KARACHI: Just as each of the previous 17 days were special with something different happening at the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) sit-in outside the Sindh Assembly, day 18, Monday, is the day of the girl students from Jamiat-ul-Mohsinat Intermediate Girls College.
Dressed in flowing beige abayas with cream colour scarves and navy blue sashes, they arrive in two big buses and walk in a neat line. Some carry placards with slogans written out in beautiful writing that can pass off as calligraphy, some carry rolled up cardboard paper in their hands, some blue, black, green and red markers.
All happily take a seat in the front rows under the winter sun. But as it grows hot, they raise their already done placards for shade. The placards carry messages such as Haq Do Karachi Ko/Badal Do Karachi Ko (Give Karachi its right and give it a chance to transform), Khudee Khulein Gee Zanjeerein/Tukray Tukray Ho Jaengee/Jab Hadd Se Guzrein Gee Zanjeerein (The chains will break into pieces when spread thin), Teen Crore Insaano/Apni Ginti Penchhano (Thirty million people, there is power in numbers), etc.
‘Karachi was the place where caravans reached to settle down. Now they just pass through’
Surrounding them several banners spell out loud and clear the JI stance rejecting control over Karachi through the ‘black’ local government law of the Sindh government. On the closed shut assembly building gates, inside the tent walls, the writing on the Panaflex is very clear. ‘Unacceptable!’
Engineer Sabir Ahmed, a JI leader from Karachi, takes the microphone to speak to the students along with the other women gathered there. He talks about their struggle of the past few days, of sitting here in the rain and sitting here in the freezing weather after the rain.
“But we are not here for the Jamaat-i-Islami, we are here for powers that should be given to a city’s mayor,” he says. Making it simpler for the students to understand, he adds: “The city functions in pieces right now. Think of Karachi as a cake and the different institutions here as different pieces of cake with varied flavours,” he says.
Not so ignorant, the students also have their say. Urdu, Arabic, Sindhi, Pashto ... they express their views in all languages, fluently.
Young Laiba Mushtaq talks about her transport woes, Noor ul Huda reminds they are not gathered to ask for any kind of dole. They are there for their rights. Alina Ali thanks JI for standing up for their rights and assures them of support. Rukhsana Paracha from DHA tells the girls that they are like the first welcome drops of rain on parched land. “Anything is possible when you stand together,” she says.
The vice president of the JI’s women’s wing in Karachi, Sana Alim, was also there with Shabana Naeem and Sumaiya Aamir of JI’s media cell in Karachi.
“Karachi was the place where caravans reached to settle down. Now they just pass through. No one wants to live here. The children are leaving due to disillusion and discontent. They are leaving behind old and lonely parents, who then only meet them on video calls. All this discontent and frustration has its roots in wrong census and wrong dissolution of resources, wrong budget break-ups,” says Shabana Naeem.
When asked if the prolonged sit-in would have any results, Shabana Naeem nods. “You should know how to register your protest. We can teach you a thing or two about how to carry out a protest. Just watch how we do it,” she says.
Munim Zafar, secretary general at JI Karachi, explains more. “You cannot give in or give up,” he says. “We are now used to all kinds of conditions here. Come rain or shine, we are here. You can say that we are conditioned. See, we have covered the big tents in plastic in case it rains again. We also have the smaller blue plastic canopies on the sides. And even if we didn’t have these, we are hardened by the difficulties we had to face last two weeks ago and after,” he smiles.
But it has not been very difficult. While raising their demands, they have also been killing time by holding mushaira, naat competitions, speech competitions, poetry competitions for children including several inter-city competitions. They have also been playing sports. From boxing and taekwondo demonstrations to badminton, football and T20 cricket in which JI Karachi chief Hafiz Naeem ur Rehman also played, the people at the sit-in have been busy doing something or the other and right there on the road occupied by them to raise their demands and highlight their grievances.
It draws even more people to the sit-in. “They come here and share their issues with us. We have had youngsters coming here to talk about how the parks and playgrounds near their homes are vanishing,” the secretary general shares.
Soon it is time for the students to return. But first Hafiz Naeem ur Rehman wants to have a word with them. “My daughters, sisters, mothers and teachers, thank you for joining us today and sharing your views and issues. It was good to hear you express yourselves in different languages,” he says to them.
“For the smooth running of a city, you need your local bodies to have authority. But sadly if the provincial government has its way, a union council is to represent a population of 70,000 to 75,000 while in the rest of Sindh it is for every 13,000 to 20,000 people. We question this difference,” he adds.
“We want all local body institutions to have authority. We don’t want the health and education budgets getting drained into corruption. Karachi is being overlooked and ignored. Why go far, see the gutters overflowing around the Sindh Assembly? This government cannot even stop sewerage water from accumulating outside its offices, how will it run this city like this?” He rests his case.
Published in Dawn, January 18th, 2022