A Generation Comes of Age

Civic strife in Karachi and Hyderabad, Sind’s two largest cities, has escalated in the last two years into what appears to be a major ethnic conflict. The government has responded to the situation by arresting activists, tear-gassing crowds, firing on stone-throwing mobs, and imposing long hours of curfew in the troubled areas for weeks on end. The government’s attempts to tackle what it considers to be the grievances of the people have met with failure, and its dependence on the armed forces to maintain law and order has increased considerably. Meanwhile, in the smaller towns of the province there have been hartals and demonstrations in favour of the “genuine” people of the two cities and against their ethnic opponents and the government’s actions. Even in the rural areas, there have been loud whispers of serious concern.

The situation in Karachi and Hyderabad has been analysed by a number of sociologists, economists and political leaders, and also by a government commission specially set up for this purpose. The results of these analyses differ. The most popular thinking is that Karachi’s civic strife is the result of a lack of adequate urban services, such as transport, water, land and loans for housing, sewerage disposal, health and education. It is felt that if the government can provide these facilities to the urban poor, then both the causes of the strife and the ethnic nature it has acquired will be removed.

There are those who believe that the government cannot possibly provide these facilities to the people of the two cities as the city administrations have been taken over by the drug and arms mafia. In addition, it is maintained that the mafia now dominates the economic life of the city, controls various trade organisations and caters to the needs of the lower income areas. The smashing of the mafia and the independence of the administration from it are seen as prerequisites to tackling the problems of the two cities.

There are also those who maintain that unemployment is the root cause of the unrest in Karachi and Hyderabad, and that there is unemployment because of migration in the cities from the northern provinces. This lobby believes that the cake of Sind’s cities has become too small to be shared with outsiders, and it puts the major blame for the strife on what it considers to be a Punjabi dominated administration and police force.

Political leaders, on the other hand, are convinced that the turmoil in Karachi and Hyderabad is the result of ten years of martial law, suppression of political activity and partyless elections. They feel that if political activity can be restored and elections held under the 1973 constitution, Karachi’s problems will “vanish into thin air.”

There is yet another lobby, which believes that Karachi’s civic strife and ethnic conflict is created by a few troublemakers, and that the vast majority of Karachiites are “peace-loving citizens”, and good Muslims. Most ostriches belong to this lobby, and they are busy trying to identify saboteurs and foreign agents.

There is much truth in the analyses which have been offered, and one can see how their results complement each other. However, if government yearbooks, census reports, statistical data and research by independent professionals are to be believed, conditions in Sind’s cities have improved considerably over the last twenty years. Unemployment is much lower than in 1971-72; water is available in adequate quantities in most abadis, as opposed to the water famine conditions of the 1970s; transport is also available and one does not have to wait for hours to get a bus, taxi or rickshaw as one had to a decade ago. Bus operators then were not as rash as they are today, since there was less competition, but they were certainly as rude to their clients, if not more so, than their present counterparts.

In addition to these changes, the katchi abadis, which constitute 40 percent of the urban population have won their battle for regularisation, and land for squatting today carries a higher tenure security than ever before. Again, a larger percentage of school age children are attending educational institutions than in the 1970s and the number of doctors, nurses and hospital beds per 1000 persons has gone up. The proportion of homes with electricity and water connection and some form of sewerage disposal system has increased considerably, and so has the length of metalled roads.

But though conditions were worse than they are today in many sectors of civic life, there were almost no protests in Karachi or Hyderabad. No one protested, not even non-violently, against power failures, transport inadequacies, demolition of katchi abadis or acute water shortages, nor against the ‘zulm’ of the administration-backed goons who controlled the low and lower middle income areas of the two cities. When Karachi and Hyderabad protested, it was on national issues and as part of larger political movements.

In these movements, the mob was brought out onto the streets by city or national-level leaders, very often through their paid workers who were the ‘dadagirs’ of their areas. The cohesiveness of this mob lasted only as long as the movement was able to maintain its momentum.

Today, it is the mob that produces the leader and it remains cohesive irrespective of changes in leadership. The issues raised today are of a local nature, pertaining not only to the province and the city, but to mohalla and community affairs. Traditional government methods of dealing with protests, so successful till the early ‘80s, have completely failed to defuse the present situation.

