KARACHI: ‘The politics of displacement and resettlement in urban Pakistan’ and the ‘Karachi’s book cultures’ were the two main topics of discussion on the third and final day of the 7th Annual Karachi Conference held at the Institute of Business Administration’s city campus here on Sunday.
Six research scholars —four from the Karachi Urban Lab and two from Habib University — read out their papers in the day’s initial session about the politics of displacement and resettlement in urban Pakistan.
Soha Macktoom, who presented a paper titled ‘Constructing house and home’, reminded that the people living around the loop line of the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR), who are now in danger of being displaced due to the rehashing of the project, used to be called ‘project-affected persons’ during a study carried out by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
“But after JICA pulled out of the project, they are being referred to as encroachers and their homes are being called illegal settlements, slums, etc,” she said.
Ms Macktoom observed that the language used for the people living by the old tracks was being used to justify a violent action against them. “When they are shown as a menace that shouldn’t have been there, they are looked on as illegal and thus bulldozed.”
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“But these settlements came up in the 1950s, first as bamboo sheds and then with reinforced cement concrete roofs as they moved towards permanence. Some three generations have lived in these homes today,” she said, adding that over the years they were even extended utilities and civic amenities by politicians to gain votes as they saw society also acknowledging them.
“Now the demolition drive affects their livelihoods. They will be completely removed from the map as they are sent to the outskirts of the city and have to start afresh as their old connections to the city are broken,” she said.
Kevin Shi shared his study on ‘Definition, delineation and destruction’ through newspaper archives.
Arsam Saleem questioned who financed such projects as the revival of the KCR and, more importantly, who were the people who would be using the mode of travel and benefiting from it.
Fizza Qureshi highlighted the problems faced by women due to displacement and resettlement through her paper about ‘Gendered resistance’.
She pointed out that men and women experienced and navigated around the city quite differently. “Men dominate most spaces in Karachi and the women who earlier used to have their children’s schools, doctors’ clinics, the market, etc, at walking distances would need public transport after being displaced. But not feeling safe while doing that they would rather just not step out of their home altogether,” she said.
“This is how displacement ruptures the social fabric through a lack of urban infrastructure,” she added.
Zahra Batool spoke about the ‘Documentation and opportunity nexus: Afghan refugees’ access to employment and education in Pakistan’. “They don’t have CNICs, which prevents them from having bank accounts, enrolling their children in schools and colleges. The lack of education and statelessness prevents them from getting good jobs. For them this has turned into a vicious cycle,” she added.
Shahmir Faisal added to that study with his paper on ‘Afghan migrants in Pakistan: ethnic discrimination’.
“With no identity cards and other issues faced by Afghans here, they feel safer to live in communities as it provides them with support. With two generations born here they would like to call this country their home but they are not accepted as citizens of Pakistan,” he said.
Having heard what the young scholars had to say Dr Severine Minot, one of the panellists, said she could pull together a common thread in all of the papers which had to do with mobilisation and people’s concern for their safety. “They feel vulnerable and not being accepted as rightful residents or citizens of a place can also hurt national unity,” she observed.
Architect and town planner Arif Hasan said that the world was changing. “There used to be a welfare state but today it is no longer the business of the state to do business. With planning gone the projects are coming from foreign investors. Suddenly the state is out of the picture and power of decision making has gone to the corporate sector,” he pointed out.
Session on Karachi’s book cultures
The session about ‘Karachi’s book cultures’ had owners and managers of libraries and book centres and authors talk about their collections and work to give way to a lively discussion about what is happening with libraries in the city and how to make them more accessible to people.
Habib Hussain Abbasi, who inherited the 109-year-old Abbasi Kutb Khana (library) from his maternal grandfather and his father, provided the interesting history of the place that houses very old and valuable books among others.
“The library doesn’t just have Urdu and English books, there are also books written in Sindhi, Pashto, Persian and Arabic in a variety of subjects,” he said, while naming some literary greats who used to frequent the library for research.
Sister Rukhsana Samuel gave a presentation about the Christian Bookstore, which was founded by the Pauline Publication in 1915.
Nasir Javed spoke about the Mushfiq Khwaja Trust Library, which houses the private collection of the late writer, critic and poet Mushfiq Khwaja along with several other collections and rare journals which they are now in the process of digitalising.
Mohammad Yousuf, author of Karachi ke Qaumi Kutb Khanay, said that he penned his book to tell the people about the many big or small libraries of the city. “There have been two editions published of the book so far and I am still stumbling on libraries that even I didn’t know of. Those places I will add in the third edition of my book,” he said.
Dr Masuma Hasan, chairperson of the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs, said that institute’s library belonged to the PIIA, which happens to be the country’s oldest think tank having come into existence in August 1947.
“But,” she said, “there was an even older private institute by the name of the Indian Institute of International Affairs in Delhi before that. When it was felt that Pakistan was soon going to become a reality, it was decided to move the institute to Karachi by vote during an annual general meeting.”
“The institute’s 350 books arrived in Karachi then on one of the Pakistan Special Trains after Sarwar Hasan, who was in charge of the institute, went to Liaquat Ali Khan and the Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, with their wish of moving to Karachi,” she added.
Speaking about the workings of the PIIA library, which is a reference library now after many of their borrowed books were not returned, she said that apart from housing rare and valuable books they also got some 99 journals some of which they also got in exchange for their journals and quarterlies such as Pakistan Horizon.
She added that they also have complete archives of newspapers such the Dawn, Jang and Nawa-i-Waqt from the time they started publication.
Archaeologist, historian and author Kaleemullah Lashari, who chaired the session, provided some history of libraries in Karachi and how they came about. He said that the oldest of these was the Military Stationary Library followed by the Persian Institute Library and the General Library at Frere Hall.
“But these were all 19th Century libraries. It was the law in those days for all municipalities to use one per cent of their budget for the setting up of libraries,” he said, adding that now sadly there were not much funds for libraries.
Social scientist Tasneem Siddiqui and writer, poet, architect and chief editor of Urdu Dictionary Board Aqeel Abbas Jafri also spoke.
Published in Dawn, November 4th, 2019