March 8: Bushra Zaidi, the woman who changed Karachi forever, by dying

Published: March 8, 2012
For international women’s day, we take a look back at the one name that stands out.

For international women’s day, we take a look back at the one name that stands out.

Announcement of curfew timings due to protests. PHOTO: DAWN ARCHIVES Protests continued the day after. PHOTO: DAWN ARCHIVES The map of the incident. PHOTO: DAWN ARCHIVES Staff report on first day of protest. PHOTO: DAWN ARCHIVES First day report by Dawn showing a photo by Zahid Hussein. PHOTO: DAWN ARCHIVE For international women’s day, we take a look back at the one name that stands out.

There is only one woman for Karachi.

Bushra Zaidi.

Her name launched a thousand protests and forever altered the city’s history. This is not to belittle the daily toil of our homemakers, nurses, architects, CEOs – women who contribute to Karachi just as much as any of its residents. But for International Women’s Day, we thought we would remember Bushra, the 20-year-old Sir Syed Girls College student, whose death in a traffic accident on April 15, 1985 was a turning point in the lives of everyone who has lived and will live in Karachi.

Twenty-seven years have passed, but Abdul Qayyum, who works as a clerk at the sports department at the college in Nazimabad, still has fresh memories of the day she died. “There were two N-1 minibuses racing and one of the bus drivers couldn’t apply the brakes in time,” he told The Express Tribune. Such is collective memory that many people believe that Bushra was killed while alighting from the bus and not as a result of being hit by one. Daily Dawn reported that the bus had knocked over a group of students, and three others were injured along with Najma.

According to Qayyum, Bushra and her sister Najma were crossing Nawab Siddiq Ali Khan Road at the time. Najma was badly injured – her leg was reportedly fractured – but Bushra was killed. Her body was taken to Abbasi Shaheed Hospital before the college staff arrived at the scene. They arranged a car for Najma to be taken to the hospital.

“The students of the Sir Syed Girls College tried to protest but [Professor Atiqa] Baig – the principal at the time – closed the college gates,” recalled Qayyum. “The girls forced their way out and were joined by female protesters from the nearby Usmania College and adjacent Government Degree College for Women, Nazimabad.” They gathered at Golimaar Chowrangi and boys from colleges in the vicinity also joined them. The boys toppled and then torched the bus.

The state responded. The police first lathi-charged the protesters and then unleashed an intense bout of teargas. The shells fell inside Sir Syed Girls College and even inside an ambulance. Dawn reported that four people were wounded by bullets and pellets, 80 were taken to hospital. It was so bad that the people living in Nazimabad had to keep buckets of water to counter the effects of the tear gas.

Students boycotted classes, put up barricades and pulled down hoardings. Dawn described scenes of total panic in Nazimabad and Liaquatabad, where the protests spread, and educational institutions were shut down for three days. The curfew was lifted for a few hours in select areas so people could buy food.

The ire of the protesters inevitably turned on the transporters. This sector was dominated by Pathans and this is what people have generally come to believe was the bus driver’s background. This has been cited in several books and research. Here too there is a discrepancy in the story and confusion. According to Ghous Ali Shah, who was the chief minister in 1985, the man who was caught and tried in a sessions court for his role in the accident, was originally from Azad Kashmir. And then, according to the president of Karachi Transport Ittehad, Irshad Hussain Shah Bukhari, the crime was committed by a Punjabi-speaking driver, who later spent 10 years in jail, and not a Pakhtun.

Nonetheless, Bushra’s death precipitated ethnic riots and violence. A week on, the toll reached 50 with 300 people injured, according to an account by the Associated Press (AP) news agency at the time. “Every ten minutes someone is being brought to the hospital with gunshot wounds,” AP was told by a local reporter for the second day of the riots.

Ghous Ali Shah ordered an investigation. The IG of police at the time was Agha Saadat Ali Shah, who is now dead. The investigating officer of the case, SSP Munawar Ali, died in 2006. Bushra Zaidi’s family, who had no political affiliation, are believed to have left the city and have not been heard from since the mid-1990s. Her father was reportedly working in Oman when his daughter was killed, and flew back.

Tahir Siddiqui, who owns a printing press in Nazimabad’s printing market, was approached by some boys who wanted a pamphlet to be prepared. He recalled how it contained inflammatory messages against Pathans and how it was later distributed in the Nazimabad area. No group was named on them.

