-Photos by author
From giving long speeches to an imaginary audience in front of the only mirror in her home, 26-year-old Saniya Naz has come a long way. Born and raised in Lyari, Naz is the first female to contest elections on a PPP ticket for a general seat (PS-109) in the area.Keeping in mind the culture of dynastic politics in Pakistan, Naz says, many people assumed she was the daughter of deceased Rafiq Engineer to be contesting from his seat.
Laughing it off, she says: “I told them I’m the daughter of Lyari.”
Naz’s nomination is reflective of the way Lyari has changed politically over the years. Earlier, party candidates were handpicked by the PPP top cadre, but with the recent reshuffle of seats in the area, it is evident that the outlawed People’s Amn Committee had a strong say in the selection of candidates.
After the death of Rafiq Engineer and departure of Nabeel Gabol from the area, candidates were immediately chosen for five seats in Lyari.
Javed Nagori (PS-108), Adnan Baloch (PS-111), Yusuf Naz (PS-110), Shahjahan Baloch (NA-248), and even Saniya Naz (PS-109) were handpicked by the PAC leader, Uzair Baloch, with the ‘consent’ of the PPP leadership, a senior official in the party informed Dawn.
According to senior activists in the area, the consent of the party came as a way of making up for the ill-timed operation in Lyari last year that saw the turning of public opinion against the PPP and rising support for PAC’s Baloch in the low-income neighbourhood. Even with speculation about his possible nomination, Baloch and his group of men steered clear of the upcoming elections and instead vowed to work “from the sidelines,” for the people of Lyari, according to PAC spokesperson Zafar Baloch.
There were many senior workers vying for PS-109. Naz, the youngest in the group, was selected to represent the party in the area over many other hopefuls, a fact which she clearly recognises — and thanks PAC’s Baloch for. “I’m mature enough to understand the fact that if it were not for him, I wouldn’t have got this opportunity,” Naz says. “Uzair bhai strongly supported me, overlooking my background.”
Naz’s nomination is nonetheless special, as she belongs to the working class cadre of the PPP. Her parents have no political affiliation whatsoever.
Born and raised in a two-room home near Aath Chowk, Naz saw her father running a canteen at the Karachi Port Trust during the day and making carrom boards by night to make ends meet. Despite the financial problems, her father, Mohammad Atta wanted his six daughters and a son to get a good education. “He used to force all of us to study, arguing that he’ll provide for us until we establish ourselves,” Naz recalls.
However, Naz was the only one amongst her siblings who went ahead and got an education. Being a “go-getter,” as her late father used to refer to her, Naz did her schooling from Lyari’s Mir Ayub Khan Secondary School and her intermediate from Karachi College opposite the Civil Hospital Karachi.
With Atta’s death three years back, the family went through tough times with Naz being the only one with a proper job. “But the problem was I was more engaged in voluntary work which never earned me enough. We managed anyway,” she says, smiling.
Since the age of eight, Naz has been working as a volunteer in Lyari and never held back when someone needed help. “I used to teach students my age before my shift at a street school. This was something which my father pushed me to do,” she explains. At the age of 18, she joined the Orangi Pilot Project and worked with the late Parween Rahman to financially empower the women in Lyari. She later joined the Lyari Resource Centre to work for the education of underprivileged children in the area.
But Naz is not just a volunteer. A multi-talented person, she played a lead role in Beebar-o-Granaz, a telefilm based on Balochi folklore that was aired on Vash TV. She later worked with Sheema Kermani’s troupe as a performer. When asked about that, she laughs heartily and admits with a twinkle in her eye that “it was just to try something new”.
When it comes to politics, Naz says her biggest inspiration has been Benazir Bhutto. She recalls that her early memories of Benazir were the excitement of looking at her convoy passing by. Naz never met her, but used to emulate her like every other girl in Lyari.
“I was eight then, and used to stand in front of a mirror and address an invisible audience, on what I’ll do once elected,” Naz says.
At present, addressing a real audience makes her at once excited and jittery. As she confesses: “I can’t sleep at night, because I feel responsible for the people in Lyari. I don’t want to disappoint them.”
Getting into politics completes a circle for her family. Her grandfather, Ali Mohammad, tried his luck during the 1950s but was “cheated”. Since then, nobody in their family showed ambition for politics. Naz, however, has already made a list of things she would do once elected.
Apart from education, which is her top priority, she adds: “Lack of communication is something people complain about a lot. So there’ll be lots of communication. Secondly, the development work will be done in accordance with people’s needs. Third and most important thing is to restore the image of Lyari.”
Lack of communication was the main reason that created a rift between the PAC and former elected representatives Nabeel Gabol and the late Rafiq Engineer who were barred from entering the area, bringing the conflict out in the open. For this reason alone, Naz says she wants to stay in the area and be accessible to the people of Lyari.
Speaking about the emerging political dynamics of the area, Naz said: “The politics in Lyari is changing…it is no more about you know someone who knows someone powerful but about who works the most for the area.”
With the PAC holding the reigns of Lyari ahead of elections, Naz feels that “one cannot make a fool out of Lyariites anymore”.