Among the protesters were two bearded men who kept their hunger pangs at bay by lying down on the ground and trying to sleep. Some kept themselves busy reading newspapers, while others played games on their phones. But once their revered leader started speaking to them via telephone, they all turned their attention towards him.
This is the camp of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), whose workers are on a hunger strike against the court-directed media ban on their party chief Altaf Hussain, and therefore cannot eat and drink for at least 12 hours a day.
Party leader Dr Farooq Sattar, who usually has a light breakfast, had two eggs with slices of bread Friday morning before he came to participate in the first day of the four-day hunger strike.
“We went on a hunger strike in 1998 against the construction of Kalabagh Dam. It was for 24 hours every day and went on for a week. Hum mar gaye thay us main [we nearly died then],” he said narrating the experience. Next to him, another party leader Nasreen Jalil clad in a yellow and blue sari, sat back smiling.
The camp will run from 11am to 11pm for the next three days. It was set up for 50 people, but by late afternoon, around 200 had gathered. Party workers have occupied one side of the road outside Karachi Press Club, but as more people arrived, the crowd spread out.
With a couple of local newspapers spread out in front of Sattar, he said he had invited members of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and civil society to join them. “The ban is actually on the media. They can’t air speeches of a political leader,” he claimed.
“We have taken permission from the Sindh government for the protest,” said MQM spokesperson Aminul Haque.
The next hearing in Lahore High Court against the media ban is scheduled for February 23, after which the party will decide its next course of action.
“If it’s not in our favour, we will hold protests and shut down Karachi,” warned Haque.
‘We miss him’
In the background, speakers blared out a slow song, titled ‘Mohajirnama’ by the party.
During the sit-in, a man in his sixties fainted and was then administered a drip at the medical camp the party has set up in the vicinity.
Ghazala Zia, a counselor from UC-10 Lines Area, had a cup of tea and came straight to the protest at 11am. “It’s been months since I heard Altaf bhai’s speeches. We miss him.”
A student, Syeda Zonah Naqvi, rushed off to university to submit her assignment in the morning and then came to the protest with her five friends. “I feel a bit hungry, but when you know the cause is right, hunger doesn’t matter.”
Published in The Express Tribune, February 20th, 2016.