Residents of Orangi and Gujjar Nullah are being treated like Kashmiris and Palestinians

‘The residents of Orangi and Gujjar Nullah are made shelterless, humiliated and mistreated like Kashmiris and Palestinians, Karachi Bachao Tehreek organised ‘Ghar Bachao March’ against forced demolition of houses

KARACHI: A protest demonstration was staged at the Karachi Press Club on Sunday, March 21 by affected residents of Gujjar Nala and Orangi Nala slums against the demotion of their houses by Karachi Development Authority personnel.

The protest demo was organised by the ‘Karachi Bachao Tehreek’, the Awami Workers Party, Lyari Awami Mahaz, Pakistan Mazdoor Kissan Party, Women Democratic Front and Progressive Students Federation.

A large number of people, including women and children, holding banners and placards inscribed with their demands participated in the protest and chanted slogans against the federal, provincial governments and civic authorities of Karachi.

“We have spent our childhood and youth in these houses,” said Abid Asghar, leader of the Gujar Nala affectees. “For you, (these buildings are) stone and mud but for us, they are our life. Building these houses has been a lifelong endeavour for our elders, and it is impossible for the poor and working class people to build a house in this city ever again.

He demanded an immediate halt to the ongoing demolition operation and provision of alternative housing in the same district, as per the order of the Supreme Court.

Addressing the participants, Khurram Ali, Convenor of Karachi Bachao Tehreek and General Secretary of AWP Karachi, said that the current situation operation in Central District and Orangi Town reminds us of the policies of Modi and Natanyaho in Indian-occupied Kashmir and Palestine. He noted that citizens with legitimate claims to their housing were being forcibly evicted with the help of the police and Rangers.

He added that those raising questions were being harassed and arrested, while the builder mafia – the actual illegal occupiers – were being given state protection. He named Rao Anwar as an example of police officers responsible for giving land to this mafia all over Karachi, including in Malir and Gadap, where forcible evictions were also taking place.

Karachi Bachao Tehreek leader and legal adviser Abira Ashfaq said that a deliberate misinterpretation of the Supreme Court order had led to leased houses being categorized as encroachments. This was done with the aim of handing over a vast area of land in Karachi to construction companies and the World Bank so that they could profit off it.
She pointed out that these settlements were inhabited by working-class citizens with little to no knowledge of litigation nor any resources to pursue legal battles. Due to this, their lands were being rapidly usurped. She explained that while The Karachi Bachao Tehreek had taken more than 100 stay orders so far, it took time to collect the paperwork and file applications of such a large population. She said that the governments, working at the behest of the real estate and builders mafias, were taking advantage of these delays.
Karachi Bachao Tehreek leader and research adviser Fizza Qureshi pointed out the incomplete and inconsistent process in the survey conducted in the governments’ actions, which had overlooked many houses.

She added that the recent urban floods in Karachi were not caused by Gujjar Nulla rather the gated elite class and large plazas which had been constructed on river beds, sewerage lines and which catered exclusively to the elite.

She elaborated that while the first order of the Supreme Court pertained to removing encroachments, it also clearly directed authorities to provide alternative housing to the affectees before any removals.

Ms Qureshi pointed out that while the government followed orders concerning demolitions because they benefited elite interests, it ignored directives related to resettlement of the working class.

She recalled how the affected people of the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) had been living under the open skies for three years and have not yet been provided alternative shelter.
Abdul Khaliq Zadran, general secretary of Lyari Awami Mahaz, said that the elite class of the city had planned to crush the working class and lower-middle class.

The majority of the citizens of Karachi are living in informal settlements, he said, and the elite, who live in large neighbourhoods, are behaving like the benefactors of Karachi and demonising the 90 per cent working class who are ghettoised and compelled to live in informal settlements as encroachers.

He asserted that the real Karachi lived in settlements like Lyari, Lalu Khet, Orango Town and Korangi and vowed that they would fight against this class-based violence.

Speaking on the occasion, Zahabia, organizer of the Progressive Students Federation Karachi, said that such inhumane and illegal demolitions not only disrupt the descent living of youth and students but also disrupts their education, causing an enormous psychological and social impact.

Noreen Fatima, leader of the Women’s Democratic Front, said that in this patriarchal society, women had a deep connection to their homes and they suffered severe mental and physical distress from such demolitions. She highlighted the example of a woman who had recently died of a heart attack after her house was marked for demolition. She made clear that the manner in which this operation was being carried out could not be called anything other than state terrorism.

Qamar Abbas, General Secretary of Pakistan Mazdoor Kisan Party, said that the forced evictions and demolitions will increase class-based exploitation, where the working class was being evicted from their homes to make space for capitalist real estate mafia. He asserted that the working class have understood this game, and are ready to stand up against this.

Anwar Khan, the leader of Orangi Nulla victims, criticised the double-standards, hypocrisy and anti-people policies of the judiciary, government and civic bodies. He noted that in Karachi, most of the highrise buildings, housing societies and plazas including the Awami Markaz have been built on encroached public lands.

He also mentioned that PM Imran Khan’s residence at Bani Gala in Islamabad and other highrise building and colonies have been built in sheer violation of laws and on encroached lands but the civic bodies on the directions of the Supreme Court legalised and regularised them. On the contrary, he noted, the legitimate houses of the working-class are being declared illegal and demolished.

“Currently, a big mafia is operating in the guise of a government that wants to evict us from our legitimate property and sell the lands to the builder mafia, and simultaneously wants to consume the money received for alternative housing from the World Bank,” said Shams, a leader of Cafe Pyala victims.

“I appeal to the authorities, friends in the media and especially the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to take notice of this illegal operation which is going on by misinterpreting your decision.”

Arif Shah, leader of Karachi Bachao Tehreek and Gujar Nullah Victims Committee, thanked the participants and said that the Karachi Bachao Tehreek is fighting for democracy and the fundamental right to shelter enshrined in the constitution of Pakistan by protesting and taking legal action against the excesses in the World Bank project.

He said that our struggle would continue until we get our rights.

Repoert by Laila Raza, Karachi Bachao Tehreek