KARACHI, Nov 24: He is neither Shia nor Sunni but Nasir Chan of the Pakistan Christian Scouts said he had been on duty on M.A. Jinnah Road since early in the morning, checking cars and frisking people as they made their way to join the growing procession on Muharram 9 here on Saturday.
“Our scouts have always been available wherever needed for some 28 years now,” the man in his smart khaki uniform with yellow, green and red neckerchief informed Dawn.
“Earlier, we used to set up a medical camp here but this year we have been given the responsibility of the parking of vehicles in the ground,” said Mr Chan, adding that they had around 60 other scouts from the same association deployed all around. The scout narrated an incident about one of them, a scout named Walter, not getting hurt in some blast or shooting but a vehicle accident at a procession entry spot last year.
“The driver of the car accidentally put his foot on the accelerator instead of jamming the brakes while maneuvering his car and it hit Walter on the side. We rushed him to Jinnah [hospital] at the time and he recovered from the injury after a few days. And that hasn’t stopped him from coming here this year, too. He is somewhere up the road,” he pointed behind him.
Asked if he received any fee or honorarium in exchange for his services, the man said, “None whatsoever. There are no benefits for scouts, only the thrill of volunteering help during times of chaos. We are scouts and this is what we do. But as far as job is concerned, I happen to be a grade-10 court clerk.”
There were some 25 to 30 different scouts associations doing the work of providing security at entry points and routes of the religious procession.
Three young boys, 13-year-old Syed Hasnain and Tauseef Raza, and 14-year-old Kashif Ali, went about their work giving parking directions to the vehicles. All in crisp white shirts, black, white and green scarves and black trousers with polished boots accumulating only a little bit of dust belonged to Al Abbas Scouts.
Syed Hasnain, a class eight student at Major Ziauddin Boys Secondary School, said that he was enjoying his work. Asked if his parents had any reservations about letting him do the duty in such a tense atmosphere, he said, “No, parents are extremely proud that I got to help out and be so responsible at this time.”
Standing next to him, Tauseef Raza, a class eight student of M2 Grammar School, smiled before admitting that his mother was a little worried at first. “But then my father stepped in to tell us that there was nothing to worry about so she also became okay and sent me here with her blessings,” he said.
Meanwhile, Zia Abbas of Abul Qasim Scouts while registering some of his grievances said that they weren’t given any safety equipment, only uniforms. “We get to attend several meetings with Rangers and the IG and DIGs of police ahead of the Muharram processions but they aren’t even here to give us any backup when the time comes. They all stand away from all the hustle and bustle, near the containers and busses where they have blocked the roads. There are no proper barricades on the entry spots for any suspicious car. What do we do to stop it forcibly if the need arises? Do we make a human shield?” The man asked while controlling traffic near the Society Office at Shahrah-i-Quaideen.
The scouts stood at their spots just a few feet from each other under the hot and sunny sky. When asked why they weren’t wearing any caps, 24-year-old Farhan Naqvi of Buturab Scouts brushed a spec of dust from his dark grey uniform before declaring, “Caps are not a part of our uniforms.”
About having to stand in the sun without any prospects of getting off duty until the procession culminates (i.e. usually around sunset), the young man said, “We are just standing here, while the people in the procession will be walking for miles. When they can do that without worrying about getting tired, how can we complain?”
When asked about their training, another scout, also from Buturab, 21-year-old Ali Jafri, a BS student, said that they received the regular boy scouts training. “Our real training starts in our mother’s lap, really. We understand the kind of emotions the people are going through during this time. It is our duty to support them in the best way that we can while also providing them the necessary security,” he concluded.