A large number of children belonging to the families that have been affected by the evictions caused by the operation to clear the Gujjar and Orangi storm water drains of encroachments held a protest on Sunday to appeal to the Supreme Court to not lift the stay on demolitions.
Holding placards, the participants of the protest gathered outside the Karachi Press Club to highlight the humanitarian crisis that has developed in the city’s District Central because of the demolitions.
The recent demolitions, which resulted after the SC’s August 20 order regarding the cleaning of the city’s nullahs, have already rendered a large number of children homeless, while a conservative estimate suggests that at least 21,000 kids will be left without a home by the end of the operation.
“While children residing in elite housing societies, many of which are built on encroached land, continue to live comfortably in air-conditioned rooms and attend school, children of the working-class neighbourhoods near the Orangi and Gujjar nullahs have been forced to spend the summer without any shelter,” said Erum Yasmeen, a midwife to most of these children.
“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, which is now burdened with the urgent need to resettle their entire life, has been unable to send Arbaz to school since. Thirteen-year-old Tayyababad resident Ali told the media: “It’s not only about not having a roof over your head. I can’t study or do anything else because there’s no electricity, or even gas to cook our food. We’re living like cats and dogs, and Abbu [Father] is doing nothing about it!”
Robin, a parent of one of the children from Kausar Niazi Colony, said: “I’m a daily-wage earner, and had 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, stressed that all the houses near the storm water drain are located at a distance from it. “Many of these settlements are as old as this country,” he shared.
“The few houses that were actually situated close to the Gujjar Nullah had already been demolished in 2016. Those displaced during that demolition drive are yet to be compensated or rehabilitated.”
Asghar said that the current demolitions have only been carried out to pave the way for 30-feet-wide roads on either side of the nullah, a construction that is a part of neither 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 hearing at the Sindh High Court.”
Arsalan Ghani, head of the Orangi Nullah Affectees Committee, 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 mangrove forests.”
He also referred to the construction of 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 about 100,000 people and rendering over 21,000 children homeless.”
The children and their parents appealed to the SC to order the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation to stop demolishing their homes on the basis of a “flawed” survey conducted by the students of the NED University of Engineering & Technology.
They suggested consulting senior urban planners and other organisations, such as the Orangi Pilot Project, the Urban Resource Centre, the Karachi Urban Lab and the Technical Training Resource Centre, to resolve the city’s drainage problem before initiating such “criminal” projects.