the latter should not support such elements.
As far as the eruption of ethnic violence is concerned, he said that members of these parties (as well as their leaders) were sensible and knew what was happening in the city. "If we continue to meet and clarify things, nothing of this sort will happen," he added.
Renowned security expert, Ikram Sehgal, was of the opinion that there is a likelihood of ethnic violence in Karachi given the activities of various land mafia and extortionists. "In addition to constructing roads and bridges in the city, the city government should also win hearts and minds of people and show a more sensible approach towards all ethnic groups," he observed.
According to Sehgal, this is also the responsibility of the provincial government as it comprises all major ethnic groups living in the province. Failure to do so could result in the replacement of the democratic government with some kind of autocratic set-up.
Although some leaders of the MQM and PPP, when contacted by 0, refused to speak on the issue, they admitted that some political activists were involved in property dispute in the city. They, however, denied that their parties were supporting such elements using party names.
On the other hand, a senior police official, requesting anonymity, claimed that the police is not given the authority to take action against land-grabbers and criminals with political affiliations -- its role is confined to maintaining law and order in case there is a clash.
"Right from Bin Qasim town to Orangi and Baldia, including Shah Faisal Colony, Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Gulistan-e-Jauhar, Gadap and other parts of the city, activists of different political groups are busy in occupying land of both the government and common people" he claimed. He also admitted that clashes over land and properties by activists were being given an ethnic and political touch.
"The situation is highly flammable at the moment as everybody is accusing the other of capturing their land and pledges to fight for their rights, which is actually is the fight for money and land," he claimed.
Experts warn that if the situation is not properly dealt with by the administration in Karachi, these feuds could result in bloody clashes. Countless people will lose their lives and the economy will suffer.
--Photos by Naqeeb-ur-Rehman
Political parties support criminals: UC Nazim
Pervez Wali, Union Council (UC) 2 Nazim of North Nazimabad, a troubled and sensitive area in the city, alleged that political parties are backing criminals especially land-grabbers. However, they appear innocent in front of the media.
"In Block P of North Nazimabad, my UC, ANP activists have occupied a plot spread over 4,000 yards and have hoisted their flags. Now they are busy demarcating it," he told Kolachi, predicting yet another clash in the area.
"The people of both Pashtun and Urdu-speaking communities are tired of these clashes because they are the ones suffering in the end," he observed. Wali said he had asked the SHO of the area to "be brave" and lodge an FIR against the land-grabbers but the SHO was reluctant to do so because of political pressure.
A public road has been encroached by a group of influential people. Despite several complaints, no action has been taken. Kolachi looks into it.
By Farooq Baloch
An influential land mafia, claiming to be activists of a political party, has encroached on a public road for the purpose of selling it off. Despite the fact that a complaint was lodged at the office of DO Revenue City District Government Karachi (CDGK) on January 5 against this irregular activity, so far no action has been taken.
The 100-feet wide public road, cited as C-14 in the Master Plan of Scheme No 33, is adjacent to Dashtayar Apartments on main University Road between sectors 38-A and 33, KDA Scheme No 33. It has been encroached upon by the land mafia. In fact, Kolachi, on a recent visit saw how the road has ceased to be a public space.
Interviews with officials and stakeholders revealed that a resident of the area lodged a complaint (Complaint No 2948) at the office of Revenue Department, CDGK, on January 5 which was received by the department on the same day. However, no action has been taken to get rid of the grabbers from the above-mentioned place.
In a recent visit of the said place, it was observed that land grabbers have carried out development work on this road, connecting main University Road with the Ojha TB Sanatorium Road behind Dashtyar Apartments. Some armed men are found guarding the place with flags of a major political party.
Further investigations revealed that the mafia operating there is charging Rs0.2 to Rs0.25 million for each plot. Further observation showed that a vehicle bearing a green-coloured government number plate was also seen parked in the area, apparently supervising the workers.
When contacted by Kolachi, an attendant at the City District Government Karachi (CDGK) call centre (1339) said that the status of the complaint marked 'done' on the system. Responding to a question she says, this status means the complaint was addressed. However, the ground reality is different from what the attendant said since the encroachment still exists. When she was informed about the situation, the attendant said that she would add her comments to the complaint and forward it to the concerned department.
