Saddar Massacre

One of the reasons given for the demolitions is the protection of heritage. But heritage is not simply a dead colonial stone building. It is a living thing, enjoyment and a form of participation for people from all walks of life, an expression of our diversity, which planners and politicians, if they have consciousness and sensitivity, can integrate into their plans as part of a larger city culture.

As such, the bird, fruit and tea markets in Saddar are heritage by any definition, and so are the area’s newspaper hawkers’ kiosks which, along with the markets, were established more than 50 years ago. They were the product of their times and an important part of Karachi’s post-Partition history. Karachi­ites of all classes and many generations have shopped here, except for perhaps the younger generation of the city’s district south.

With this demolition, many questions arise. What will happen to the second-hand weekend book market at Regal Chowk, which has been around for more than 40 years and which is visited by customers, mainly the young, from all over a culture-starved city? Will it be possible to hold weekend and Ramazan cricket matches? And what will become of the scores of Sunday markets on the streets of Saddar and on Bunder Road?

There is strong interdependence between hawkers and poor commuters. Will that be maintained under the new arrangements? If not, they will both be impoverished. With all the palmists evicted from Saddar, where will people go to have their fortunes read, or listen to the music of their choice while waiting for a bus? To insensitive politicians and planners, these may be frivolous issues, but catering to them is what ‘equitable’ planning is all about.

What Saddar needed was a rehabilitation plan whereby the markets could have been relocated within the area, where they belong. And the hawkers, in a disciplined manner, could have been placed at bus stops and on semi-pedestrianised streets in Saddar. The holding of hawkers’ markets should have been discussed with the hawkers, for no one understands better than them the issues involved. In the process, a multi-class public space, which Karachi desperately requires, would have been created. Saddar’s populist culture and history could have preserved and, if sensitively designed, it would also have been aesthetically pleasing.

But that is not the objective of the demolition. The objective is to rob high-value space from where the poor are located and use it for the benefit of the rich and the speculators who serve them. It is to replace hawkers and indigenous markets with malls and high-end retail outlets. That they can coexist with hawkers and Saddar’s history is beyond the comprehension of a paranoid elite and enemies of a multi-class city. There is also a possibility that Empress Market itself may lose its historical function and be turned into a museum or a high-end dining facility.

This process of gentrification of which the Saddar evictions are a part is dividing the city as never before and pushing the working classes towards religious extremism. The signs are already there.

As a Karachiite, I feel ashamed at what has happened. I do not think that we can talk anymore, without embarrassment, about equity, culture, the city’s history, poverty alleviation or professional and academic values. And as for those who justify this shameful destruction on legal grounds, they must understand that apartheid was legal and that the demolition of Palestinian homes is also legal under Israeli law because they, like the Empress Market evictees, do not possess ownership papers.

Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2018


  1. Hello Sir,

    My name is Saif Khan, and I’m currently doing my bachelors from Szabist university. I would like to ask some questions regarding the article you wrote “Saddar Massacre” on 19th Nov, 2018. I would like to ask:
    1) Who is to be blamed for all these demolitions and encroachments? The government of Imran Khan or the order of Chief Justices?
    2) If it’s the order of supreme court, then why are people criticizing Imran Khan?

    Thanks and Regards,

    Saif Khan
    SZABIST Univeristy – BBA Program

    Posted January 1, 2019 at 3:26 pm | PermalinkReply
    • Arif Hasan

      Dear Saif Khan,

      Call me at 02134522361 and we can talk.

      Posted January 21, 2019 at 1:27 pm | PermalinkReply
  2. Daniel

    Mr. Arif i dont think you lived in saddar…i did for 42 years and still need to stand corrected on some facts and realities.

    Posted April 23, 2019 at 3:07 pm | PermalinkReply
  3. Saddar bazar now Available Online

    Posted November 3, 2022 at 2:05 am | PermalinkReply

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