Bridge over troubled squatters: Ravi nomads take over as police step back

SP says meat sellers are not just traffic issue but law and order problem.


Karamat Bhatty August 10, 2011

LAHORE:


Sellers of ‘sadqa’ meat essentially control Ravi Bridge and the police are unable to do anything about it, The Express Tribune has learnt.


The vendors, who stand on the footpath waving pink plastic bags filled with animal organs at passing cars and rickshaws, are usually children, women or older people from the nomadic community settled on the river bed. Customers buy the meat and toss it into the water as a charity offering.

But the business slows traffic on the bridge, which is one of the main entrances into Lahore from the north and is always busy. Customers in vehicles stop on the road to buy the meat, holding up vehicles behind them. This often leads to lengthy traffic jams.

“This has been happening for years,” says Tariq Saeed, a resident of Shahdara and regular user of the bridge. “The police play a spectator’s role only. The traffic wardens are also helpless.”

City Division Superintendent of Traffic Police Mustafa Hameed Malik agreed that the vendors were a major impediment to the flow of traffic, but said it was very difficult to stop them. He said the problem was more of a law and order issue than a traffic issue and thus was the responsibility of the city police. “These nomad vendors have nothing to lose,” he said. “If you try to arrest them, all their people who live near the bridge come out onto the road and block it. They did the same thing three weeks ago.” Bashir, 17, says he has been selling ‘sadqa’ meat at Ravi Bridge since he was a little boy. He said that many of the men amongst them were addicts and gamblers who forced their wives and children into the business.

“They are our protectors too,” he said. “When the police try to arrest us, they come out on to the road with blades in their hands and they cut themselves. They try to make it bloody. The police are usually so horrified they let us go. If they don’t, the women and children block the road.”  SP Malik said he had seen protestors wound themselves with knives.

Shahdara Circle Deputy Superintendent of Police Agha Nasir said that whenever they arrested the men, their women and children would start protesting at the bridge and blocking traffic. He accused the courts of going easy on the nomads. “We arrest them, spend money on them, but the next day the courts set them free instead of sending them to jail. There is no deterrent,” he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 11th, 2011.

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