“We heard several gunshots. It is nothing new in Lyari, especially during a Rangers operation but that day I was concerned … Saqib wasn’t home,” says his mother while showing some of his medals.
Saqib Baloch alias ‘Boxer’ was a well-known national boxer who, during his career, represented the Karachi Port Trust, Pakistan Navy and Wapda. There are several old framed photographs of a tall young man in action in the ring during various bouts. In one corner in his old cupboard are his training shoes, his boxing gloves … and the medals.
Saqib Boxer was 32 when he was shot dead by the Rangers. Said to have been involved in many crimes he was considered a gangster, something his parents and the people of Lyari find impossible to come to terms with.
What went wrong? “He was my only son. He was extremely attached to me. He couldn’t even go to sleep at night without telling me how his day went. But boxing used to take him away from home often for practice during the various camps held in different cities. So he retired early,” his mother says.
“He had achieved quite a lot in the sport anyway. In 1998, he joined the Pakistan camp for a competition in Hong Kong but the team didn’t go there after all. This often happens due to various reasons and a shortage of funds as well.
“Anyway, after retiring he stopped practicing, obviously, and had also gained some weight. He ran a barber shop here in Lyari that his uncle opened for him and when he wasn’t working he would spend time with his old friends in the area. He was with his friends that fateful day in June when he got killed. Lyari cries for him still,” Saqib’s mother says, wiping away her tears.
Flip side of the coin
In sharp contrast to the grieving mother’s story, media reports after the boxer’s death said that he had been involved in serious crimes. His killing, according to Rangers, was a result of an exchange of fire during a routine search operation in Lyari’s Nayabad neighourood.
At the time of his death, there were a number of cases registered against Saqib for involvement in various crimes including murder, kidnapping for ransom and extortion. He was also accused of killing four people in Kharadar the day he met his fate.
Falling through the cracks
What happened to Saqib Boxer is a tragedy beyond words. Here was a boxer with everything going for him, who suddenly lost heart and gave up the sport. The examples of sick and dying boxers becoming burdens on their family or others who are unable to make ends meet is enough to make the budding boxing talent of Pakistan realise that there isn’t really a future in boxing.
In 2011, three boxers gate crashed a football press conference being held by their department to tell the media gathered there of their plight. The department had disbanded its boxing team and the boxers were some of the many out there wanting to know what was to become of them now.
The football press conference was being held ahead of a big tournament being organised by the department for under-16 footballers. The boxers who gate crashed the programme demanded to know if the young footballers, too, were going to meet the same fate as them. They wanted to know what they were to do now when they have become jobless. How would they feed their families?
Taking pity on them, an official from the Pakistan Football Federation then offered to help. He said he would find them new jobs so that they could at least take care of their families. What he found for them was work with a catering company. One was given work in the kitchen, another was taken on as a driver while the third was asked to operate their photocopier.
“These are long-hour duties. If we work here, when do we practice? I am also a boxing coach. When do I go for my coaching?” asked Javed Jan, one of the boxers among them. “We have won medals for Pakistan internationally. We do not deserve this,” he said.
The late Olympian boxer Jan Mohammad Baloch died in misery last year at the age of 72. The national boxing champion had also represented Pakistan at the sixth Asian Games in Bangkok in 1970 where he won a silver medal. His other honours include a gold medal in the Asian Boxing Championship held in South Korea in 1971, the fourth position in the Munich Olympics in 1972, a gold medal in the Hilali Cup in Colombo, a bronze medal at the Tehran Games in 1974, gold at the first RCD Boxing Championship in Ankara and another in Istanbul, a silver medal in the 1977 Asian Boxing Championship in Jakarta along with several gold, silver and bronze medals in national events.
Jan Mohammad Baloch, a national coach from 1982 to 2002, towards the latter part of his life ran a gym in Lyari but with fewer boys interested in the sport, it was not enough for him to make ends meet.
Another pride of Pakistan, boxer Hussain Shah, who won a bronze medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, moved to Japan after becoming disheartened by the state of boxing in the country.
He says that he is yet to receive any of the monetary awards and plots announced for him by various politicians at the time.
In 2011, three-time Olympic boxer Abrar Hussain, who won gold in the 1990 Asian Games in Beijing, became a victim of sectarian violence when he was shot dead outside his office in Quetta. His only crime being that he belonged to the Shia Hazara community.