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THE brutal slaying of Orangi Pilot Project director Perween Rahman in Karachi on Wednesday comes as a shock, despite the fact that as a nation we have become inured to violence. She was a brave, committed woman who worked for the uplift of the poor and marginalised. For three decades, Ms Rahman worked in a challenging environment in a part of Karachi that suffers from frequent breakdowns of law and order. She worked for the benefit of those the state was unable — or unwilling — to help. The OPP has developed sewage and sanitation systems for the vast settlement as well as undertaken health, education and economic uplift projects for the community on a self-help basis. The brainchild of the late Akhtar Hameed Khan, the OPP has won national and global acclaim.

Those close to Ms Rahman say she had been receiving death threats from the land mafia, while police claimed a Taliban ‘commander’ had been involved in her slaying. The OPP director had been documenting cases of land grabbing on Karachi’s fringes, and anti-encroachment activists have been targeted in the past. All angles must be probed and the police cannot simply wash their hands of the investigation by blaming the killing on religious extremists. In Karachi, crime, land grabbing and dirty politics complement each other while religious militancy adds further potency to this toxic mix. Hence it is difficult to pinpoint a motive in such cases.

Ms Rahman’s killing represents a disturbing trend where those who attempt to bring positive change to society are targeted. Last month Dr Ali Haider, a leading eye specialist of Lahore, was killed in a sectarian attack along with his son. The doctor also regularly provided free medical care to needy patients. Across Pakistan aid workers have been attacked, polio teams have been hunted down and teachers have been killed due to a variety of reasons, including religious and nationalist militancy. What is equally disturbing is that women — and children — who were previously not targeted by militants are now considered fair game. The state and society have both failed to unequivocally condemn these deadly trends and work towards uprooting the forces responsible for spreading such violence. Meanwhile political parties are too busy politicking to raise their voices against the targeting of socially active individuals. Hence the question for us all to ponder is: what will become of a society that, for the most part, sits quietly as its messiahs are systematically wiped out?