The demolition of a historic building in Karachi has prompted a top level inquiry order from the inspector general of the Sindh police, as angry citizens and activists express their shock and anger at the flattening of the Jufelhurt School in Soldier Bazaar.

IGP Sindh A.D. Khawaja on Monday launched a “discreet enquiry” into the demolition of the 100-year-old building inside Jufelhurst School, with an order to probe what TV reports allege to be police involvement in the demolition of the school building's boundary and a few of the rooms of the building, and the school principal’s residence within the premises.

Senior Superintendent Police East Faisal Abdullah Chachar suspended Station House Officer Soldier Bazaar, Irshad Soomro for his incompetence, pending further enquiry.

Sindh Education Minister Jam Mehtab Dahar, while talking to the media regarding the matter, said, "The police had a negative role while this ordeal was happening, I am grateful that the civil society came together and raised their voice against the crime, which activated a response from the government."

"I think it is important that we send out a strong message to the 'mafia' and deter them from any future acts of this nature," Dahar maintained.

Former special assistant to chief minister on culture Sharmila Faruqi expressed shock over the demolition.

"I am very, very disappointed because this was something very close to my heart and I was taking a very keen interest in this. We hired a professional consultant to conserve it. We were really looking forward to it, The students were so happy!"

"This is our heritage, this is what we should be proud of. We will leave it for our children. We need to preserve it not raze it to the ground," she said while speaking to Dawn.com.

Farooqui led an initiative in 2016 ─ which involved Marvi Mazhar in a consultancy role ─ to get Jufelhurst declared a heritage site.

The PPP lawmaker's portfolio was switched last August. Dawn.com is trying to contact the current culture minister.

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf member and activist Ali Haider Zaidi tweeted about the demolition and said:

"Historical building, listed as a heritage site & housing a Govt school was taken down by some unknown builders in the middle of the night! Visited the school yesterday & what u see in these pictures are the class rooms in the existing structure! Shocking! Shame on Sindh Government"

In 1931, the Jufelhurst School was established by Sybil D’Abreo on nearly one acre of land in what was then known as Cincinnatus town, a Christian neighbourhood, in the city. The building was declared heritage by the Culture Department of Sindh a few years ago, when the also noted that the building was “dangerous”.

Last year, the SBCA had also called for immediate eviction and demolition of the historical buildings but parents of the students and alumni staged protests against the move and finally managed to stop the authorities from razing them.

Activist and architect Marvi Mazhar, who has been involved with the preservation of the school's building posted on Facebook and said:

"Can't believe the main house is gone! Unbelievable, this was demolished in presence of police and rangers. Three months ago we got the wall demolished in presence of Education secretary Mr Pechio. I can't believe they demolished the entire Goan Architecture."

Farooq Soomro, an expert on Karachi's heritage, while talking to Dawn.com said, "The importance of Jufelhurst School depends on the beholder. For some it was just another building that served little economic purpose but there were others, for which it represented the values with which this city grew from a small settlement to the largest of metropolises."

"It was a building which had roots within people and its desecration only confirms that the soul of this city is suffering from selfishness and greed," Soomro added.

Seasoned journalist, writer and researcher Akhtar Balouch, while expressing outrage on the act, said, "All builders are illegal. There is no check and balance on them. They have razed a lot of heritage sites in Karachi and will demolish whatever remains if there's nobody to stop them."

Late night demolition

Late on Saturday night, some 40 to 50 people began the demolition of the Jufelhurst School, prompting the authorities to move against the suspects involved in the act.

Locals gathered at the site and informed police and education department officials about it, said the historic school’s principal, Mohammad Shafiq.

Talking to Dawn, he said in the meantime Soldier Bazaar SHO Irshad Soomro arrived there with a police party and stopped the demolishing work though a significant portion of the historic building had been razed by then.

Shafiq said that on Sunday morning the same people returned and destroyed the remaining portion of the heritage site. He said the school was declared a heritage site by the Sindh government in 2012 and the bungalow was also its part.

