KARACHI: A media-shy social worker who devoted her life to the development of the impoverished neighbourhoods across the country, was gunned down near her office in Orangi Town on Wednesday. She was 56.
Parveen Rehman was born in Dhaka in 1957. She did part of her schooling in the former East Pakistan and migrated to Karachi after the fall of Dhaka.
She received a bachelor’s of engineering in architecture from Karachi’s Dawood College of Engineering and Technology in 1981 and joined a private architect’s firm.
A few months later, she left the job and joined the Orangi Pilot Project initiated by Akhtar Hameed Khan to bring healthy changes to the lives of impoverished residents of Orangi.
“The late Akhtar persuaded her to join the OPP. We both joined the OPP in 1982 and since then we worked in close association,” said Anwer Rashid, co-director of the OPP-RTI (Orangi Pilot Project-Research and Training Institute).
Mr Rashid choked on words as he described his working relationship with Ms Rehman.
Noted town planner Arif Hasan, who is member of the OPP’s board, briefly visited Ms Rehman’s home and left early as he was deeply distressed like dozens of her friends and colleagues who had gathered at her house in Safari Boulevard in Gulistan-i-Jauhar.
“She was a courageous and brave lady. She was a true pupil of Akhtar Hameed Khan who worked in an environment where most people will avoid to work,” said Mr Rashid.
Soon after the private TV networks flashed news of her death, a large number of people flocked to the Abbasi Shaheed Hospital, where her body had been shifted.
Eyewitnesses said those who gathered in the hospital and outside her home, where she was living alone with her octogenarian mother, included dozens of residents of Orangi who were mourning her death.
“She was a great help for us. She was just like an elder sister to whom we would go whenever a problem struck us,” said a middle-aged man who identified himself as Azmat Ali.
Arif Pervez, development professional and a friend of hers, said Ms Rehman had been receiving death threats for a long time, apparently from the mafia involved in grabbing precious land on the fringes of the city.
“She had been receiving threats on her life for a long time. We had discussed this several times but every time I advised her to take care of herself, she smiled, waved her hand and said what will they do, I have to work a lot and that too in the middle of the people,” Mr Pervez said.
Ms Rehman was an ardent compiler of the record of precious lands, which were on the fringes of the city in shape of villages but were speedily vanishing into its vastness because of ever-increasing demand by thousands of families who were shifting to Karachi every year from across the country.
She said on record that around 1,500 goths (villages) had been merged into the city since 15 years. Land-grabbers subdivided them into plots and earned billions by their sale.
“She documented everything about the lands that have been grabbed. Another sin of her was to help those whose lands had been grabbed. Yet, she never hesitated to go to the area where her life was constantly under threat,” Mr Pervez said.
“Many people certainly have lost their elder sister,” he said.
Noman Ahmed of NED University said Ms Rehman’s great achievement was to get involved and empower communities in development work.
“She involved communities in development work and her cautious endeavour was to empower people and lessen their sense of deprivation. Her motto was way forward. She saw it as a defeat to terrorists by not changing her routine to help people,” Mr Ahmed said.
Besides her mother, Ms Rehman is survived by her two brothers and a sister, living abroad.