With changing demographics and new challenges, will the federal capital be able to keep the curve down on Eid?
Eid holidays have always been lackluster events for Islamabad, which will turn 55 this August. Usually, cities smile on festivals with their people. Islamabad is yet to have enough residents that identify with it to be at that stage. When (in 1967) this area was declared the federal capital, it became a centre of bureaucracy. Aamir Ghauri, resident editor of The News Islamabad, an old resident of the federal capital, recalls that these bureaucrats, including his father, were all from other parts of the country. “We had a good company of friends in Islamabad. There were many friends of our elders in the city. But a child cannot spend Eid with friends of his or her father,” Ghauri said, remembering many of his former neighbors who do not live in Islamabad any longer.
In the beginning, the city stretched from Parliament House to Sector F-8, he recalls. Later, Sector I-8 and others were set up. “Life was very peaceful then. Our college fellows from nearby Rawalpindi would tell us that we live 14 kilometres from Pakistan. But the tranquillity of the city became boring when Eid came,” he says. However, children of second generation Islamabad residents are different from their parents, he says. They are less willing to leave the city for their ancestral towns on Eid holidays. The third generation, as has been the case in the UK and other countries that have a Pakistani diaspora, identifies themselves with the city they have been born in.
Prof Dr Sajid Awan, director of the National Institute of Historical and Cultural Research, tells The News on Sunday (TNS) that he and his wife are second generation residents of Islamabad. They do not plan to visit their native town this Eid. “Covid-19 has changed that. Last year, we went to Sargodha, our native town, to spend Eid and it was not the right decision. This year, we are not going to repeat this mistake,” he says. “I caught the virus and the whole family came to realise how hard it is to survive it. The Islamabad administration has remained very careful through all that.” Prof Awan has spearheaded research on the lifestyle, history and archeology of Islamabad. He is a traditionalist but, gradually, his trust in modern technology is increasing. Now he holds his important meetings online. “There are no permanents in human life; it is punctuated by change and the survival of the fittest,” he says.
Deputy Commissioner Muhammad Hamza Shafqaat says that more than 80 percent of Islamabad’s residents have been following the coronavirus SOPs. As a result, the transmission rate is down five percent, according to data compiled by the National Command Operation Centre (NCOC). Shafqaat, on the frontline during the pandemic, caught the virus but has recovered. Islamabad Chief Commissioner Amer Ahmed Ali has also recovered from the disease and is back to work. Their experience has given them personal motivation in the fight against the pandemic. With changing demographics and new challenges, will the federal capital be able to keep the curve down on Eid?
Looking at how the city has changed, it seems to have been pushed towards the GT Road. Early residents of the city were concentrated in Sectors E, F and some parts of Sector G, at the foot of the Margalla Hills. Gradually, they sold their houses to wealthy entrepreneurs and rich politicians. The new residents of these areas are not permanent residents, so there is less movement in and out of the city on Eids. The real mess is in the areas flanking the Islamabad Expressway, as they have been filled by mostly illegal housing societies. “They are mostly new-comers to Islamabad, which is why you see them leaving the city in droves on Eids. You cannot deny them the right to call themselves Islamabad’s citizens but everyone knows that these areas are not as planned like the [rest of the] federal capital,” says Ghauri. The areas alongside this road house about two thirds of Islamabad’s population of 2.3 million. House robberies are commonplace when people leave for their hometowns leaving their houses locked.
This Eid, however, there will be less movement, as the government has banned public transport from May 8 to May 16. All recreational facilities will be closed on Eid, Shafqaat tells TNS. “Under the NCOC, we are in coordination with the administrations of the KP, Rawalpindi and the AJK. Roads leading to tourist spots in Murree, the KP and the AJK will also be closed for non-residents of these areas. Our slogan is: stay home, stay safe,” he says.
The Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB) has announced that all trails and other tourist facilities in the Margalla Hills will remain closed on Eid days. In light of these restrictions, the natural choice for residents would be to visit the beautiful lakes and historical places in the nearby Chakwal district. Chakwal Deputy Commissioner Bilal Hashim tells TNS that they will follow NCOC advice.
Madeeha Arsalan, a poet and playwright, says, let nature reset its balance. It is okay if people stay home for this Eid. She says that those who have left their houses behind have now rebuilt new ones. “All the same, your family houses always haunt you. The romance of small hometowns is a bit overrated in our literature. It is not that everything is hunky dory back there and everything is bad here. Every place has its baggage. I would say home is where the heart is and Eids are best celebrated at home,” she muses.
As on the last Eid, fewer people will leave Islamabad this time due to Covid-19 restrictions. There will be no road jams, children jumping in parks, crowded sweet shops, bustling mosques and noisy markets. The people of Islamabad have adapted to the changes that the pandemic has brought about. Due to the uniqueness of the federal capital and its demography, it is hard to generalise its Eid experiences, before Covid-19 or now.
The writer studies and teaches media. He can be reached on Twitter @furraat