KARACHI: Several porters working at Cantt Station have been admitted to Jinnah Hospital where they are recovering from injuries after a clash with the railway contractor and his men on Wednesday.

At noon yesterday, Fazal Kolachi, a 22-year-old-coolie at the station, was protesting with his friends at the station when “unidentified men in plain clothes” showed up and started beating the porters.

Over 300 porters said they would not resume work until the exploitative contract system was abolished and the middleman removed, Fazal said. He explained that under the contract, each porter pays a 30 per cent cut to the station contractor, Shah Allah Ditta, along with a fixed rate per month.

Last Friday, Ditta informed the porters that the cut would be increased to 40pc, Fazal says. When the porters protested, taking to the Karachi Press Club, Ditta assured them he would reinstate the original rate, but did not say anything about the fixed monthly fee.

Fazal says the porters went to Press Club after Ditta went back on his word, and said they would not carry luggage until their demands were met.

The porters protested for four days, chanting slogans like, “Thekaydaar nahi chaiyay! Yeh gundagardi band karo! Hum samaan nahin uthayein ge!’”

Protesting the middleman

Most porters who work at Cantt Station come from Quetta or villages in Sindh and Gujarat. Fazal, who is from Ghotki, says that most men leave their families behind to come to Karachi, where they have to put up with miserable living conditions.

The railway station is supposed to provide them with living quarters and uniforms, but these rights only exist on paper.

“We want a new contractor,” Fazal says. “We don’t care if they replace him, we just want someone new.”

Rioting and arrests

On Wednesday, men in plain clothes beat up Fazal’s friends, some of whom have fled the city. A few policemen showed up on the scene to break up the fight and disperse people. Eight porters were arrested, and multiple FIRs filed.

Fazal’s friend Fawwad was arrested on three charges under Section 147 and Section 148, for rioting, concealing, and rioting with deadly weapons.

“We were only protesting, and they beat us to pulp,” Fazal says. “Why is that a crime?”

Fazal says that Fawwad’s hearing is in three days, but he has fled the city to escape further violence. “Plus, he does not have a lawyer.”

However, the Railway Union head, Manzoor Aziz, claimed that the porters arrested earlier have been released today.

Just a 'misunderstanding'

Shah Allah Ditta, who has been working as a contractor for the past 20 years, says that the scuffle was no more than a “misunderstanding” that took place between the porters.

“These people are uneducated,” Ditta says, “Some policies have been changed, and they didn’t understand that.”

Railways Workers Union chief Manzoor Razi, however, supports the protesting porters. He said that the exploitative contract system should be abolished, Dawn reported earlier.

Razi added that licences should be given to porters on a monthly or annual basis by charging a reasonable fee so that they do not have to share their daily earnings with a middleman.

Rafiq Baloch, the station master at Cantt station, says the porters are tired of their current contractor and want him to be removed or replaced. “But these matters are above my duty,” Baloch says, explaining that he cannot do much about the porters’ demands until the contract is renewed.

Baloch was not present at the station when the fighting occurred, but believes that it was probably a mix of several things.

“The contractor and porters have their differences,” he says. “But no one was called to beat them up.”

Baloch says the fight started around 5pm on Wednesday, when two porters hit each other with a glass bottle. “One was sent to the hospital, and the other was picked up by the police,” Baloch says.

'No one is helping us'

Fazal and his friends, however, maintain that the police was summoned by Shah Ditta, who charges an additional Rs750 per month atop his daily commission.

The porters approached the police multiple times, Fazal says, but their calls for help were not heeded. “We reported to the police, we begged the media, but no one is willing to help us.”

Baloch and Ditta deny these claims, saying that the tradition ended with the change in policies.

“The protest has ended now,” Ditta says. “The porters are back on working routine.”

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