Hear me out
comes Section 144 again …
city's Hyde Park
affects business more than protests
Protest demonstrations, one of the most popular ways of making sure someone hears you, is common in Karachi. However, it is a tedious process, one which requires careful planning and meticulous execution
By Rabia Ali
Blocked roads, enraged protestors and flaring tempers are characteristic of protests in Karachi. While the issues that entail protests may differ, the culture of protest in Karachi as a means of making yourself heard is becoming more and more common.
The Constitution of Pakistan gives an individual the right to raise his concerns if his needs are not being fulfilled. According to Zahid Ebrahim, a corporate lawyer, "there are several provisions in the constitution, which give a citizen the right to protest, and demonstrate against any issue. Article 19 which has the freedom of expression clause is the most specific one in this regard." Then there is Article 16 -- freedom of assembly -- which gives a citizen the right to assemble peacefully anywhere he wants to, provided he is without arms. Also, a person is allowed to form associations, unions or political parties under Article 17 (freedom of association).
On the other hand, Justice Khawaja Naveed qualifies this by saying that a citizen has the right to protest as long as it's peaceful. "A citizen has the right to express dissent in a peaceful, non-destructive manner. He has the right to speak, write and demonstrate peacefully against things that he may not agree with, but when the mob mentality takes over, meaning they become violent and destructive, then the right to protest is taken away. In such situations, the protestors are then charged with sections 147 and 148 under the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) for rioting and causing damage to public property and life," he explained to Kolachi.
According to protestors and activists, a proper strategy is developed and planned in order to organise a certain protest. Shamim Ur Rahman, a renowned journalist and former president of the Karachi Union of Journalists (KUJ), describes the act of protesting as a science of demanding ones needs. "There are several different ways to protest. The procedure is a lengthy one, consisting of several steps. Firstly, a meeting is held in which the issue of the protest, protestors and preparation are all discussed in detail. Also, the strategies are brought under discussion, that is, what to do when dealing with violent situations," Rahman elaborated.
In this regard, Zulfiqar Shah, an activist and Provincial Coordinator of the South Asia Partnership-Pakistan (SAP-Pk) said that planning a protest is dependent on two things – the nature of the issue and its urgency. "If the issue demands immediate action, then a protest can be held at a day's notice. However, to organise a proper protest, we usually plan two to three months beforehand," he added.
According to Shamim ur Rahman, all protests are carried out with the intention of achieving an objective. Most of them are related to civic issues such as shortage of water and power outages, price hike, increase in transport fare, petrol prices and utility bills.
On the other hand, trade unions protest to demand security for its workers. Political parties invariably side with the common man and civil society to protest against their problems. More recently,political parties have also protested against military operations in tribal areas, flogging of a girl in Swat and increasing interference of Western superpowers in the country's internal affairs. Journalist unions protest against the lack of security for media personnel, constraints on freedom of expression, or may take part in larger civil movements such as the restoration of judiciary. Recalling his experience, Rahman said that "In 2007, we protested against the draconian laws imposed on the media by the then government. We organised nationwide protests, hunger strikes and seminars. The biggest one in this regard was in Karachi where around 100 journalists were taken into police custody for several hours."
After the strategy and discussion of issues, the next step is gathering supporters. The leaders should command the support of the people and motivate them to make the protest effective and successful.
A student activist belonging to the Labour Party and Progressive Youth Front, Sajjad Zaheer told Kolachi that "if the issue is urgent then we call people immediately. We make full use of our contacts, and call as many people as we can to make the protest a successful one."
Various methods are employed in order to prepare for a protest. "We have placards and banners made by artists belonging to the alliance. Apart from banners, press releases are distributed in advance along with pamphlets," Zaheer added.
A member of the Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party said that they prepare for tear gas, water canons, baton charges and arrests before going to a protest. "Our protection gear against tear gas consists of half-cut onions; water bottles, salt sachets and scarves or mufflers that are big enough to cover the nose and mouth."
The member further added that "to protect ourselves against baton charge, we follow a few strategies -- placing women on the front lines to deter police brutality is one of them. We also have a first-aid box in a vehicle parked nearby or in the backpack of one of the protestors." Moreover, the activists and their party make sure that no one is arrested – not alone during a protest. They also make sure that the police don't single out one person and beat them up.
The Karachi Press Club (KPC) is one of the favourite protest venues. In this regard, Rahman states that "a few years ago, Regal Chowk was said to be Karachi's Hyde Park. But now protests and demonstrations are held at the KPC as this is where the press meets. Then, there is the Governor House, where people feel that someone will pay heed to them."
