Tents set up on the premises of Shah Ghoro's shrine near Badin provide shelter to families which have migrated there from Karachi's Lyari area. -Photo by Fahim Siddiqi/ White Star
BADIN: Tents dot the sprawling premises of Shah Ghoro’s shrine in Peeru Lashari, a town some 11 kilometers from Badin. While the children run up and down the steps of the shrine, their mothers either prepare food or speak to one another.
An ambulance is parked outside the boundary made up of tents in an otherwise open area. Two men sitting in a nearby tent are assigned to ask new entrants to the premises their names and purpose of visiting.
Through the makeshift boundary wall, the area inside appears congested. But once inside, there are fewer than 12 families occupying the large area. Some of the tents are empty. Many others had been blown away by strong winds during the previous two days, Dawood Kutchhi of the Kutchhi Rabita Committee tells Dawn.
Sitting in a small brick house near a pool of muddy rainwater, a woman is busy preparing a meal for her two children. Things needed to cook the meal have been provided by a local non-government organisation, she says and narrates how she landed on the shrine premises.There was no exact moment when Saima Sumar, 22, decided to leave her home, except that she knew that everyone in her neighbourhood was doing so. It was almost a month before that people belonging to “two streets in Agra Taj Colony” left the area in droves, she says. She does not say who asked them to leave but adds: “The men in our family were frantically thumping at the doors and asking us to get down.” They felt something was about to happen as they got an ominous message from a mosque in the area asking people to vacate their homes. Others said they got to know of Kutchhi men being killed in Mandhra Mohalla and Hingorabad and decided to leave the area as quickly as they could.
Saleh Mohammad, 48, a local transporter, has lived his entire life in Lyari, never thinking one day he would have to seek refuge in a strange place. “I have friends there. My nieces and nephews have been married into Baloch families. But, for once, I was really scared of the rising threat from the gangsters in the area,” he adds, looking exhausted.
A few tents away, Zulekha Saleh Mohammad gave birth to a baby girl recently and now she is concerned about her health. Her brother, who refused to share his name, has contracted a skin disease and for the past few days has been walking with swollen feet. He was a driver in the Defence Housing Authority when in Karachi, but is jobless now and feels annoyed about the situation in his neighbourhood. “We are stuck here. We are caught in an endless fight between two groups of criminals,” he says.
Even with the number of problems they are facing, some Kutchhis living in the Shah Ghoro shrine refuse to leave, though others cannot wait to go back. Zulekha Dawood could only get enough time to pick up a pair of trousers before leaving her home. She feels her family should move back. “We are no better here. I’d go back the minute things get better in our neighbourhood,” she remarks.
It has almost been a month since a number of Kutchhi families left their homes in Agra Taj Colony, Mandhra Mohalla and Hingorabad of Lyari to migrate to a safe place after a fight broke out between the two groups. Though everyone identifies the banned Peoples Amn Committee (PAC) as frightening the people away, nobody dares mention who the other group is. Dawood Kutchhi is quick to say that the Kutchhis are not the ones fighting as “using similar tactics won’t make us any different from the people we are fighting against”.
Most families that left the area have dwindled in numbers after a downpour a few days back. Dawood Kutchhi says most people who came here in the beginning either have gone to their relatives’ places or back to Karachi. “Some people went as far as Khokhrapar with their families,” he says. “The ones living here are very poor people.”
He goes on to explain that the actual fight is in six streets of Lyari, starting from Juna Masjid in Kalri to Ibrahim Masjid. The areas beyond that are safe.
Dawood says that their fight is not against the Baloch in the area but against the PAC that has taken “the area hostage”. He says that just days after they left people were informed that their houses had been taken over by the gangsters in the area with the message: “Ramzan might have been yours, but Eid will be ours.”
Dr Sikander Mandhro, provincial minister of law and parliamentary affairs and head of the rehabilitation committee for the migrating Kutchhis, speaking to Dawn says: “The Kutchhi conflict in Lyari is multifaceted and is not as simple as it seems.” He says there is no exact figure of how many people have migrated from the area “as they keep coming back to Karachi and leave again after a few days”.
The minister says that so far the government has provided everything that the people needed. He says the government has asked the families to live in a nearby school which has around 25 rooms and better living facilities, but they have refused. The rehabilitation committee, set up on July 8, has registered around 450 families who left Lyari for Badin and 150 others who migrated to Bhambore, Thatta, Mr Mandhro says.
Speaking about the homes of the people being occupied by criminals, Mr Mandhro says the situation in the area is not alarming. He says there are 11 union councils in Lyari, and the ongoing conflict is in three union councils. And of those three union councils, the fight is going on in just three or four streets.
"The circumstances related to the Kutchhi migration are rather mysterious. But one thing is definite and important to understand, there is a political motive for it,” Mr Mandhro adds.