Thus, Sind’s urban crisis cannot be dismissed as simply a reaction to a lack of urban services and employment. Nor can the government’s incapacity to address the situation be explained away completely by saying that the administration has been bought over by the mafia. There are bigger forces at work. A major socio-cultural revolution has taken place in Sind’s urban centres and a similar revolution is bound to follow in the other cities of Pakistan as well. This revolution is the result of colossal economic and demographic changes that have taken place in Pakistan in general, and Sind in particular. The understanding of this revolution is essential to the understanding of Sind’s urban crisis, and no solution to the problem of Sind’s cities is impossible without politically accommodating this change.

The urban population of Pakistan is 33 percent of its total population. The urban population of Sind is nearly 45 percent of the total population of the province, and Karachi and Hyderabad alone account for 39 percent of it. In the year 2000 these figures will increase to 37 percent in the case of Pakistan and over 48 percent in the case of Sind. Sixty-eight percent of all rural produce in Pakistan is consumed by the urban centres, whereas 77 percent of all Sind’s produce is consumed by the urban areas of the province. Seventy-eight percent of all bank deposits in the country are from the urban areas. Out of these, over 70 percent are from Karachi alone.

The transport system of the province has been revolutionised in the last 20 years. The camel, the donkey, the bullock cart and the coolie have been replaced by the Suzuki van, the Datsun pickup and Blue Lines bus service. The vast majority of these transport services are owned and run by the urban centres, and fuel for their operation and spare parts for their maintenance come from Karachi.

Similarly, the use of fertiliser has become indispensable to agricultural production. Although it is produced in the rural areas, its industry is dependent on technical knowhow, maintenance, operation, transportation and marketing, which are all controlled by the cities. In exactly the same way, mechanised agricultural production is also dependent on the urban areas.

In addition to these factors, over 4000 million rupees are transferred from the rural to the urban economy every year through the sale in rural areas of urban-manufactured or imported goods such as clothes, shoes, tea, cigarettes, electronic gadgets and other consumer items.

The picture that these statistics paint, especially in the case of Sind, is not reflected in government development strategies, in the manner in which the state is governed, or in the attitudes, programmes and organisational structures of the major political parties. This partly accounts for the present political crisis in Pakistan and also for the failure of successive political movements for the restoration of democracy. The social and economic revolution, it seems, has advanced considerably, but so far it has found no national political expression. The Karachi and Hyderabad agitation, and the conflict of Sind’s smaller towns with feudal culture (the ethnic issue notwithstanding) is an expression of this change – an expression still in its infancy, still learning how to crawl. At the spearhead of this movement is the age group of 14 to 30 year olds. This age group has broken with the past and in its vocabulary, attitudes and concepts it belongs increasingly to the twentieth century.

Almost 36 percent of Karachi’s population is between the ages of 14 and 30. Nearly 80 percent of this age group were born in Karachi, and in the vast majority of cases, their parents spent their adolescent years in this city. Seventy-one percent of this age group in Karachi is literate, as compared to the overall Karachi literacy figure of 55 percent and the overall Pakistan figure of 26.17 percent. Female literacy in this age group is only 6 percent below male literacy. The difference between male and female literacy in the case of Karachi as a whole is 12 percent; in the case of Lahore it is 15.2 percent, and in the case of Pakistan 19.2 percent. Nearly 28 percent of the literate population of this age group has passed its matric and 22.4 percent consists of graduates. In addition, this age group has had no links with feudalism, neither its economy nor its culture, except through PTV, films and Radio Pakistan.

In human societies, changes in vocabulary and terminology and a rejection of the concepts they enshrine, usually occur long after socio-economic changes have been consolidated. In the case of the youth of Karachi, the terminology of the old order and its concepts have disappeared completely. Thus, in the majority of cases, a person from the 14 to 30 year old age group is not ‘tabaydar,’ except sarcastically; he has no ‘mai baap,’ not even in Lyari; he is not a ‘niazmand’; he does not become ‘faizyab’; he is not a ‘masahib’ or ‘mureed’ and he has no ‘pir’. ‘Safarish’, traditionally an honour for the one on whom it was bestowed, is a dirty word in his vocabulary, and he addresses his leadership as ‘bhai’ and ‘chacha’, and not as ‘sahib’, janab’, ‘hazoor’, or ‘saeen’. In his poetry the ‘mahboob’ has at last become completely feminine and is referred to as ‘larki’, and in the case of female poets, as ‘larka’. The administration, meanwhile, and especially the law enforcing agencies through which it increasingly operates, are ‘tabaydar’, have ‘mai baaps’, are ‘niazmand’, and consider it an honour to have ‘safarish’ done on their behalf. Thus the battle lines are drawn.

