Twelve-year-old Tehsinullah and his three younger sisters have not gone to school for the past month. They fear being killed on their way.
Tehsin’s father Habibullah told The Express Tribune that a warning went round their neighbourhood of Data Nagri in Orangi Town No.1. People have received warnings - including by men standing near school gates - about sending their children to school. They have been told their children will be “harmed”.
Habib hails from Mardan and works as a labourer. He earns about Rs300 a day if he gets work. “I am a poor man and cannot afford the fees of private schools,” he said. Most of the schools are in localities dominated by other ethnic groups. “It is dangerous sending our children to those areas. They also don’t let them in when the situation is tense,” he said. Most of the schools in Qasba Colony and Katti Pahari are in Urdu-speaking localities. In areas where a majority of Pathans live, the teachers employed at schools are mostly Urdu-speaking. So even if the schools are open, there are no teachers.
In these two areas, the education of around 30,000 children from 50 schools has been affected. According to a survey by the non profit organisation Bright Educational Society, the literacy rate in these two areas is a mere seven per cent. In Qasba Colony alone, 44 schools are empty.
The morbid warning to people like Habibullah hardly seems necessary when 22 children from Orangi and SITE have already fallen victim to violence in the last six months. Bright Educational Society works to educate children in the violence-hit areas, especially Orangi and SITE. It set up two schools, one in Qasba Colony, union council No.9, an area where mostly Pashtu-speaking people live. The other school was opened in union council No.8, which is an Urdu-speaking area. The schools are attended by children between the ages of five and 15.
Waheed Khan, who heads Bright Educational Society, said that the state of education was already poor, and the problem has become graver because of ethnic and political violence. “The Urdu-speaking children and teachers can’t go to school in Pashtu-speaking areas, and the Pashtu-speaking children can’t go to the schools in the Urdu-speaking areas.”
Khan said he was afraid of an ‘educational disaster’ in the two towns. According to Khan, about 500 students, enrolled at the Umer Farooq School in Katti Pahari and the M M Ulema School in Islamia Colony, have been affected by the ongoing violence in Karachi since most of the teachers are Urdu-speaking and are scared to go to work.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 28th, 2011.