Zaheer concurred with this as well. "We choose the Press Club because it is easier to get the media's attention there. Also we feel safer here as we cannot get arrested near it."
Rahman said those protests in which the demands of the protests are accepted are deemed successful. "The protestors must be ready to negotiate,it is a give and take situation," he explained.
The imposition of 'Section 144' in the city has often taken place, but few know what it is exactly…
By Xari Jalil
Like many laws of the Criminal Procedure Code of Pakistan (CrPC), the history of Section 144 of the Cr.PC, can be traced back to the British law. The beginning of the law being tabled started when the British prohibited an assembly of more than five persons on streets under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The aim was obvious. By 1861, as anti-British sentiment had already risen and taken the shape of the War of Independence (1857), the ruling authorities were afraid to see any more uprisings from the masses.
As a result, the British government was scared that any group larger than five Indians would create trouble for it, therefore, such a gathering was banned. Not being too well versed with local languages and unaware of what was transpiring among Indians when they gathered in streets in groups, they feared for the safety of the colonial rulers and ended up in tabling this.
In colonial India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, almost 150 years later, the entire CrPC is still being used, along with Section 144. Today it continues to be the most widely used provision of law in emergent situations. The powers of imposing Section 144 lies in the hands of the district government or a district magistrate to issue orders meant to be 'in public interest'. During the imposition of the Section, a ban on any activity can be placed for a specific period of time extending to two months, and which can later be extended further.
The implementation and enforcement of the ban is done by the police, who register cases under section 188 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) for violations of the ban. Under Section 188 there is a maximum penalty of six months in prison or a fine of up to Rs1000 or both. The ban may be lifted by the district government at any time or re-imposed after the expiry of the two-month period.
In the recent past Section 144 has been imposed not only in Karachi, but the whole of Pakistan, quite often to control any kind of public demonstration, rally, or gathering, as well as to contain any potential threat of violence. Where some may be of the view that the imposition of Section 144 is discriminatory and goes against public freedom, Justice Nasir Aslam Zahid, former Chief Justice of Sindh High Court, says that it hardly makes a difference.
"People can be picked up anyway," he says. "And in fact at least being arrested or detained under Section 144 is challengeable in the court, but suppose this has not been imposed in a certain area, what guarantee does anyone have that they will not be picked up and detained by the police over other charges?" Justice Zahid gives the example of the Maintenance of Public Order Act. "From 1992 to 1994, when I was the Chief Justice people used to be arrested under this section and we would immediately challenge it in court, then declare it invalid within the time frame of a day. However, today there is no such challenge in the court and if there is, by the time the judgment is passed the issue is already over."
Justice Zahid also explained that Section 144 is not limited to being imposed on possession or display of weapons, tinted car glasses, or any kind of gathering. "It is true that most of the time it has been imposed, especially during the recent past, to stop people from gathering, so that there is no movement. But I have seen Section 144 being imposed on any papaya fruit being taken out of Karachi, for a certain time period, for whatever reason. So basically the loophole remains that anything can be stopped at anytime."
At present the power to impose this law lies in the hands of the Home Department, whereas, earlier the district magistrate had the power to impose Section 144. "It should always be challenged the very day when a person is charged with Section 144, as there are many cases of political enmity which result in detention or arrests based on allegations," says another lawyer, requesting anonymity. "But there are so many chances to arrest anyone on charges such as these. If a department has the police and the magistrate in their hands, they can control anything." Moreover, Section 144 can also be used against media in proper cases of incitements to breaches of peace or a cause of annoyance or reason for potential disturbance among the public. But even where an order under this section deals with a 'nuisance' there must be a danger to life or health involved, or of an affray or riot or breach of peace. Besides this, other significant rationales of the application of the law include injury to human life, and disturbance of public tranquility.
As expressly mentioned in the section, any order passed under section 144 "shall be subject to sub-clause (4) and would therefore be valid only for a period of two months". As it has already been remarked earlier, it is not competent to a Magistrate to revive or resuscitate his order from time to time. Such an exercise of power would clearly constitute abuse of power. The state government can extend this time period of two months to a maximum of six months from the date of the expiry of the initial order, if it finds it imperative for prevention of certain situations causing disturbances of safety, health or peace. Although, the power conferred upon the state government is executive in nature, there can be a revision of the order by a Magistrate in case the court finds the arbitrary or unfair exercise of power.
