The murder on Wednesday evening of the Karachi-based social worker Parveen Rehman is a bitter blow to the development community at large and, more specifically, the poor people of Orangi and those who benefited from the work of the Orangi Pilot Project, of which she was director. She was just 56 and had devoted her life to the uplift and care of poor urban communities in Karachi. She never sought the limelight and was rarely interviewed but her work had international recognition – she won the UN Habitat Award in 2001. It appears that she was aware of the threats to her life and had been so for years, probably because her work impinged on the activities of assorted land mafias and others who exploited the poor.
Thus Pakistan loses another brave, devoted and resourceful person who gave her life freely in the service of the poor. Under her leadership, the OPP had managed to avoid the taint of corruption that dogs the steps of so many NGOs. Within minutes of her murder, tributes were pouring in on various social media networks from not just Pakistan but across the world. But tributes, honour and respect are no shield against a gunman’s bullet. The evil forces that killed Parveen Rehman have free range in this country, ruled as we are by the corrupt at every level who are bent on self-interest rather than the uplift of a population that is mostly poverty-stricken, has inadequate sanitation and poor drinking water supplies – all issues addressed by the OPP and Parveen Rehman. Whoever killed her, whether it was a ‘banned organisation’ or thugs working for land mafias and encroachers, is unlikely ever to be caught, much less punished. The culture of impunity that has grown on the cancer of corruption ensures protection for even those committing the most heinous of crimes. Rest in peace, Parveen Rehman – your country is the poorer for your passing but it will only be the poor and your fellow-workers who will keep your memory alive.