The Marginalized

The nalas of Karachi have lost their water carrying capacity because of markets, administrative and related buildings and car parks of the Sindh Government, road infrastructure, and elite colonies, and katchi abadis have been built on them. However, whenever it floods the katchi abadi encroachments are blamed for it and their demolition is ordered. No other action is taken. This time too on the night of 2nd September 2020 the Gujjar nala residents were informed that at 7 o’clock next morning the bulldozing of their homes would commence so they should remove their belongings and vacate their houses.

You have to see an eviction to understand what it means: women weep, they join their hands and beg the police and bulldozers to give them more time, sometimes they curse them; men try to organize to demonstrate; older children try to recover what meager household items they have before the bulldozer crushes them; and the smaller children hide behind the rubble, many of them frozen with fear. On many occasions, the bulldozer drivers and the police have not been able to hide their tears while carrying out demolition orders.

As a result of these bulldozings families are forced to live under the sky, without a kitchen to cook food; women can no longer work because they cannot leave their children without the protection of a home; also in the open there is no water or toilet facilities. In addition, men cannot work for they have to go and search for another affordable location to live which can only be in another katchi abadi. However, the most serious result of demolition is that children can no longer go to school. It was estimated that about 3000 children could not take their Matric, Pre-Matric, and Inter examinations due to the Lyari Expressway demolitions. This led to a senior bureaucrat recommending that there should be a law that demolitions should only be allowed after the Board examinations!

The state has often promised relocation for displaced families. On the orders of the Supreme Court, more than 1000 houses were demolishes so as to facilitate the revival of the Karachi Circular Railway. One month was given for this. The court also ordered the government agencies to provide alternative accommodation to the affectees within one year. Since that was not specified they continue to live on the rubble of their homes even after a year has elapsed. But no scheme for alternative housing for them has been initiated by the Supreme Court nor has the KCR service been restored and nor has the court issued any notices to the government agencies for non-compliance of its orders. There are a number of other similar cases.

A research by a number of organizations has established that relocations of evicted families is invariably to places far away from employment zones, social sector facilities, and transport routes and in the process the bulldozed residents become far poorer than they were before demolitions. Most of them fall into debt and many others become renters in their old neighbourhoods.

Clearly there are two different standards at work here: one for the rich and the other for the poor. Elite societies and infrastructure in a number of cases have blocked the outfalls to the sea but that is never mentioned by officialdom let alone taking any action against it. Land reclamation from the mangrove marshes continues, one wonders why stopping it is not a priority. When Defence society residents agitate against the flooding of their homes an FIR is lodged against them and there is pressure for its withdrawal. When katchi abadi residents protest the demolition of their homes and demand appropriate relocation they are lathi charged and arrested in large numbers.

The existence of these two very different standards have already divided the city politically, socially, and physically. This division is increasing and with it poverty and resentment, especially in the younger generation. Already public spaces used by the poor have been taken over for elite functions in elite and middle class areas. The repercussions of this process does not bode well for the establishment of peace in Karachi.

What is required is a mapping of the areas which have been flooded and the removal of the micro level causes for it. It also requires the clearing of the outfalls to the sea and the cancellation of development schemes that are likely to cause major ecological damage. Meanwhile a list of the people who need to be displaced should be prepared. A Paper promising them alternative accommodation should be given to them so that when accommodation is available, they can go and take it over. Till then, they should be permitted to live where they are. After all, this is how the plot townships developed in the post-Partition years were settled. So why not now?

Published in the Daily Dawn on the 8th of September 2020.

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