A Partitioning of Clifton Beach

The Defence Housing Authority (DHA) has taken over the Clifton Beach and developed it from McDoland’s to the Salt and Pepper Restaurant. A stone embankment wall has been built on which people can sit and view the sea; a well paved service lane and parking for cars have been provided; on a one kilometre stretch steps leading to the beach have been built on which attractive seating arrangements for visitors have been developed; well designed kiosks supplying food and drinks have been placed along the promenade; and in addition, flood lights now light the entire beach. This development is indeed a valuable addition to Karachi’s recreational facilities. Thousands of people, old and young, men, women and children, visit it every week and enjoy themselves. Yet, there is a down side to this development and this piece is all about that down side.

While I was walking one day along the beautifully designed promenade I saw two persons in blue uniform manhandling a pappar wala. They had taken away his pappar bag. They were dragging him away by his hair and cursing him. On enquiry, I was told by the uniformed men that they were DHA security persons and they had orders not to permit vendors from frequenting the beach between McDoland’s and the Salt and Pepper Restaurant. “But if vendors are not permitted then what can people buy for food?” I enquired. The uniformed persons responded that they can purchase food from the kiosks provided by the DHA. Since I had purchased from the kiosks, I knew that it was far too expensive for poor families to afford. Immediately, it occurred to me that by banishing vendors from the beach the DHA had also banished the poor. I requested the Urban Resource Centre (URC) to initiate a small research on the subject and I made some further enquiries myself.

The research and enquiries reveal that the DHA has banned all chabbari walas (vendors and hawkers), ketley chai walas, pappar walas, channa and mongphalli walas, bunder ka tamasha walas (monkey performances) and jogis (snake charmers) from the beach. The only food now available along the DHA occupied stretch is at the kiosks set up by the DHA, the Pizza Hut outlet which is located in a container on the promenade, and the Walls Ice Cream mobile which is permitted to operate on the beach. The prices of food and drinks from these outlets are unaffordable to poor and lower middle income families. A comparison of these prices and what is available at the two locations is given in the attached Box. As a result, the poor no longer frequent the DHA occupied stretch of Clifton Beach. They now visit the beach accessed from the Jahangir Kothari Parade. Unlike the DHA occupied beach, there are no cars parked along this stretch. The people who visit it are visibly more badly dressed, comparatively under nourished, wearing inferior clothes and with children who often do not wear shoes. The difference is startling. However, this stretch of beach is more colourful as there are camels, horses and rehris all beautifully decorated and women too wear reds and oranges and bright blues. There are places at the exit of the beach where there are arrangements for washing your feet and shoes.

Muhammad Shoaib visits this stretch of beach every Sunday with his five children and his wife. He comes all the way from Baldia. He does not go to the DHA occupied stretch although he says that it is much more attractive and he would love to go there but if he goes there and gives in to his children’s demands, he will end up spending more than two hundred Rupees. If on the other hand, he does not give in to his children’s demand, they will be unhappy and will look down on him. In addition, unlike before the place has changed and he feels uncomfortable there since people like him no longer visit that stretch of beach. He says that the DHA occupied beach is now called Ameeron ka Sahil (beach for the rich) and the stretch that he now frequents is called Gharaiboon ka Sahil (beach for the poor).

Tasnim teaches at a government school. She is twenty-two years old and lives in Baloch Colony. She and her friends visit Gharaiboon ka Sahil regularly but they prefer the DHA occupied stretch. When they receive their salaries at the beginning of the month, they visit Ameeron ka Sahil and enjoy spending some of what they have earned.

Both Tasnim and Muhammad Shoaib have heard that the entire beach is going to be developed for rich people. These rumours are floating around the sea front. They are worried that they and their families will loose the only inexpensive recreational area left in the city. “Wherever you go now you have to pay. Travel costs have become high. At Allauddin Park and at Fun Land they rob you. Where should poor people take their families?” asks Muhammad Shoaib. He adds “why do they not just gather us together and throw their atom bomb on us? It would be easier for them and for us.”

