Furniture shops won’t take extortionists sitting down

May 12, 2010

KARACHI: School children started crying and ambulance sirens wailed as traffic on Sharae Faisal remained suspended for over two hours on Wednesday.

The reason for this traffic jam on the city’s main artery was that shopkeepers from the furniture market on Nursery staged a protest against ‘bhatta’ (extortion money) collectors. The protesters from the furniture market, located in PECHS, Block 6, blocked the main road and threw stones at passing cars, breaking at least a dozen windows.

The protest started at noon and the main roads affected were Tipu Sultan Road, roads leading to Lucky Star and Saddar and Sindhi Muslim Housing Society. They also staged a sit-in and shouted slogans against the police and the government for failing to provide them protection from illegal money collectors. A heavy contingent of police and the paramilitary Rangers reached the site but they were unable to disperse the protesters as representatives of the furniture sellers had already warned the law-enforcement agencies of dire consequences if their protest was disrupted.

The police and Rangers offered to negotiate with the representatives of the furniture market association and they gave in after some time. The sit-in on Sharae Faisal continued for another hour while the negotiations took place. The police and Rangers assured the traders that they would act against the men who come to collect ‘bhatta’ and threaten the traders. They promised that they would be arrested soon. The traders vacated the road and returned to their shops but not before roads adjacent to Sharae Faisal had clogged up.

According to the shopkeepers, they had been receiving notes and threats from members of a political party. They used to pay the extortion money at first but of recent they had started to demand more. According to some reports this party would collect money depending on the apparent wealth of the store. One shopkeeper said that they would demand from Rs500 to Rs2,000. There are an estimated 250 shops in the area. Nursery is a market well known for its drapers and upholsters, furniture makers and antique dealers.

Published in the Express Tribune, May 13th, 2010.