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Slum-dwellers protest razing of homes

July 24, 2015
Slum dwellers protest against the CDA operation outside the National Press Club on Thursday.— Photo by Tanveer Shahzad
Slum dwellers protest against the CDA operation outside the National Press Club on Thursday.— Photo by Tanveer Shahzad

ISLAMABAD: Among the group of slum dwellers, protesting the demolition of their homes outside the National Press Club on Thursday, were a group of children in uniforms who had lost their school building.

The Pehli Kiran School, established by a nongovernmental organisation in the informal settlement on the green belt between Sector I-10 and H-10 was demolished for a second time in the last two years by the Capital Development Authority (CDA) during its anti-encroachment operation.

A resident of the slum where the school is located, Haji Muzaffar told Dawn that the students were receiving free education at the school but the operation has put their academic future in jeopardy.

He said the children living in slums are not admitted by government schools because they are unable to provide proof of residents.

Kajal, who is a student of Pehli Kiran School, told Dawn she felt sad looking at her school being demolished and she is scared she may never go to school again.

Another primary school student, Noor Wahab, said the settlement where he lives was demolished on Wednesday by people who called them terrorists. “But we are not terrorists,” he said.

In a statement issued before Eid, the CDA announced that it would start an operation against ‘illegal katchi abadis’ in Islamabad. Earlier, the CDA had informed the Islamabad High Court (IHC) that 42 settlements had been identified across the city, which would soon be razed.

Rights activist Tahira Abdullah, who volunteers at Pehli Kiran School, also participated in the protest organised by the Awami Workers Party (AWP). She said the operation in Pashtun/Afghan Basti was carried out without giving the residents any warning.

“The Jamshed Akhtar Qureshi Education Trust (JAQET) has been running Pehli Kiran Schools in eight informal settlements of Islamabad for over 20 years. The H-11 Basti also had a school until Wednesday,” she said.

She said the school was also bulldozed in April 2014, after a bomb blast near the Sabzi Mandi.

Ms Abdullah called upon the government to recall that the constitution guarantees basic human rights to its citizens which includes shelter.

“People must not be removed from their homes without being given an alternative place to live. While the government is also failing to fulfil its obligation of providing education, it is not allowing NGOs to operate schools,” she said.

Representatives of PTCL Trade Union, Post Office Union, candidates for local body elections and some supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), who were chanting slogans in favour of their party, also participated in the protest.

Speakers at the demonstration, called for an end to the ongoing campaign of forced evictions by the CDA and called upon the judiciary to hear the voices of Islamabad’s poor working class and recognise their right to housing.

Addressing the protestors, AWP Punjab President Aasim Sajjad Akhtar said the Islamabad High Court is set to hear the CDA’s plan for razing slums on Friday (today). “Those gathered here, appeal to the court to recognise that uprooting thousands of poor people without offering them a place to live is a violation of their fundamental rights,” he said.

Mr Akhtar said that if the highest courts in the land turn a blind eye to the plight of the poor then there is no choice for the latter but to engage in non-violent civil disobedience against selective application of the law.

Fazal Shah, from the AWP I-11 Unit, said that Islamabad’s working poor had come out on the streets because the city’s authorities had left them with no choice.

“We have been called criminals, terrorists and land mafia when our only crime is that we are poor and cannot afford a roof over our heads,” he said.

Other speakers said the CDA never takes action against the rich who encroach upon public land, violate zoning regulations and ignore laws but continue to target the downtrodden.

AWP Secretary General Islamabad Shehek Sattar told Dawn that his party would announce their future course of action after the announcement of the IHC’s decision.

Published in Dawn, July 24th, 2015

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