To express their concerns and demands, the people of Karachi have only a few places to go. One such place is the Karachi Press Club
By Rafay Mahmood
Protests outside the KPC premises are a regular feature -- be it the scorching heat or extreme weather conditions people come here with a hope. Ikhtiar Hussain is just one of them. "I have been sitting in front of the press club with my father and two daughters to protest against an MPA who is not allowing me to get a job until I bribe him," Hussain, a protestor from Khairpur told Kolachi.
When Hussain was in his village, he along with his family were being given death threats from the supporters of a local MPA, Pyar Ali Shah. According to Hussain, despite having a Primary Teaching Certificate from the department of education, he is being deprived of a job. "The local press in my district in Khairpur is not quite vocal and is under immense pressure from the authorities, due to which it is very difficult for us to voice our concerns. Therefore, the only place where we can be heard is the KPC," he claimed.
Hussain's claim may not be completely wrong because at KPC people are heard and the exertion in sitting in front of the press club does not always go in vain. At times because of the media coverage, people like Hussain get the attention of the concerned authorities. "When our hunger strike outside KPC got media coverage, the PA of Pyar Ali Shah came all the way to the KPC and took me to the MPA hostel where the MPA signed my application and transported me and my family to my Village in Mirpurkhas," Hussain told Kolachi.
However, soon after this, some people tried to burn Hussain's father alive and then the MPA demanded 0.6 million rupees from Hussain, out of which Rs0.4 million was for the "defamation" his family members caused him by protesting at the KPC and Rs0.2 million for the job. "After all this I am sitting in front of the press club once again and selling my daughters for arrangement of the money the oppressor wants. In case I fail to sell them, I will set my daughters and myself on fire in front of the KPC. And probably this way I will be able to get Pyar Ali Shah punished," lamented Hussain.
Though Hussain was unable to achieve what he wanted, he is hopeful that once again the media will come to his help like it did earlier. He believes that he will not leave the KPC empty handed as his issue has already triggered some action.
Hussain is not alone. The residents of Goth Essa Khan Khashkheli were also protesting outside the KPC against the alleged illegal annexation of their irrigation land by the feudal lords of the village. "We have been sitting in protest for the past 112 days but there has been no outcome, several government officials have visited and promised of immediate solution of our problem, but nothing has happened so far," a resident of the village told Kolachi a week ago.
He further said that they will continue their protest because they believe that protesting in front of the KPC is really fruitful.
Finally, it was basically the resilience of these villagers that got them what they wanted, because the villagers have returned to their home as their demands were met by the government officials. This does not end the story as KPC now has some other groups protesting for their rights, while demonstrations by Karachiites against increase in petrol prices, water shortage, load-shedding etc continues. Therefore, be it as huge as the lawyers protest or a story of a man with his two daughters on sale and his unemplo -yment, the KPC has always been a ray of hope for everyone.
By Farhan Zaheer
Amid rising inflation, utility charges and load-shedding, traders and Karachi's small businessmen also consider protests to be a part of their daily routine now.
Several traders claim to have taken part in the protests during the past few months, notwithstanding its adverse affects on trade and businesses. Mehmood Hamid, President, Karachi Division of All Pakistan Organisation of Small Traders and Cottage Industries, told Kolachi that traders and shopkeepers in Karachi are now used to the protests with demonstrations against the power crisis being one of the most popular issue.
He believes that the recent protests in the city were out of sheer desperation as the masses feel that their real problems are not being addressed by the government. While traders are never in favour of strikes and demonstrations, they have joined hands with the masses in the last two years since their problems are quite similar to those faced by the former. "Welfare organisations along with political parties have been involved in the recent protests under the patronage of trade associations," said Hamid.
Similarly, the officials of the Alliance of Market Association (AMA) said that the protests are deeply linked with economy and trade. Trade activities have been directly affected by the power crisis, and because of this many traders have closed down their shops since they were incurring heavy losses. In fact, he said, that the power crisis has resulted in more losses than the protests.
Some of the preferred areas for demonstrations and rallies according to traders include M.A. Jinnah Road, Boulton Market, Saddar, Tariq Road, Bohri Bazaar, Quaidabad and Nazimabad. A shopkeeper, who runs a store in Boulton market, said that the protests that traders led themselves have been peaceful and have not disrupted law and order. "We (traders) never hinder the flow of traffic during our protests," he claimed.