Government agencies in the past restored order in mohallas by summoning the ‘muezazin’, ‘izatdars’, of the area, and asking them to take ‘zamanat’ for ensuring peace. In ethnically homogenous areas, like the earlier katchi abadis, the panchayat or biradari elders fulfilled this role, and in the newer settlements, it was the land-grabbers and developers of the area. The recent troubles in East Karachi’s lower middle income areas have shown that the traditional ‘mueziz’ or ‘izatdar’ does not have any power over the youth of his mohalla. His ‘buzurgi’ and ‘maqam’ are both held in contempt. Similarly, the land-grabber and developer is considered an exploiter and a tout of the administration.

As far panchayats and biradaris are concerned, they disappeared a long time ago for the local Karachiite, along with hereditary professions, ethnicity, ethnically homogenous settlements and government appointed mushers. If some still exist, it is only on paper. Among the immigrant communities from the north, however, clan organisations with biradari elders and jirga members still exist. This produces their dependence on state institutions and the administration finds it easier to deal with them.

The changes described above, and the political expression they seek, did not develop overnight. The process has been long and painful. In this context, it must be mentioned that the majority of Karachi’s 14 to 30 age group do not belong to the industrial proletariat, nor are they daily wage labourers. They are white collar workers or artisans employed in the transport industry or services sector. A large number of them are self-employed as shopkeepers, vendors, small manufacturers and contractors. Again, the settlements in which they live, both in the katchi abadis and in the displaced persons townships of the 1960s, are not homogenous class-wise. A butcher, a university professor, a doctor, a bank manager, a daily wage earner and an industrial worker can be found living in the same lane. This is because the cost of a regularised plot for building a house is far too high for a lower middle income family to afford.

This interaction among different classes has led to the creation of a very large number of mohalla tanzeems, social welfare organisations, lending libraries, sports and health clubs, dramatic societies ‘naat khwan’ groups, educational institutions, trade and artisan groups and, more recently, anti-drug movements. There are literally thousands of such organisations functioning in the city and almost all sports and health clubs, welfare associations, lending libraries, and dramatic societies are controlled by youth.

There are dramas and variety programmes in the lower middle income areas of the city, with a heavy dose of political satire. They are very different in content, form and language from the serious, thought provoking dramas staged by the affluent sections of Karachi’s society. However, a number of leading pop singers, male and female, comedians and actors of the entertainment world have been born out of these organisations. Again, there are sports clubs in katchi abadis which, with their meagre resources, have hired national level sportsmen to train their members and have defeated football and hockey teams which have been dominated by national players. There are musicians, jugglers and qawwals, and last, but certainly not least, there are poets and professional orators.

The sportsmen and artistes born out of these organisations do not receive official patronage and it is almost impossible for them to become members of national teams or get into official media organisations. The education societies, even if they are successfully operating a number of schools, fail to get any government subsidy or a recognition of their curriculum. Explaining the reasons for this, Hamid Hussain, a teacher living in New Karachi, says: “We are lower middle class people and as such do not have connections with the feudal, the capitalists and their servants who live in Clifton, PECHS and Defence. These people rule Pakistan. If we were their clients we would be patronised. It is only a leadership from amongst us that can give us justice. As things are, merit has no value.” In addition to frustrated artistes, sportsmen and educationists, there are students with A-grades who cannot get admission to professional colleges because of the system of weightage in favour of the rural areas. Similarly, there are graduates who are unemployed because of the quota system.

“We know weightage is required for the time being in favour of our Sindhi brothers,” says Kamal Zaidi, an unemployed engineer, “but if weightage means giving a seat or a job to the son of a jagirdar and not to the son of a hari or a poor man, then our sacrifice is wasted.” He adds: “It is essential for us, and only for us, that all government institutions, especially the police, should be honest and efficient. Unlike the rich, we cannot bribe them or put pressure on them through our contacts. If we are not represented by our own kind, things will never change for us. Rural people with their values cannot govern our police urban society. Experience has taught us this.”

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