Hand holding and sitting close to each other in a park should not be judged, said an official from the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation. “It is not obscene.”
His remarks come at a time when four non-governmental organisations are suing a television channel for a programme in which a host ran around a park trying to ‘expose’ the ‘immorality’ of the couples sitting there. The ‘witch hunt’ was steamrolled by public indignation that this kind of policing had no place in parks, which serve as a respite for the residents of Karachi, a city that is bursting at its seams.
“If we start going around checking up on people like this, then the first ban would be put on a man and his wife,” said the director general of the city parks, Liaquat Ali Khan, referring to the close contact necessitated by sitting on a motorcycle. He stressed that couples were free to use Karachi’s parks and did not have to declare or justify the status of their relationship to anyone. The security guards have been told not to harass anyone.
The KMC official gave the example of Dubai where there was a mosque but anyone could also go to a night club if they wanted. “If it is a matter of right and wrong, then let the people decide,” he said.
There are 1,500 public parks in Karachi, some of which charge an entry fee. Safari Park, Hill Park and Quaid-e-Azam’s mazaar’s grounds are some of the most popular places for young couples, including those from lower middleclass families who may not have the luxury of their own spaces at home. “Attempts to raise the entry fee at the parks have failed repeatedly,” he said. “Some people who come here only have Rs5 or Rs10 to spare after they pay for their bus fare.”
Last month, 27-year-old AA took his girlfriend GH to a park on his motorcycle. “From the gate all the way to the bench, everyone was staring,” he said. “The security guards, the gardener – even men who were there with their families were staring at us.” He added that going somewhere else was out of the question. While talking to The Express Tribune, he said that he had thought of renting a beach hut for Rs1,000 but it would only create more problems. He said that couples went to restaurants to eat and liked to relax and have a romantic time under the shade of a tree in a park.
“There are no rules which can dictate how someone should behave in a park,” said Sindh High Court Advocate Shaukat Sheikh while talking to The Express Tribune. “The KMC and cantonment boards have made their own code of conduct for some parks but officials claim that they do not dictate the way people are supposed to behave.” According to the advocate, a couple of years ago some people were arrested and penalised for objectionable behaviour.
The additional inspector-general of Karachi, Akhtar Hussain Gorchani, said that he would not defend the conduct of policemen who harassed couples to make money. He added that he was shocked at this sort of behaviour and would prefer the force to focus on catching criminals.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 30th, 2012.