Trader associations, especially those who have a stronghold on M.A. Jinnah Road, lead protests and have staged a series of demonstrations on this street in the last two years. Meanwhile, the Old City Traders Alliance officials said that they stage various protests at Boulton market near Lakshmi Building pertaining to the deteriorating law-and-order situation and inflation. "We always try to maintain law and order while registering our protests to the higher authorities," they said.
Bringing the Thar and the Parkar together in a magical Nagar
Indus Watch reports on the fascinating remnants of the ancient Sindhu-Saraswati culture as they are manifested today in the breathtakingly-beautiful region of Nagarparkar
By Urooj Zia
The majestic Karunjhar Hills are the first sights that one sees the moment one enters Nagarparkar, at the south-eastern tip of Sindh, along the Indo-Pak border. Comprisong slab upon slab of pink granite, stacked precariously one on top of the other, the Karunjhar Hills are remnants of the days when the "Gulf de Sindhu Sea" (as a 17th century French map described the Arabian Sea) covered the entire area.
"These were underwater volcanoes hundreds of thousands of years ago. That is how a major portion of the Karunjhar Hills was formed," South Asia Partnership Pakistan (SAP-Pk) Provincial Coordinator (Sindh) Zulfiqar Shah said. "Even today, Sulphur deposits underneath the surface lead to muted volcanic activity here. People regularly hear sounds coming from these hills."
Active volcanoes or not, Nagarparkar continues to maintain its place as the cultural heart of Thar. Residents of the area proudly tell anyone who will listen that out of the 56 most popular folk songs of Sindh, 45 are in the Thari dialect.
The sea eventually receded, leaving Nagar open to the air, with its deserts (Thar), granite hills (Parkar), and rare flora and fauna. Centuries ago when the Saraswati River flowed through the heart of the Thar desert, and joined the "Gulf de Sindhu Sea" at what is now the Runn of Kutch (India), Nagarparkar was an important trade and business hub with several sea ports.
Legend has it that the present day Ganga River gets its purifying qualities from the ancient Saraswati River. Eventually, on account of seismic activity, many of the tributaries which fed the mighty Saraswati River (including the Sutlej River) changed course, and the Saraswati lost much of its grandeur, became a trickle, and turned more inland, towards the Sindhu (Indus) River. The Runn of Kutch appeared, as the sea started receding further, and many of the trading towns of the region moved further South.
Meanwhile, Nagarparkar also became an important cultural point for Jainism and Hinduism. This is evident from the several Jain and Hindu temples that dot the region. Even today, Nagarparkar is said to be one of the two focal points of Hindu pilgrimage (the other point is Hingol, Balochistan), Shah says.
Several temples in the area are thousands of years old. Most of them are Jain temples, with some Hindu temples and Ashrams. Almost all of them, however, are in a pathetic condition. Domes are falling apart, statues are gone, art has been disfigured, and despite signboards set up outside these sites by the government, warning against vandalism, one wonders if the powers-that-be expect the gods to step down to earth to take care of these temples themselves -- not a single government-appointed guard was visible at any temple, leaving these priceless pieces of history at the mercy of random vandals and vagaries of the weather.
Almost every house in the region is said to be haunted. Every person who Indus Watch spoke to either claimed to have encountered the supernatural themselves, or know someone close who has. "My house is haunted too," Anthony, an employee of the Participatory Village Development Programme in the region, said with a matter-of-fact shrug. "Lots of houses here are haunted. There's a scientific reason for that," another resident of the area said.
"You see," he continued. "The climate here is extremely harsh, and people go through a lot of hardship. There are droughts. Water is scarce, food becomes dear at times. In older days, it was even more difficult. People who die under such extreme circumstances leave behind some of their energy. That is what you see in the form of 'ghosts'."
Interestingly, most of the ghost stories that Indus Watch heard in the region were about women. Residents had a sociological reason for that as well. "Women are more oppressed than men, don't you agree," they asked. "Women are killed prematurely on one pretext or the other. Recently, for instance, one young woman was clubbed to death in a nearby village by her father-in-law and his friends, because he suspected that she was having an extramarital affair while her husband (his son) was away. Three days after the poor woman's death, people started hearing screams from that house. These were the same screams that they had heard while the woman was being clubbed to death. The situation got so bad, that first the woman's in-laws moved away. Eventually, the entire village had to move."
Present day socio-economic conditions
Most residents of the villages around Nagarparkar own their lands -- around two to three acres each. Interestingly, however, even though capital (land) is owned privately in the region, labour ßis communal. Entire villages get together to work on a neighbour's land one day; then everyone (including the person whose land everyone worked on the previous day) gets together and works on another neighbour's land, and so on.
