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Teen Talwar: the new protest spot

October 09, 2014

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The Teen Talwar traffic intersection has caught the attention of protesters in recent months.—White Star
The Teen Talwar traffic intersection has caught the attention of protesters in recent months.—White Star

KARACHI: The late Z.A. Bhutto might not have imagined what purpose Clifton’s Teen Talwar monument be serving four decades after its construction. The former prime minister had given the go-ahead to the monument’s idea in order to remind Karachiites, and visitors to the coastal city, of the motto eloquently espoused by founder of the nation Mohammad Ali Jinnah — faith, unity, discipline — inscribed on three marble swords. These days, the three swords cut a different picture.

There was a time when political parties were wise enough to stage their protest demonstrations at Numaish Chowrangi on M.A. Jinnah Road (formerly Bunder Road) which, in a manner of speaking, is in the heart of the city and therefore allowed people to choose alternative routes to reach wherever they wanted to reach if a protest was going on. Not today. Now they make sure that once they take to the streets to press for a certain demand, the public (other than their party members) gets the rough end of the stick.

The Teen Talwar spot used to serve in turbulent times as the area from where people living in some neighbourhoods (Korangi and Mahmoodabad) could either pass through or purchase items that would be difficult to buy from localities close to Numaish Chowrangi. Not anymore.

Some suggest it’s because of a political party which has a considerable number of its followers in the Clifton-Defence zone, that the Teen Talwar roundabout has now become the hot spot for all those who have the power to paralyse Karachi, even partially, at will. Others opine a civil society group started it. Since the sit-ins, or dharnas, are the latest fad to show street power, Clifton residents have now become familiar with all the postures and positions with which people sit on the broad two-way main road and shout their lungs out to draw attention of the government to whatever they are protesting against. Whether it cuts ice with the government is a different issue. But it, for sure, has given a fresh spin to the Quaid-i-Azam’s motto. Now faith, unity and discipline are meant for sit-ins.

Talking to Dawn, eminent ENT specialist and historian Dr Iftikhar Salahuddin, who recently took part in a rally for De-VIP-isation at Teen Talwar, said: “It’s the central place. A lot of VIPs pass through it which affects the public because they have to wait for a long time for the VIPs to go past them. Besides, you get maximum exposure at Teen Talwar. So if you need to speak against a very important person, it’s the right place. We don’t have a Tehreer Square in our city, so Teen Talwar will do.”

Zeenia Shaukat is interested in political and social activism. She said: “There are both negatives and positives to Teen Talwar becoming a protest spot. It is in the centre of the most elite area in the city. Holding a protest there means one can draw the residents’ attention — bureaucrats, parliamentarians, the media etc — to a given cause/issue. But one is not sure how much it helps in resolving issues. Unfortunately, the existing polarisation in society means there is little solidarity and support on matters even if they are of the common nature. People may stop by to take a look at the banners and placards held by protesters, but would they join them or even try to learn more about what they’re protesting against, I doubt it.”

And then there is the cultural and historic aspect of it all. What about that? Distinguished town planner and architect Arif Hasan said: “Both Teen Talwar and Dau Talwar were built when Mr Bhutto was in power. This was the time when Pakistani nationalism was being recreated after the Dhaka Fall. So the monument has a historic significance, but I don’t think using it as a protest spot will cause it any harm.”

Published in Dawn, October 9th, 2014