CHILDREN hold protest outside the Karachi Press Club on Sunday.—Photo by the author
CHILDREN hold protest outside the Karachi Press Club on Sunday.—Photo by the author

KARACHI: Hundreds of children from the Gujjar and Orangi nullahs staged a protest demonstration outside the Karachi Press Club on Sunday, appealing to the Supreme Court to not lift the stay on demolitions.

The recent demolitions, caused in the wake of SC’s August 20 order regarding the cleaning of city’s storm-water drains have already rendered a large number of children homeless, whereas a conservative estimate suggests that at least 21,000 children will be left without homes by the end the demolitions.

Holding placards, the children highlighted the humanitarian crisis that has developed in Karachi’s district Central in the aftermath of the demolitions.

“While children residing in elite housing societies, many of which are developed on encroached land, continue to comfortably live in air-conditioned rooms and attend school, children of working-class neighbourhoods near Orangi and Gujjar nullahs have been forced to spend the summer without any shelter,” said Erum Yasmeen, a midwife to most of these children.

‘I left for school after having breakfast in my home, but there was no home when I returned’

“The children present at the protest are not even a quarter of those who have dropped out of school owing to their homes being demolished,” she said, pleading to the chief justice of Pakistan to stop the demolitions.

Eleven-year-old Arbaz said he was shocked at finding his mother sitting and crying on the debris of their demolished house on his return from school. “I don’t know what happened. I left for school after having breakfast in my home. But there was no home when I returned.”

The family now burdened with the urgent need to resettle their entire life have been unable to send Arbaz to school since.

A resident of Tayyababad, 13-year-old Ali, told the media: “It is not only about not having a roof over your head. I can’t study at or do anything else as there is no electricity or even gas to cook our food. We are living like cats and dogs and Abbu [father] is doing nothing about it!”

Expressing his anger, Robin, a parent of one of the children from Kausar Niazi Colony, said: “I am a daily wage earner, and have invested all my savings into buying my home; only after the government decided to regularise this area. My question is why am I or my family being made to suffer for the government’s decision to regularise an area that they now say should not have been leased?”

Abid Asghar, head of the Gujjar Nullah Affectees’ Committee, asserted that all houses near the nullah are located at a distance from the drain. “Many of these settlements are as old as this country,” he said.

“The few houses that were actually situated close to the Gujjar Nullah had already been demolished in 2016. Those displaced during that demolition drive have yet to be compensated or rehabilitated.”

Asghar said the current demolitions have only been carried out to pave the way for 30-foot-wide roads on either side of the nullah – a construction that is neither a part of the area’s plan nor Karachi’s master plan, and neither is it required for the cleaning of the drain. “This point was also raised by Justice Hasan Azhar Rizvi during the case’s hearing at the Sindh High Court,” he said.

Head of the Orangi Nullah Affectees Committee Arsalan Ghani said: “Ninety per cent of Karachi is built on encroached land, but no one would even think about razing entire elite societies developed after cutting of mangrove forests.”

He also cited the construction of Bahria Town, a massive housing society developed on encroached agricultural land of Malir and Gadap Town.

“By demolishing only working-class neighbourhoods the state is not only showing its class character but is also creating a humanitarian crisis, affecting around 100,000 people and rendering over 21,000 children homeless.”

The children and their parents appealed to the Supreme Court to order the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation to stop demolishing their homes on the basis of a flawed survey conducted by students of NED, and consult senior urban planners and other organisations, such as the Orangi Pilot Project, Urban Resource Centre, Karachi Urban Lab and Technical Training Resource Centre to resolve the city’s drainage problem before initiating such criminal projects.

Published in Dawn, June 14th, 2021

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