Even more questionable is the lukewarm response of EDO Revenue, Sajjad Abbasi, who seemed to be unaware of the situation, despite the fact that the complaint was made in January. "I don't know the details of that encroachment," he said, adding, "Let me check and you can contact me after an hour," he added. Since then, Kolachi has been trying to contact Abbasi and has spoken to him only once in between -- his cellphone is 'not responding'. A message was also left with an attendant on his office number but he has yet to get back to Kolachi to provide answer to the queries put in front of him.
It must also be mentioned that the road in question merges into main University Road near Safoora Chowrangi was also encroached in 2004 by Usmania Builders. However, thanks to the immediate action taken by CDGK's Revenue Department, the encroachment was removed. The delays in renovation work, especially the carpeting of the road, provided an opportunity to some land grabbers for encroaching on the same since it was lying vacant.
Given that the CDGK has not taken any action, it is safe to assume that the land grabbers are enjoying support of an influential person.
When contacted, the Information Secretary PPP, Fauzia Wahab said that she was not aware of the matter. She asked Kolachi to contact her later so that she could get information about the issue. When contacted again, she said, "I had not found such information, therefore I can't comment on the matter." Responding to a question, she said, "If something illegal is happening, the offender should be taken to task. The Home Minister will take action in this regard."
In the name of Religion
Unplanned and unregistered mosques are springing up in various parts of the city - some being built owing to sectarian differences, and are fast becoming a source of worry
By Abdullah Khoso
Khob Nawaz, 45, is not a content man. Every day, along with other residents in his locality of Muhammadi Colony in Keamari, he has to walk long distances to a mosque in a neighbouring area, even though there is one right in his own neighbourhood.
However, the mosque in question – Tayyaba Mosque – is currently under the control of a Pesh Imam, Allah Buksh, and it is because of him that the residents of Muhammadi Colony have refused to offer prayers in their own area.
Buksh's occupation of the mosque was not always a disputed matter. A few years ago, he was asked by one Babu Tanveer, another resident of the community, to lead prayers at the mosque when it was under construction.
But when the people of the area noticed Buksh practising rites different to what they followed, they stopped going to his mosque and instead turned to a mosque in a different neighbourhood.
"It became a problem for the older people of the area in particular," explains Nawaz. "They have very strict beliefs that do not permit them to offer prayers behind someone who belongs to another sect. They now have to walk a long way to get to the other mosque."
Buksh, however, is convinced he should remain in the mosque and continue to preach as he has been for the past two years. He is backed by another Sunni group, but according to Nawaz, the people of this group live in a separate area. "Allah Bukhsh himself lives a good 10 miles away from the mosque," adds Nawaz.
In Karachi, it has been learnt that disputes over who is in control of a mosque stem mainly from two reasons: sectarian differences, as in the case of the Tayyaba mosque, or money. In the latter case, local communities, who have little to do with the issue at hand, end up being the most affected.
"Five years ago, disputes over the possession of mosques in Karachi were very common, and were usually started by land-grabbers, who used the mosque to protect their economic interests," says Muhammad Younis, Coordinator, Urban Resource Centre, an NGO.
This means that often, mosques end up being built where they should not be. As Younis points out, "The allotment of land should be planned, but neither the people nor the government care. People just donate a piece of land and construct a mosque on it regardless of whether that area is suited for it"
To back his claim, Younis cites the example of a mosque in Lyari which is built on a sewerage line. The construction of the mosque has blocked the flow of sewage and filled the area with a stench.
"It is an awful thing, but no one cares," laments Younis. He adds that there are many other mosques in the city that cause traffic jams because they are ill-placed, but no one speak up against it.
"It is such a sensitive issue that no one dares say anything."
Asif Khalid Saif, senior research officer at the Council of Islamic Ideology, agrees that mosques should not be constructed without due approval and planning. "A mosque should be a source of integration in society rather cause of inconvenience for neighbours and civic life," he says.
However, those who are in control of mosques in Karachi claim that not every mosque in the city falls under their jurisdiction. Mosques are the concern of the Auqaf Department, but the department, which deals with just 31 mosques in the city, admits that they do not know exactly how many there are. "We are not concerned about other mosques and their construction, nor do we know where new mosques are being approved or registered for construction," states Muhammad Nusrat Hussain, Administrator Auqaf Department.
Constructing mosques without prior permission may not be legal, but even when the dispute is sectarian in nature, such as with Tayyaba mosque, it is liable to end up in court.