Student leader Altaf Hussain had already created the All Pakistan Mohajir Students Organisation by then. Bushra’s death became a breaking point for a people who had already complained of not just the changes in the city, but also state discrimination. “For the first time, Karachi was high on the list of government priorities and things began to change,” recalled Dr Farooq Sattar of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), while commenting on what Bushra’s case did for Karachi. For one, he told The Express Tribune, it led to a commission being set up in the late 1980s by then chief secretary Masooduz Zaman, who realised that there was a sense of deprivation and it needed to be corrected with the allocation of resources.

Subsequently, during Sattar’s tenure as mayor, 100 million gallons of water were added to the city’s supply. “Improving civic infrastructure, developing a mass transit programme, the water allocations… these were all as a result of the Bushra Zaidi accident,” Sattar said.

The MQM is not the only stakeholder that agrees with this. “It was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Munawwar Hasan, who now leads the Jamaat-e-Islami. “It was evident, but nobody could really see it [at the time].”

And thus, as we look back, nearly three decades on, we see that, in some ways, Bushra Zaidi is the only woman who matters for Karachi.


the IMAGE of the newspaper for
april 15, 1985 is COURTESY of DAWN ARCHIVES


Published in The Express Tribune, March 8th, 2012.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (61)

  • Sad
    Mar 8, 2012 - 4:07AM

    Rest in peace, Bushra.


  • usmanx
    Mar 8, 2012 - 4:09AM

    we are a violent people, aren’t we? so respectful at home, so tyrannical outside.


  • ali
    Mar 8, 2012 - 4:55AM

    The curse of division was imposed upon us. I don’t think the driver of the van wanted to kill Bushra. It was an accident and should have been treated as such. What about the murders of May 12th. Years from now when I will be an old man and probably sitting in a small room drinking tea, I will hear on the news about the dreadful end of all those who used this accident to come to power and then abused it.


  • Proud Pakistani
    Mar 8, 2012 - 6:52AM

    You forgot to mention why the residents of the city began hating the pathans. Whether anybody Justifies it or not facts need to be mentioned clearly and in a well-balanced manner.


  • zalim singh
    Mar 8, 2012 - 6:53AM

    good article


  • Mar 8, 2012 - 7:59AM

    City government or communities themselves should put bollards on bus stops and crossings esp near colleges and university. I don’t think they cost that much.


  • asif
    Mar 8, 2012 - 8:14AM

    it was the violent action that followed bushra’s death that changed everything in karachi.bushra wasn’t an activist,she never knew how her death would be used for political gains and the incitement of violence.That poor girl never knew how her death would be used.


  • zeeshan akthar
    Mar 8, 2012 - 8:18AM

    the violence and bloodshed unleashed after zaidi’s death was horrifying.innocent lives were lost in ethnic bloodshed.ethe fight for control of karachi was on.sadly,bushra’s death was used as an excuse to shed more blood.


  • Ali Tanoli
    Mar 8, 2012 - 8:20AM

    I agreed man but karachi is become a give me more. and pathans of karachi are more visible
    and easy to target.


  • irfan siddiqui
    Mar 8, 2012 - 8:22AM

    ”Who changed karachi by dying”

    she didn’t even have an idea of how her death would be exploited.stop putting responsibility on the dead.


  • Critique
    Mar 8, 2012 - 8:39AM

    Love how you’re using a Dawn newspaper clipping as your photo


  • Lord
    Mar 8, 2012 - 9:19AM

    Yes i have heard the same.My elders tell me the same story that she was a person who changed it all. May God bless her poor soul.


  • Pakistani
    Mar 8, 2012 - 9:31AM

    Straw that broke the camel’s back? Really? Or was it that some opportunists used this accident to inflame ethnic hatred and terrorism in Karachi?


  • Topak Khan
    Mar 8, 2012 - 9:32AM

    You conveniently ignored the question, why did the college students responded with such an anger in a city where traffic accidents are sadly a norm


  • AliRizvi
    Mar 8, 2012 - 9:34AM

    Yes….Who can forget her. After that we all know what happened in karachi.


  • asma
    Mar 8, 2012 - 9:40AM

    what now? every day some Bushra is being killed, raped, torchered and it doesnt matter at all!


  • Enam
    Mar 8, 2012 - 9:45AM

    Yes, in a great many ways, Bushra did matter to Kara.
    I really loved this recollection piece on Karachi. Thank you.


  • Wisk
    Mar 8, 2012 - 9:48AM

    Yes she changed Karachi but not in a good way mind you, we are still under the curse of division and ethnic violence. Been more than two decades !