Annual drought, migration
The region goes through an annual drought on account of the severe shortage of water. Every year during the drought, families from the region "lock" their houses by placing prickly bushes against the openings, pick up their cattle and migrate to Amarkot and other nearby regions. There they work as farm labour on the property of larger land owners. Some even get bonded to these land owners via debt.
Two to three months before the monsoons, some of the migrants come back to clear up their lands and prepare them for sowing, and as soon as the first droplets of rain grace the region, the rest of the migrants come trudging back, bringing with them the cattle that the rest of the villagers left behind in "greener pastures." The sight of flocks of bulls, buffaloes and cows blocking the road to Nagarparkar every few kilometres is something that is unique to the region -- and even in this region, it is particular to the season of the monsoons.
Loans, debt-bondage, economic problems
During the droughts, many families obtain loans from local "Banyas" (entrepreneurs) in order to make ends meet, and to have enough money to migrate to other regions. They are expected to pay this loan back after the harvest. "If they get a good harvest, they may be able to pay back their loans. Heaven help them if they can't, however. The Banyas come swooping in to take over their assets -- a goat in lieau of one missed instalment, a bull next, land after that, until the poor family has nothing left," PVDP Executive Director Dominic Stephen told Indus Watch.
Eventually, after losing everything to the Banya, the family in question leaves the area, migrates to other places in Sindh or even as far as lower Punjab, and starts working on the property of larger land owners. Poverty forces many of them to obtain loans from these landowners as well, bonding them to their new employers via debt.
Wholesalers from major markets in the country, especially Karachi, maintain strict monopoly over the agricultural produce from Tharparkar. "They pay us very little for our produce, and then take it to the bigger markets and sell it to retailers at high rates," one of the residents of a village near Nagarparkar told Indus Watch. "Once, we tried to take the produce to the retailers ourselves. We thought we'd get more money. So strong is their mafia, however, that they refused to pay us a paisa more than what the wholesalers pay us here. We incurred heavy losses due to transport costs, etc, and have never tried the experiment again. Instead of allowing wholesalers to make profits off of our hard labour, however ,we now sell our produce in the local market itself."
Surprising as it may sound, Nagarparkar is extremely fertile, post-monsoon of course -- to the extent that no artificial fertilisers, etc, are needed. Food is grown using organic methods, and tastes heavenly. "There can be a large market for this, but it seems like the government is not interested in developing this region," PVDP Regional Coordinator Nagarparkar Matthew Walji said.
Is there a solution to the annual drought?
Drip irrigation is a must in regions such as Nagarparkar, where water is scarce, PVDP Executive Director Dominic Stephen said. "That, and alternate methods of revenue, such as tourism, etc, should be developed."
Nagarparkar can be an important hub of religious-tourism, SAP-Pk Provincial Coordinator Sindh Zulfiqar Shah said. "All of these ancient temples need to be restored. This region is important from a religious, as well as an academic (anthropological) perspective," he said.
Is Grameen-style micro-financing an option?
"Not really," Stephen says. "You see, for one, you have to realise that many of these residents already have loans from Banyas, etc. If you microfinance them, and give them, say, Rs25,000, the Banya is sure to hear of it. He will swoop down and try to make them use that money to pay back some of his loan. So instead of investing that money, the villager loses it in paying off the Banya's instalment. Asset-wise, he or she is exactly where he or she was, before this loan. Next month, you will go to them to demand the first instalment of your microfinance loan. So now, the poor villager is indebted to the Banya and to you. He or she starts selling off his or her assets -- whatever little they have -- in order to pay both parties off. Eventually, they are worse off than they were before you met them and gave them money."
Instead of being given money, therefore, villagers should be taught the art of "asset management" in the rural context, Stephen maintains.
Thar Coal prospects
The Thar Coal Project is another ray of hope for residents of this harsh desert. They have been promised by the powers-that-be that they will be given a priority when it comes to getting jobs at That Coal. The residents, however, remain apprehensive. "Their job is to make promises. They're going to give jobs to their cronies. Why would they care about us," one woman said.
"The powers-that-be, however, should not think that they will get away with cheating us out of what rightfully belongs to us. Thar Coal is the resource of our land. We deserve something in return. The least that the government can do is provide jobs in the project to our people. If they fail to do even that, they should be prepared for a severe backlash from us," residents of nearby villages said. "Crackdowns don't scare us. We are used to living in this desert, which is as harsh as it is beautiful. We can withstand a lot of hardships."