Karachi doesn’t do small. Everything about this megacity runs into the hundreds of thousands, the millions. It has slammed up against the sea and now it’s spreading out. But as development steamrolls ahead, the people living on Karachi’s outskirts are finding themselves at the eye of a hurricane that threatens to suck up their homes and history as it vacuums the landscape. They are the residents of its 2,173 goths who now want papers to their land.
On Wednesday, representatives of these goths or villages and many other little known colonies which are fighting for their right to existence, turned up at the office of the Urban Resource Centre to hear
Lal Bux Bhutto of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) talked about regularisation. This is a process in which a goth’s residents are given property rights, which they do not currently have as they exist but only in name and as a dot on a map. The PPP government started the process in 1993 but all the allotments were annulled five years later.
Now that the work has restarted, there is apprehension. Out of Karachi’s total of 2,173 goths, 653 have become abadies or urban as of November 2011. Sixty goths are within the existing urban areas while 593 goths are located in the peripheral towns of Keamari, Gadap and Bin Qasim.
“Don’t worry,” Lal Bux Bhutto assured the crowded hall of 50 people or so. “This time, whenever a village is being regularised, it is being registered with the provincial government.” Previously, a worthless temporary resident certificate was handed out. This time the villages being regularised are being given property leases.
“The process is irreversible,” explained Bhutto. He should know. For one, he hails from Mauripur village in Hawkesbay and has been fighting this fight for a while. Also, his son is the minister for Katchi Abadies and Spatial Development, Nadeem Bux Bhutto.
However, the process of regularisation for a goth is not easy either. Legally, the goths are villages which existed before 1985. The entire burden of proof that the village existed before March 1985 falls on the residents themselves. The evidence they need to show includes any three official documents from at least 40 homes to show that people had lived at that specific site.
They need to come up with birth and death certificates, identification cards with the address of the goth, an old mail envelop with the address or a document from a court proceeding. If the goth is located in an urban area, the documents have to be submitted to the Sindhi Katchi Abadies Authority and to the Sindh revenue department if the village is located in a rural part of the city.
The people have no choice but to go through this paperwork. “This is unfair. When the government is here to help people, why are we being made to run from office to office? The relevant officials should come to us and collect the evidence,” said activist Tariq Aziz, who turned up for the meeting.
The people are angry that they have to prove themselves now because their ancestors have been living on this land well before Karachi even existed. “Most of these rural localities have been here for 750 years, well before Karachi’s urban settlements were established,” said Bhutto.
For example, Saint Mangophir passed away in 1252, so the people estimate that his shrine is about 850 years old. Ironically, however, the impoverished Manghophir village still doesn’t have roads. Then there is the example of the Baloch graveyard in Malir’s Murad Memon Goth which is about 512 years old. “All these historic facts prove that the villages were here before the high-rise towers were erected,” said Bhutto.
As they have been off the government’s radar, these goths and villages have not received the kind of attention that the rest of Karachi has. And as the urban parts of the city developed, resources were stretched thinner. “Some goths used wells near Gadap, others depended on the Malir and Hub rivers for their water,” said Bhutto. “But since the Hub dam was built [to supply Karachi water], the underground aquifers have dried up.”
Neglect by successive governments has pushed people from these villages to the brink where the fight for property ownership has preceded the need for even basic civic works like water and sewerage pipelines. In terms of area, these villages, some of which are in middle of DHA, are twice the size of urban Karachi. But perhaps the government has not paid them attention as their population is just 5.8 per cent of urban Karachi. “Plainly put, the most deprived parts of Karachi are the Goths,” remarked Bhutto.
The state’s indifference has kept these villages trapped in a continuous cycle of poverty. Without better schools and colleges, people are not able to improve their lives and surroundings. “A professor would never want to teach at a college in one of these villages,” said Bhutto. “He would always want to be posted at DJ College [in Saddar].”
Haji Khan Solangi arrived at the meeting from Bilawal Jokhio Goth where he said his ancestors had lived for over 100 years. “Back in 1880, the Jokhio, Kalmati and Brohi tribes from Sindh settled in what is now Scheme 33,” he said.
But the village of 10,000 people does not exist for the municipal service providers. “There is no road or piped water. Sewerage lines were laid just recently. We still don’t have the lease to the land we have inhabited for generations,” he said with a bitter laugh.
His goth is on the list of villages to be regularised, but no one knows exactly how. “The district coordination office asks us for an NoC from Malir Cantonment board, which does not recognise us at all. For months, we have been running from one office to another.”
And Solangi is one of the luckier ones, who can at least say thank you, excuse me and other words in broken English while dealing with officials. For less fortunate others watch helplessly as their land is annexed acre by acre to different projects and ‘development’ schemes.
Over the years, these goths have also faced the effects of development around them. For example, some of the colonies have been squeezed in between settled areas where property prices have skyrocketed over the years.
In 1991, for example, people were allowed to settle in Junejo Town, located in Defence Housing Authority limits. “Slowly, the amenity plots were constructed upon, the school’s building turned into a bazaar and we lost regularisation,” said Shaukat Hussain, who came to the meeting.
Madho Goth in Gulshan-e-Iqbal lost its battle for a football ground that is now occupied by a flyover and a hypermarket has taken over an amenity plot.
Thus the removal of villages in the name of development has increased a sense of mistrust among the people. Tariq Aziz, an activist of Hasan Aulia village in Site Town, has been resisting the construction of the Lyari Expressway. “Convincing people to support us is easy,” he said. “All we have to do is take them to the resettlement colonies [the government provides] where schools and dispensaries are closed and there is no water.” The residents then understand that the government wants them off lucrative land but is shunting them off to places where there are no amenities.
Umer Farooq Colony along Shahrah-e-Faisal has discovered that it falls in the path of a proposed Karachi Circular Railway. But it has learnt from the misfortune of others. “This colony and many others were built on railway land. We will not move until proper compensation is offered to us,” says Waqar Awan, another activist.
At the URC meeting there were outbursts against the PPP, as participants said that despite claiming to be a party for the poor, it has not done enough. Lal Bux Bhutto struggled to win them over. “There are so many problems. Protests won’t help. Write an application to the chief minister and come to my office.” But perhaps that is the last thing they want to do.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 16th, 2012.
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