The Social and Demographic Change in Karachi

Major changes took place in Karachi between 1947 and 1951. Six hundred thousand inhabitants were added to its population; the Hindu population decreased from 51 to 2 per cent while the Muslim population increased to 96 per cent. Similarly, the Sindhi speaking population decreased from 61.2 to 8.6 per cent while the Urdu-Hindi speaking population increased from 6.3 to 50 per cent. However, these changes did not substantially increase the physical size of the city. From a low density city, divided into ethnic and class quarters, it became a high density multi class city. Its centre, Saddar Bazaar was easily accessible to all its inhabitants. A university, government offices, most major educational, community and religious facilities, and embassies were within walking distance to it and new intellectuals, artists and artisans were added to the old as a result of these demographic changes. All this enriched intellectual and cultural life, especially of the centre, even if it degraded the city physically.

However, all this changed. The MRV Plan of 1952 took the university away in 1958 from the centre and a year later Ayub Khan decided to take the capital away to Islamabad. Doxiades’s Greater Karachi Resettlement Plan created satellite cities for the poorer Karachities, far away from the city in Landhi-Korangi and New Karachi, and the better off or more influential were given plots in the housing societies nearer to the centre. The division between the rich and poor was complete and the transport problems for the poor multiplied since they had to commute from distant homes to the city centre which over the years has degenerated into an unplanned bus terminal, devoid of its former status of a space for multi-class entertainment, intellectual life and community and political activities. One can safely say that the Doxiades Plan led to the fragmentation of the city, the death of its centre, and is to a large measure responsible for the city’s social and political turmoil.

However, the physical and social changes that have taken place in Karachi between 1981 and 1998 (the period between the two last census) are far more dramatic than the ones that took place between 1947 and 1951. The population of the city in this period has increased from 5.4 to 10 million. The physical needs of this increase, in the absence of adequate planning, have been met through densification and consolidation of the para-meters developed by the Doxiades Plan; informal development and the helplessness of government agencies leading to corruption and mismanagement. All this has created powerful interest lobbies and community organisations. These developments have been accompanied by the communications’ revolution; political turmoil; return of families from the Middle East with new ideas, lifestyles and money; decline in formal sector economic growth; an increase (in real terms) in the aging population; and above all, the coming of age of a second and third generation of Karachi born Karachites who have no other identity and who, because of the factors mentioned above, are completely different from their parents and grandparents. They constitute the vast majority of the population of the city today. We will be able to say a lot more about them in statistical terms, once the 1998 census results are published. All one can say from the data available so far is that the male-female literacy gap has narrowed substantially, the rate of divorce and the age at which one gets married has increased considerably, and so has the male-female sex ratio. In addition the percentage of nuclear families has also increased and natural growth rate has declined sharply. Observation, press reports and surveys establish that senior citizens now look for jobs as their families, unlike previously, cannot cater to their changed needs. Government agencies recognise this problem and have recently started employing them at pedestrian crossings for helping children to cross the roads. All these trends are indications of urban values and culture.

The enormous spatial expansion of the city has also fragmented it. Time and struggle taken in travelling, the distances involved, law and order problems and large scale environmental degradation, have made the neighbourhood and its environment more important and helped in the death of the city centre. Thus neighbourhoods are increasingly developing the facilities required for urban life and the physical, and hence social and ethnic divisions are increasing, even while a large Karachi identity is asserting itself.

The rich now life in ghettos, surrounded by armed guards and security systems. They are developing their entertainment, recreational, educational and commercial facilities in their own areas. Old Karachi food, books and other retail outlets have relocated to these posh neighbourhoods, and boutiques selling first world designer goods and international food chains have sprung up. Their children do not visit the national museum or the Karachi Zoo and are more at home in London’s Hyde Park than at the Safari Park in Gulshan-i-Iqbal. Their textbooks too teach them nothing of their city, its history, its problems or its culture. The sprawling lower middle income settlements of District Central, the katchi abadis of District West, or the chaos of the inner city simply do not exist for them. Thus, Karachi has lost, what is perhaps a city’s greatest asset, an interested, informed and enlightened elite and in the absence of such an elite, a decline in civic services and institutions is bound to happen.

The old katchi abadis, which were once on the city fringe, have also consolidated since 1981. They have acquired social and physical infrastructure. Private schools and clinics set up by their entrepreneurs or through community effort take care of their education and health needs. Previously, they were totally working class areas, but a sizeable number of the new generation, both, men and women, work in white-collar jobs in the city. In these settlements, there are bank managers, college teachers, telephone operators, receptionists, doctors, engineers, information technology professionals and technicians and para-professionals of all descriptions. They are all young. Working women are increasingly becoming a factor in the economy and sociology of these settlements. The small informal artisanal workshops that were set up here three or four decades ago when the settlements began, have also expanded to become formal business enterprises. They are run by a younger generation which is better educated and quite comfortable with dealing with officialdom, banks and export agencies. This is the new leadership which is replacing the old pioneers. The aspirations of the residents of these abadis are middle class and in most cases there is little difference between them and the planned lower middle income areas of the city in social, cultural and economic terms. The majority of Karachites live in these settlements and in the lower middle income planned areas of District Central and the Landhi-Korangi areas. The vocabulary of the young people of these settlements and also of the older university residential areas that still survive, different from their parents. Janab, hazoor, sain, sahib is out; uncle, aunty and bhai are in. There is no more niazmandi, sharf hasil hona or tabaydari and no more mai-bap; it is thaik-thak hai, tik-tika and chaloo pan.

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