KARACHI: “Tomorrow is the 66th death anniversary of Jamshed Nusserwanjee, after whom these quarters are named,” says Bibi Tabassum Naz, a worried widow who happens to be a resident of Jamshed Quarters. “Karachi was such a serene and cheerful place when that man was mayor here. Despite being a Parsi, he cared for all residents of this city like his own people.
“But now our own people, Muslims, want to rob us of the roofs over our heads,” she says as her eyes well up with tears and a lump forms in her throat.
Unable to continue speaking, she slumps down on a flowerbed border in the neighbourhood park and weeps as some others rush to comfort her.
The colony has been in tumult since July 30 when heavy contingents of police arrived there to have not just Jamshed Quarters but also Pakistan Quarters, Martin Quarters, Clayton Quarters and the Federal Capital Area, all residential areas for federal government employees, vacated by force.
A petition was filed some months ago seeking eviction of families living in these areas even after the retirement or death of an allottee — a government servant to whom a quarter is allotted.
The residents of these neighbourhoods met and pleaded their case with Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar. Some said that they had been gifted the quarters after their retirement while others said they were still government employees and had the legal right of living there.
All were then asked to produce documents by July 31 to prove that they were living there rightfully.
“But the police came one day earlier. One woman was so shocked to see them that she suffered heart failure. She died there and then,” says Aziz Ahmad, a resident of Pakistan Quarters.
He says he was himself born in Pakistan Quarters and grew up here. “My father was also a government servant. “These houses are not big or luxurious, but they are at least a roof over our heads. I worked with the Export Promotion Bureau and was allotted an accommodation at Pakistan Quarters in 1996.
“Then after my retirement in 2003 I was presented with a certificate from the government in appreciation of my service. I was also given a permanent residency of my quarter, which was a load off my chest,” he recalls.
“Built soon after the partition of India, these quarters had tin roofs. It would get excruciatingly hot during the day. At night we could see the sky through the cracks in the roof and count the stars and when it rained if would drip and we had water everywhere.
“The little money I had saved over the years during my service, I spent on the renovation of my quarter,” he adds. “I have nothing left now other than this terrible court order to vacate the place. Where will I take my family now,” he wonders.
Nasrullah Memon, another resident of Pakistan Quarters for the past 45 years, said he represented the Sindh Government Employees Welfare Association. “The central government’s Estate Office started issuing notices to residents here since 1972. That was when we engaged in negotiations with them, ” he recalls.
“We also made some headway during the 1980s when the Sindh government and the federal government agreed to give the people here permanent residency and ownership of their quarters in exchange for Rs5.2 million. The amount was raised and paid,” he says.
“But there were many changes in governments after that. Ziaul Haq’s government wrapped up, followed by democratic governments, followed by another military government. Things remained quiet for a while before the Sindh government remembered these colonies again and decided to turn them into a business,” says Ali Hasan Chandio, a retired academic and resident of Pakistan Quarters.
“They can regularise goths and villages, but thousands of people who have been living for as long as 71 years, even widows and orphans who have been living here after the passing away of their breadwinners, are to be evicted,” he regrets.
“I have been living here for 35 years now. The government deducts rent for these dwellings from our salaries, but doesn’t even provide us with necessities such as gas and power connections. We had to run from pillar to post for these basic amenities. Since the government spends nothing on maintenance, we have to dish out money from our own pockets.”
Syed Mohammad Ali Shah, a representative of the residents, says it was misleading to label all families as illegal occupants and then try to evict them. “The Estate Office gave wrong information to the Chief Justice of Pakistan. The Estate Office is taking unilateral action. We had been handed ownership certificates by Estate Officer Sohail Sarwar way back in 2006.
“After that the residents themselves developed the infrastructure — from getting connections for basic amenities to building roads. Now they have forgotten everything and descended on our heads like angels of death,” he says.
Asked what he and the others would do now, one of the residents turns his gaze heavenwards and then back at the little houses in his colony where some people have set up little shops in their verandahs to supplement the family income. “We are confident that we have done nothing wrong and so God will help us,” he concludes.
Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2018