KARACHI: The Chehlum of Imam Hussain and the martyrs of Karbala was being observed. The entire route of the procession on M.A. Jinnah Road was sealed and secured. The scouts from various volunteer organisations had been alert and on duty since 9am.
The Pak Hyderi Scouts in their crisp blue uniforms, Buturab Scouts in black, Abul Qasim Scouts in green, Isna Asheri Boy Scouts in khaki with the other volunteers were all there to serve. Some were busy securing the area around the route, some stationed at the entrance checkpoints frisked the men going inside, some checked the vehicles, some helped in the parking area and some provided directions while others assisted as medical volunteers. They also led the procession like brave commandos on a battlefield, putting their lives on the line.
The scouts comprise little boys, young men and grown-ups, all eager and going out of their way to serve the public. Some are students, some have regular jobs elsewhere.
“My mother sent me here today with her blessings,” said 14-year-old Ali Mehdi, who belongs to Abul Qasim Scouts from Abbas Town. The boy was only 10 when he lost his father in the Abbas Town attack four years ago.
“Although Mehdi’s mother is different, many other parents of the little boys we bring here with us ask us to provide them with guarantees that their children would return home safe and sound later,” said Zia Abbas, the chief scout master and supervisor for Abul Qasim Scouts.
“Mehdi’s brave mother, on the other hand, told us that if anything happened to her boy, she would send her younger child to serve here. We respect her emotional involvement in all this,” said the chief scout master, while glancing to check on young Mehdi, who was busy directing traffic near a checkpoint.
“The Abul Qasim Scouts hail from Abbas Town. I have lost two of my very dear friends there in the 2013 tragedy. We have lifted 72 dead and the many others who got injured there at the time. We know how it feels,” he said.
Meanwhile, the policemen stationed around the place gladly watch the scouts going about their work from a safe distance. “There is not much awareness about scouts here as there is no National Cadet Corps or defence training being offered in our schools and colleges anymore,” said the chief.
“Therefore, we are stopped and grilled often. The law enforcement agencies want to know about our uniforms and our work, which we patiently explain to them,” he said.
“The public also thinks that we are here to block or stop them from going anywhere, or they anticipate that we would be rude to them like the policemen they often encounter. But we are here only to help the public,” he said.
Syed Mohammad Razi Zaidi, Zia Abbas’s second-in-command in the same scouts unit, said that the law enforcement agencies also doing duty along with them during such occasions were far better off than them. “We are just volunteers. We get no benefits. If anything were to happen, God forbid, our families would only receive condolences,” he said.
“When a mother whose son is serving here asks me for guarantees, I am very blunt and very straight. I do not lie. These are not uniforms,” he said catching hold of his shirt collar. “Think of them as are our shrouds. There is no guarantee for our lives. And if we die in the line of duty, while serving others, it will be the best way to go,” he said.
Some of the scouts in the various units also wore T-shirts in place of the smart scout uniforms. “We are the ones who get under the big vehicles such as the buses and trucks to make sure nothing dangerous is being concealed there. It involves getting our clothes dirty,” said Syed Baqar Abbasi. When asked if the hand-held under vehicle security mirrors would be enough to do the job, he smiled and shook his head. “They are hardly any good. You and I both know that.”
Not all the scouts belong to the Shia sect, as may be presumed by many. Mohammad Irfan said that he was Sunni. He also shared how he caught a few men carrying weapons such as pistols and revolvers on them. “They were licensed weapons and they had them for their own security,” he said. “Still, we were able to persuade them to leave their weapons with us and collect them from us later,” said Irfan. “Scout’s honour!”
Published in Dawn, November 13th, 2017