"I have dealt with many cases like this, and I know that in Karachi, some people do not like to go to neighbouring mosques, even if those in charge of those mosques belong to their own sect," says Javed Ahmed, who practises law at civil court.
He does not have to look far to prove his point. "My own uncle believes that people in neighbouring mosques are not Muslims practise an interpretation of Islam that is incorrect," he says.
In 2007, a similar type of civil suit was filed at the Civil Court West, where two parties were battling over the rights to the Jamia Masjid, part of Farooq Azam Trust in Sultanabad. Unlike in the case of the Tayyaba mosque, however, here both parties belonged to the same ideological group, and were locked in controversy over who should receive the rent generated by 17 shops built on land allegedly belonging to the mosque. The Union Council Nazim was dragged into the affair, and ultimately dissolved the committee of the Farooqe Azam Trust, although later the decision was challenged and deemed unlawful.
The dispute surrounding Tayyaba mosque, meanwhile, has been taken to the DDO office Keamari under the section 107 and 117 of the criminal procedure act. The administration at the DDO office considers the issue a sectarian divide and has indicated that the case should proceed quickly, considering the sensitive nature of the dispute. However, no decision has been reached to date.
The public flogging of a veiled 17-year-old in Swat incensed the entire nation last week, particularly the ordinary woman who steps out on the streets of Karachi every day. A few of them share their sentiments with Kolachi after they first viewed the video
Sabrina Atif Jan, 29, Architect:
"Initially I thought it was absurd. Later on I thought if it really happened in Swat, it can happen anywhere in the country. I would want those three men to be publicly slaughtered, but at this point I can't even make a comment on what exactly religion says because of my lack of knowledge, but I do know no where does the Quran justify public humiliation of a woman."
Anum Bano, 20, student:
"The flogging was an insult to womankind. I felt like I was being beaten. It was barbaric to abuse her publicly. One other question that came to my mind was if she was accused of illicit relations, why wasn't the man punished similarly and why wasn't his video made public? And even if the two men holding her were Mehrams, what about those men who were standing around and watching her? Is that justifiable? Does Islam permit that? The government needs to act now before it's too late."
Bushra Dilawar, 33, beautician:
"I was shocked initially, but I later learnt from people that there was no truth in the whole episode and it was a propaganda to defame Pakistan. Even if we are to believe this was the case, I am upset over the fact that a woman was used. This is just not acceptable. It's insulting."
Farah Imam, Headmistress:
"I felt numb at that point. It was extremely shocking and humiliating. I couldn't believe I was viewing this act of savagery in this era. I don't care if the video was three months or two years old, the fact is its release through the media brought awareness. What hurts me even more is why the government or the so-called human rights NGOs aren't as proactive as they should be. Why haven't the women's rights activists visited the area yet? It's disappointing that such incidents continue to happen and we do nothing about it."
Shaireen Aslam, 25, workingwoman:
"It is a controversial news and one can't be sure about the originality of the video. And if it is true then being a woman obviously I feel sorry about this depressing news, but again I will say that there is a lot of contradiction about its authenticity."
Sidra Ahmed, 24, Doctor:
"It's shocking. What happened with the 17-year-old was not only embarrassing for me as a woman, but for our entire nation. Even if she had committed a crime, she could not have done it alone. Where was the man who was also accused? Why wasn't he flogged? The government needs to establish its writ in Swat and do away with this Taliban form of justice."
Surayya Samad, 56, housewife:
"I don't think the incident was real. This was shown just to humiliate Muslims in the eyes of the world. We agree that flogging is an Islamic punishment, but not in the manner it was shown where a woman is being disgraced. This video is being used to exploit Pakistanis, and is a propaganda against Islam."
Amna Ameer, 21, student:
"When I saw the video for the first time I was shocked and disheartened, but I later felt there was something fishy because the girl suddenly stood up and started walking. After being flogged so hard, this could not have been possible. This part of the video made me suspicious of the entire incident."
Shaherbano Mukaddam, 55, housewife:
"This video was shown just to sabotage the image of Islam as well as Pakistan in front of the world. I think it is totally fake and I can say it with confidence because after being brutally flogged, no one can stand up and start walking so quickly as was shown in the video."
