The affected families say that without informing them, the encroachment officials are demolishing houses on a daily basis. Many say that no compensation has been paid by the Sindh government
“Our jhuggis (huts) were burnt down four times this year by anti-encroachment officials to vacate the land along the Gujjar Nala in Rehman Abad,” a Bengali woman, Sakeena, tells The News on Sunday (TNS). “We had built a small concrete house for our children after saving money for many years. The house was demolished by the government.”
Sakeena works as a house maid and is the only bread-earner for her four children. They were living in a one-room house, which has now been demolished by the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC)’s Anti Encroachment Wing. “Now, we are sleeping on the roadside, along the nala, and there is no washroom or kitchen to cook food for my children,” she laments. She says she was born and raised in the area. “I don’t have a CNIC or documentation of my house, because I belong to the Bengali community. This is why I have not received any compensation cheque from the Sindh government, the KMC or the DMC. They have paid compensation to some people who have CNICs,” she says.
The Christian community, Bengalis and other residents of the area are frightened and have expressed their concerns over the demolition of Churches, houses and religious places during the Gujjar Nala anti-encroachment operation. Thousands of affected families are facing challenges, as their houses have been demarcated for demolition. Many houses were demolished three or four times to construct a wider road along the Gujjar Nala.
The affected families say that the encroachment officials are demolishing houses on a daily basis without first informing them. Many say that no compensation has been paid by the Sindh government. The residents have condemned the demolition of Maqsood Elahi Mosque and St Joseph Church in Sadiq Nagar, and a Dargah of Chishti Sharif at Muhammadi Goth near Teen Hatti. Vulnerable communities are settled on both sides of Gujjar Nala. Many of their houses have been demolished several times by the KMC.
Zeenat, 59, a Christian lady living in Sadiq Nagar, tells TNS that the KMC’s anti-encroachment wing has demolished her house in three different phases. Now, she says, a single room and a corridor are left. “My 117 square-yards four-story house was demolished. I have not been paid a single penny or granted alternative land for the construction of a new house,” she says. “The KMC officials have collected the CNICs from me and my three sons, but we have not received any compensation in connection with house rent and utilities.”
Saifullah, 43, a resident in Punjab Colony, tells TNS that compensation cheques have been given to some of the affected people in Gujjar Nala area. “I have received a cheque for Rs 90,000. Anti-encroachment wing officials and an officer of the Central district deputy commissioner, clearly told me that since I don’t have the lease documents for the house, my family will get no alternative land. A majority of the people living in the Gujjar Nala area don’t have lease documents. The compensation money is a lollipop. Our demolished house was worth millions of rupees,” Saifullah says. He says PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah had announced during their visit to Gujjar Nala that the provincial government will provide land and compensation for new houses to the affected families. He says now they deny having made the promise.
The Christian community, Bengalis and other residents of the area are frightened and have expressed their concerns over the demolition of Churches, houses and religious places during the Gujjar Nala anti-encroachment operation
“My home was to lose 53 percent of its frontage, but they have now bulldozed over 60 percent of it and paid us no compensation,” says Younus Gill, a resident of Sadiq Nagar. Gill says that there are three or four families living under one roof in many cases, only one of them gets the compensation. “We have provided the CNICs of four people living on different floors of a four-storey house, but only one has received compensation. What are the rest supposed to do?” he asks.
St Joseph’s Catholic Church was demolished in an anti-encroachment drive in Gujjar Nala. The church’s facade had already been destroyed in anti-encroachment operation. Its white and pink main door leans against a surviving wall. St Joseph’s is the only church in Sadiq Nagar left standing out of four. Three Philadelphia Pentecostal Churches of the protestant community have been razed. Master Zohaib Javed of St Joseph’s Church tells TNS that the bulldozer broke the church in such a way that a large part of its roof collapsed after a wall and the pillars were demolished. “We wanted to rebuild its wall and pillars, but it is vanishing now,” he says.
“My house was marked three times by the anti-encroachment officials. They demolished 40 percent of it during a recent operation,” Sunila Anwar, a social activist, tells TNS. “Hardly five percent of the people have received compensation cheques in Kausar Niazi Colony. The whole area has been destroyed by the KMC. Its people are living on the street now. The Sindh government has not given any alternative plots to the Gujjar Nala families, the way it had given to affected families from Khuda ki Basti and Surjani Town, when the Lyari Expressway was built.”
Deen Muhammad, 60, tells TNS that the Chishti Sharif Dargah is several decades old. He says a large number of devotees used to come daily to offer fateha. “The KMC anti-encroachment officials destroyed this dargah without taking any measurements. From time to time, they mark the houses and places of worship and start demolishing them without assigning any reason,” he says.
Several civil society members visited Gujjar Nala on August 29 to meet with the affected families and expressed serious concerns over the demolition of religious places, the poor facilities and the conditions in which many women are living. Zahid Farooq of the Urban Resource Centre (URC), Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) vice chairperson Qazi Khizar, Karamat Ali of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER), Sindh Commission on the Status of Women chairperson Nuzhat Shirin and Seema Liaquat of the URC visited the church and other places, and inquired about the issues people in the area are facing during the operation. Qazi Khizar tells TNS that none of the anti-encroachment officials are interested in measuring the Nala or cleaning it. Instead, they measure the buildings and structures. When it rains heavily in Karachi, the water goes into people’s houses instead of the Nala, he said.
KMC Anti-Encroachment Wing Senior Director Bashir Siddique says that they have demolished 9 or 10 mosques and four or five churches during this operation. “We are just demolishing the houses, masjids and churches that have been marked for demolition,” he says. “We are following the map provided by the government to demolish illegal houses and other properties. We are properly verifying the IDs. After discussing the matter with the relevant departments, we are vacating the land on the Supreme Court’s orders. Those who have lease documents will be given alternative land. All others will receive only compensation cheques for displacement. The Rs 90,000 compensation cheques will be given to the affected families every six months, in lieu of house rent.”
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Karachi. He can be reached on Twitter @Zafar_Khan5