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Associating Lyari with only violence and crime termed an ungrateful act

By Zoya Anwer
November 11, 2018

History and people of Lyari and how the once war-torn area was recovering from the ills of the gang war that persisted for several years were the subject of one of the sessions on the second day of the Karachi Conference on Saturday.

The conference is being held at the Institute of Business Administration. Authors Ramzan Baloch and Umair Razzaq and educationist Abdul Jalil Ibrahim participated in the session, titled ‘Lyari Revisited’, which was chaired by scholar Dr. Kaleemullah Lashari.

Baloch spoke about harmony among people that had been a constant feature of Lyari even before it was colonised by the British. According to him, the locality was inhabited by fisherfolk before it came under the control of the East India Company.

As the British Raj expanded the port, people from Balochistan were employed to load and unload goods at the port, Baloch said.

Discussing the time of Partition, the speaker said residents of Lyari welcomed migrants from India with open arms and in a particular area of Lyari, Bihari community still lived today in a large number.

Baloch remarked that as the decade of 80s witnessed shift in the attitudes of people, social dynamics in Lyari were also affected. Mentioning that it was a home to intellectuals, the speaker bemoaned the trend of associating Lyari with criminals.

"People like me have seen the better times in Lyari too so we do have hopes; whereas, the youngsters were exposed to just darker times. They're not admitted to universities and not provided job opportunities so how would we expect them to stay positive about their conditions?" he asked.

Razzaq was of the view that a lot of negativity had been unnecessarily associated with Lyari. He lamented that a reputable magazine even compared Lyari to Waziristan, and later on, media outlets deliberately focused on elements that besmirched reputation of Lyari.

“While we are not denying the harsh times, we are also stating that the conditions have improved considerably and we are working for our youth by filling the vacuum. We have girls who do boxing and play football and now there are many artists emerging from the area as well,” he said.

Ibrahim maintained that associating Lyari only with crime and violence was an ungrateful act. “We need to remember that Lyari helped in building the city and not the other way round.”

The educationist felt that the Bushra Zaidi road accident case of late 1980s changed the entire sociopolitical dynamics of the city and during those times, people would turn to Lyari to find peace.

Ibrahim also emphasised that after the operation against criminals, peace had been restored in Lyari and women and men were working together to make it a better place for all. Dr Nida Kirmani’s paper ‘Is Having Fun a Feminist Act? Gender, Mobility and Resistance in Lyari, Karachi’ explored various aspects of women trying to reclaim public spaces in the locality by finding amusement in their day-to-day activities.

She explained that organised political activities cannot be solely dubbed as feminist as there can also be subtle ways of endorsing feminism such as adopting changes in daily activities which challenge patriarchy.

Kirmani claimed that as compared to the previous generations, the ratio of men and women acquiring education in Lyari was almost equal and even though only 20 per cent women had joined the workforce, it was a lot as compared to the previous years.

“We also need to focus on the women’s right to enjoy, which means that the women must also have an access to public spaces in a non-productive and non-consumptive way. While speaking to women who come for vocational training like languages or IT, I learnt that they were not necessarily doing the courses to get employment but rather they would come to have fun by interacting with their fellows and getting some time off from their families,” she said.

Two young women from Lyari Girls Café also shared their experience of reclaiming public spaces through cycling and challenging stereotypes by not bowing down to societal pressures.