A manifestation of intolerance
By Shazaf Haider
The epidemic of intolerance that plagues our country manifested itself full force when the video of a seventeen year old girl being flogged was aired by news channels and the internet all over the world. Two and later three men clamped down hard on the frail figure as she wailed for mercy, clenching her legs together each time a veiled turbaned man delivered a forceful strike with a black baton. A deliverance of justice, the Taliban called it.
Several points of debate emerged as a consequence of this incident. Was the punishment delivered in line with Islamic edicts? Did the incident take place before the appointment of the Nizam-e-Adal Ordinance in the valley or before it? Was the video even authentic or just a means of Taliban propaganda that misfired?
But my mind went back to another incident, personal this time, which occurred outside the Delawala shopping area a week ago. Parking attendants assailed my vehicle as it drew to a halt asking for ticket money, one asking for Rs. 10, the other for Rs. 20. I refused to pay because I was not sure whose pocket I was helping fill up. A young man approached and provided clarification and showed me identification and legal documents allowing him to collect parking tax on behalf of the government. I complimented him on his spoken English and he replied that he was a University student from Faisalabad. A little into the discussion, the topic of religion came up and he expressed the desire for a leader like Khomeni in Pakistan. I joked that the first thing that would happen is that women would be forced to put on a veil. My comment sparked a dramatic change in his demeanor, his smile turned to a frown and his eyes flashed and he declared that his own mother and sister had never been seen by na-mehrams and that he wanted to throttle women who went uncovered in public. He placed a firm grip on my car door and delivered an impassioned lecture at my immorality while others looked on. I gave him an amused look and went my way.
My amusement has given way to unadulterated anger and fear after witnessing the Swat flogging. Essentially, the difference between those arbiters of justice and this tax collector is that they were in Swat, he in Karachi. They had batons and the impunity granted them by a 'peace deal' by an ineffective government, he was unarmed and feared some consequence if he chose to translate desire to practice and reach for my uncovered throat.
What they had in common was intolerance: the inability to understand that another person held an opinion contrary to theirs but most of all the rage that that person was a woman and had the gall to express her individuality and flaunt it on their faces, whether in terms of expressing an opinion or venturing outside her home with a na-mehram. One can condemn the floggers for being ignorant and brainwashed. But this fee collector was an educated fellow awaiting a degree in agriculture.
This intolerance is not exclusive to fee collectors on the road or the Taliban in Swat. We are living in an ailing society where people are not ready to accept or respect other points of view or lifestyles, especially when it comes to women. Ask any female who has ventured to use public transportation to get around the city. She will have multiple stories to relate about harassment: from being pinched to whistled at, her presence in public is a phenomenon that attracts much attention, mostly negative. The relentless stare that most women encounter from men whenever they happen to approach any communal area is yet another symptom, though relatively innocuous, of the latter's inability to understand why on earth they cannot stay at home like they are supposed to. How many men have expressed the notion that a woman who does not cover up as well as they think she should is asking to be singled out for whistles, cat calls by men looking for a 'good time' or looking to teach women a lesson in modesty.
For it seems to have emerged as a general consensus, having nothing whatsoever to do with Islam, that women must not have minds of their own, lives of their own, hopes, wishes or desires. Many a mullah will reiterate that a Muslim woman's moral responsibility is to stay at home and adorn the house, not tempt men to sin by going out on the street for perhaps a walk, or to get to work or to simply get some groceries. For women who do not have a father or a brother or any mehram relative who can provide constant escort for their activities, these arbiters of justice and guardians of religion are silent. Such women, in their opinion, probably have no right to exist.
To be fair, it is not just men but also women who help in the cause of restricting their own kind to the char-diwari. Among these are those staunch religious fundamentalists, dars givers and mullanis who impose such stringent demands on the veil that it becomes well nigh impossible for a normal woman to conduct the affairs of daily life, afraid that a strand of hair might cause scandal in the public eye and doom her soul to hell for all eternity.
Therefore while it is appalling to see a woman being flogged on the public streets of Swat, it is not surprising that she is the first client of this new fangled notion of justice. That seventeen year old girl who dared to venture on the streets with a na-mehram man was making a statement that she existed as an individual in her own right, that she had the freedom to choose how to live her life.
Her flogging was in itself a potent declaration: the new powers-that-are-becoming will not tolerate any other way of life other than their own. It is a fitting end to an already close-minded society: like a shut door at the end of a claustrophobically narrow corridor.