Meanwhile, the pappar, chai, channa walas still try and operate on the sly on the DHA occupied beach. When they are caught by the DHA daroghas (security persons) they are cursed, beaten and their goods taken or thrown away. Another punishment that is meted out is to put them in a car and leave them far away at a lonely spot so that they have to walk back. Many of the chabbari walas are young boys in their early teens and URC interviews of them show that they come from the very poor backgrounds and some of them have to borrow money on a daily basis to be able to purchase their sellable items. Altaf is sixteen years old and sells pappar. He has been caught twice by the daroghas. I asked him as to why he does not sell at the Gharaiboon ka Sahil. He responds that there are already too many people selling there and also that he has been selling on this beach since he was seven years old. He feels he has a claim to sell here. In addition, he says that the people selling on the other beach will not allow him to sell there since it would affect their sales adversely. He wants to know if the DHA daroghas have the right to treat the vendors as they do. “They are not the police, they are not the law, but then where can a poor man seek justice? If I go to the police, they will lock me up.”

There is also a bunder wala (monkey performer) He is over fifty-five years of age. His bunder’s (monkey’s) name is Aloo Master. He says that he has performed on this beach for more than twenty-five years. He cannot do that anymore. He also feels that both he and Aloo Master have a claim on this stretch of beach. “Rich people do not like poor people but they do like animals. For Aloo Master’s sake they should let us perform. I can hardly feed him now. He puts with starvation without complaining for he understands the problem. For the poor there is no sunwai (hearing).”

Karachi has lost all its multi-class recreational and entertainment places. Saddar, the old town institutional and community buildings and spaces, cinemas, have all gone. They have been the victims of massive environmental degradation, absence of social and cultural considerations in urban planning, and an elite that has chosen to ghettoize itself out of fear and ignorance and in the process it has usurped the city’s natural assets for its own benefit. Clifton Beach has been an exception to this, but not any more.

The DHA occupied beach can be given back its multi-class environment without adversely affecting the facilities and ambiance that the DHA has provided. Chabbri walas and vendors can be provided special spaces within which they can operate and areas can be reserved for bunder and snake ka tamashas. If the poor and rich cannot share public space, then we are heading for major conflicts similar to those in Johannesburg and Rio de Janeiro and the rich will be as much the victims as the poor.

A comparison of Rates: Survey of Clifton and Sea View (DHA Occupied) Beach

S. No. Item Rate at Clifton Beach Rate at Sea View
1. Local cold drink Rs 2 None
2. Branded cold drink Rs 12 Rs 12
3. Tea Normal Rs 6 – Doodh patti Rs 10 Rs 10
4. Juice Rs 10 Rs 12
5. Biryani Small plate Rs 5 – Large plate Rs 10 Not available (NA)
6. Polka/Walls Ice Cream Kulfa Rs 5 – Cup Rs 10 – Cornetto Rs 20 Chock bar Rs 15 – Feast Rs 25 – Cornetto Rs 25
7. Pappar Rs 5 NA
8. Kite Small size Rs 10 – Large size Rs 15 Rs 15 – Rs 20
9. Burger Round Rs 10 – Large Rs 15 Chicken Burger Rs 35 – Beef Burger Rs 25
10. Sandwich NA Rs 15
11. Coffee NA Rs 20
12. Roll NA Chicken Rs 25 – Beef Rs 15
13. Showarma NA Rs 40
14. Broast quarter NA Half Rs 60 – Full Rs 120
15. Head massage Rs 10 NA
16. Samossa Rs 2.50 NA
17. Doorbeen (binoculars) – (5-10 minutes) Rs 5 NA
18. Chaat Small Rs 10 – Large Rs 15 NA

One Comment

  1. Usman

    I am in the USA for 25 years and am reading this. Karachi used to be my home town in the 80’s and I loved traveling around the city using public buses and sometimes to the Clifton areas. Sad to read this article about separating the beach area into “rich” and “poor only” areas. Indeed it can lead to hatred and conflicts not to mention indifference towards the poor by hiding them away in areas not visited by the well-off class. Very sad indeed!

    Posted September 8, 2020 at 4:58 am | PermalinkReply

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