Panel Discussion on Karachi with Arif Hasan

February 14, 2015
2015-02-13 20.35.28A panel discussion led by famed architecture of Karachi, Arif Hasan, took place at T2F (The Second Floor) on Friday 13th February, 2015. Panel was titled The Karachi "Situation": Exploring Responses. It started just after 7 pm and the panel included, along with Arif himself, Sabeen Mehmud (Founder T2F), Karamat Ali (Executive Director PILER) and a youth activist from Lyari.

The session began with the moderator telling the audience about the purpose of the meeting. It was a follow-up of a two-day conference held in December 2014 titled "Exploring Peace and Reconciliation: Towards a Karachi For All" under the banner of I AM KARACHI campaign. A document detailing the action plan, agenda, key points and proposed solutions of the conference was distributed among the participants as the moderator guided through some of the discussions held at the conference and solutions that were proposed. The panel discussion aimed at further responses from youth and general people to enhance the document and further develop a plan to improve situation of Karachi.

Arif Hasan shared his experienced with the audience, telling everyone how Karachi changed from a well planned city to the current jungle of concrete it is today. The severe lack of space for people to do any worthwhile activity be it parks, places of discussion and culture, cultural landmarks etc prevented development of the people itself and reduced sharing of ideas. It also restricted communication among people that is essential to the growth of the city. The transportation is a mess, once double-decker buses and Trams provided good public transport to the people. These were phased out and smaller vehicles were introduced until we ended up with Mini-Buses, then Rickshaws and Chinquis became the major source of commute. The poor were left with no option other than motor-bikes. Arif stressed the need for Karachi's development authority that has the capacity to plan and develop rather than the current Sindh Development Authority that is now the sole institution for the whole province, a detriment to city's development.

2015-02-13 19.41.52Sabeen Mehmud expressed the need to have cultural spaces and places for exchange of thoughts and ideas. She told about her experience with T2F and availability of space for lectures, discussions and various other events of cultural enhancement it has brought to this part of the city. Her visits to various institutions and asking students what they need to further improve their work showcase and exchange of ideas has regularly caused frustration because students complained a lot of lack of space for cultural activities but they were empty of ideas when space was provided. Sabeen stressed on the need to start working on the ideas they have and not lose hope even when the idea fails.

Karamat Ali related the current scenario from what has been happening in Pakistan since long and how some of the cultural changes took places due to misguided policies of the past. He stressed that the students of Karachi were the ones who always stood up against the government and the competition, debates and high level of idea sharing made student unions a potent force in the country. The ban in Zia's era on student unions and continuation of that ban by subsequent political and military governments has hurt the city tremendously. Karamat Ali shared a story from 1974 where Karachi's Labour Unions stood up against anti-Ahmadi rhetoric, when Mullahs took to the streets to demand ban on Ahmadis' and their identification/removal from companies etc. The Labour Unions decided it was not their job to target anyone on the basis of their religion and stop livelihood because if such a process began, it will not stop with Ahmadis but will progress to other sects and non-Muslims. The Mullahs went to mosques and announced the heads of Labour Unions to be Kafir for not supporting the movement against Ahmadis. In response the Labour Unions decided no member will pray behind these Mullahs nor send them food and clothing (Mullahs didn't receive foreign funding then like they do today and were dependent upon communities for food and clothing). One week later the Mullahs came with apology and request to stop the social boycott which was accepted by the Labour Unions. Such strength is no longer available to the common man as it was before. He also told story about a factory fire in New York back in 1911 where hundreds of workers had died and owner gave the same reasoning as was given by Baldia Town Factory owner, that cloth would not be stolen by the fleeing workers. But unlike Karachi 500,000 people marched on the streets of New York (total population of the city was 2 million) to demand inquiry and better management while not a single protest in Karachi despite a JIT report.

2015-02-13 19.42.01After a few words from activist from Lyari, the floor was open for questions and suggestions particularly solutions for the city's problems. For the next 15 to 20 minutes several people from the audience spoke, mostly complains of what was happening and what was not.

When the mic was back at the panel to respond, Arif Hasan smiled and said "Everyone spoke but no one gave any solution". Before the protesting voices would raise, he asked everyone to calm down and listen carefully. He said Karachi is divided into four cities:

  • The Saddar and old Karachi areas with Gujrati speaking business community and an associated working class that speaks Balochi and Pushto.

  • The Central and Newer Karachi areas such as Gulshan, F.B.Area, Malir, Johar etc with dominantly Urdu speaking population and large pockets of Sindhi and Balochi residents.

  • The periphery of the city with new Kachi Abadis that have Pushto speaking population

  • The DHA and Clifton areas where people communicate in a mix of languages including English

These areas have their own demographics and languages, hardly interacting with each other. These areas even have separate schooling systems, healthcare facilities, modes of transportation and nature of problems. This is not a natural evolution, it has been made this way for political and social purposes. The population implosion within these areas is another cause of concern because low density areas have been converted into high density areas. People no longer have spaces and large families are stuck in small rooms, eroding possibilities of personal growth.

Arif Hasan calmly explained the details of impact this has on people and environment and ended his answer by stressing need for Local Bodies (not like the one implemented in the previous decade) and for restoring Karachi Planning and Development Authority.

Other panelists also chimed in their responses, with Karamat Ali stressing the need to stand against the construction of nuclear power plants against which the city has no response. In case of a radiation leak, people cannot escape from the city and there is no evacuation plan nor there are any routes.

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