PC-I for repairs of the heritage school has been approved and required funds have also been released. The repair and renovation work of the Jufelhurst School was supposed to begin in the next 10 to 15 days but on late Saturday night the suspects bulldozed the building.

SHO Irshad Soomro told Dawn that certain people claimed that they had ‘purchased the bungalow’ but they did not show any proof to support their claim.

Besides, the demolition work was being done at night, which raised suspicions.

'Where can we study?'

Students at the school are being forced to study outdoors after the demolition of the school, talking to DawnNews one student said: "If we can't study in our school, then where can we study?"

Students at the school are being forced to study outdoors after the demolition.

"This was our class, now it's been demolished. We have no place to study and we are being forced to study outside. We are standing here we have no place to study here," another student said while discussing the students' struggle of continuing their education in the rubble.

Another student said: "They didn't do right by us. We used to study here, we had a great class but now it's not possible for us to study here."

The officer said he got the demolishing work stopped but by the time the police had arrived, a significant damage to the bungalow had occurred but the school’s main building was safe.

The SHO said that the school administration claimed that the Parsi woman who established the school in colonial era had gifted the bungalow to the school. However, others claimed that they had purchased it.

Irshad Soomro said the school head, Shafiq, had submitted an application before the police for registering an FIR against unknown suspects for damaging the heritage site.

CM seeks report

Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah took notice of the demolition of the 100-year-old building of Jufelhurst School.

The CM sought reports from the secretaries for education and culture.

“Who gave them the permission to demolish the heritage building?” said the CM.

When this building was declared heritage, who demolished this ‘national heritage, added Mr Shah.

Whoever committed this ‘conspiracy or mischief,’ he would not go unpunished, vowed the chief minister.

The Jufelhurst School

In 1931, the Jufelhurst School was established by Sybil D’Abreo on nearly one acre of land in what was then known as Cincinnatus town, a Christian neighbourhood, in the city. Ms D’Abreo used the first two letters of her mother’s name, Julia, and the first three letters of her father’s name, Felix, to name her school.

A view of the Jufelhurst School in Karachi. The 81-year-old school's building faces the threat of demolition. – Photo by Shameen Khan/Dawn.com
A view of the Jufelhurst School in Karachi. The 81-year-old school's building faces the threat of demolition. – Photo by Shameen Khan/Dawn.com

While the school comprising a large playground, two buildings and a principal’s residence withstood the rigours of time despite being nationalized in the 1970s, it was not before the year 2012 that the buildings were declared dangerous and subsequently sealed by the Sindh Building Control Authority.

The SBCA had also called for immediate eviction and demolition of the historical buildings but parents of the students and alumni staged protests against the move and finally managed to stop the authorities from razing them.

School headmaster Mohammad Shafiq told Dawn last year that things didn’t look good after the school had been taken over by the government, as the buildings began to fall apart while the administration also changed the medium of instruction from English to Urdu.

A few years ago, he had explained, the roof collapsed in the science lab and another room.

“There was a termite problem and severe damage from the rains. Thankfully, no one was inside when it happened,” the headmaster, who joined the school as a teacher in 1987, said earlier.

“Despite all this, we have managed to run the school quite successfully. We ensure that our students are getting a good education and our staff is up to the mark.”

A view of one of the buildings in the Jufelhurst School vicinity. - Photo by Shameen Khan/Dawn.com
A view of one of the buildings in the Jufelhurst School vicinity. - Photo by Shameen Khan/Dawn.com

According to Shafiq, the school with around 1,000 students was being run in morning and afternoon shifts, which “can be trying but the staff is dedicated”.

Some students were compelled to sit in the corridors as there were no ceilings or floors in classrooms.

“It gets difficult to teach in these circumstances but we do it. When I first joined the school, people used to say that you go to Jufelhurst only if you are really serious about work,” he had said. “We need more classrooms, proper sewage and bathroom facilities for the students,” he added.

“People wanted to send their children here and I think if the school is renovated and maintained, we will get back on our feet and achieve better results.”

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