  • jock
    Mar 8, 2012 - 9:50AM

    I once passed through the pedestrian bridge named in her memory. People still don’t use it. Lamentable.


  • Ayesha
    Mar 8, 2012 - 10:11AM

    Her legacy can also be that the Mohajir – Pathan clashes continue to occur in this city till date.


  • Bilal
    Mar 8, 2012 - 10:23AM

    don’t see that “Bushra Zaidi incident” as stand alone event, but actually in general behavior of Pathan drivers was not good with bus riders, and the people anger culminated to its peak after incident and didn’t even really bother to check who actually did it.


  • arsalan
    Mar 8, 2012 - 10:43AM

    what that horrific accident pointed towards and still today what is badly needed is a proper mass transit system for Karachi where the operators are not illiterate villagers but educated young men who can respect fellow motorists and can value human life


  • Seema Faraz
    Mar 8, 2012 - 11:03AM

    I dont think that this simple incident changed the lives of Karachi. There was this far greater event back in time when Ayub Khan’s son ignited the law and order situation , standing against Mohterma Fatima Jinnah. I think Media must show responsibility and report any thing with full facts & figures. A vague report. Could have done better.


  • Jugnoo
    Mar 8, 2012 - 11:20AM

    God Bless Busha in heavens..
    her death has given voice to so many deprived and oppressed peoples.
    Maroons will surely call it a conflict between communities but they don’t realize the majority of karachites were being overlooked and now they have their voice across world.


  • Mar 8, 2012 - 11:28AM

    Why there is no ethnic violence in lahore, peshawar, larkana etc?


  • Farrukh Shabbir
    Mar 8, 2012 - 11:44AM

    The DAWN bits were absolutely amazing!Recommend

  • daredevil
    Mar 8, 2012 - 12:05PM

    Actually the ethnic tensions had reached a boiling point, only waiting for an incident like this.


  • M. R@fique Zakaria
    Mar 8, 2012 - 12:06PM

    Please stop blaming Bushra Zaidi. The heading of this article “Bushra Zaidi, the woman who changed Karachi forever, by dying” is itself very offending. Did she ask the bus drivers to get in to the race which resulted in her death. Poor girl lost her life for nothing. Political parties encashed that incident to gain political mileage. What was Bushra’s fault in it???

    I remember very well that when situation turned violent, Bushra Zaidi’s father appealed to people of Karachi through television to calm down. He even went to the extent of forgiving the driver if that could help to stop violence.

    Instead of leaving the bitter memories behind, we are enthusiastically discussing the incident today. This article will definitely rub salt on the drying wounds of Bushra’s parents. Lets take some nails of wisdom.

    M. R@fique Zakaria


  • riaz
    Mar 8, 2012 - 12:15PM

    it was after bushra’s death that whole political environment of the city turned on ethnic lines. Till now violence has become so rampant that no any peaceful political activity can be done in the city. Specially progresive politics by students flew away from city’s campuses


  • Mar 8, 2012 - 12:16PM

    I heard this story 3 years back, Incident of Bushra Zaidi was a catalyst in the whole scenario. But its true that incident changed Karachi Forever.


  • Saud Usmani
    Mar 8, 2012 - 12:43PM

    The people commenting today who are not present at that time, don’t have any idea of ethnic disparity, ignorance and deprivation which we (Karachiwalay) were facing for very long time, infact it was since the “inglorious” period of one Mr. “Field Marshal”, that fueled the rage first against the Rulers and then against a certain ethnic group! The pot was on the fire for many years, that day was when it started spilling out. it was another black chapter we “Karachiwalay” went through…it was a sad day. I was in school happily enjoyed Halfday, not knowing whats coming…………and still going on.


  • Waqas Farooq
    Mar 8, 2012 - 12:48PM

    Good effort Noman, Well written


  • sick of this nonsense
    Mar 8, 2012 - 12:53PM

    Nopes. So tyrannical at home (Pakistan) so peaceful outside (any other country).


  • Bilal
    Mar 8, 2012 - 2:08PM

    @Saqib Ali Kazmi

    There are many factors, but the very first and main one is that in Karachi the police is not local where as in other cities police belongs to the respective city local population.


  • Anon
    Mar 8, 2012 - 2:23PM

    Couldn’t make any sense of this article, I’m sure the history is very interesting, but it is very badly written. Needs more detail on what exactly happened, in chronological order, and the writers should not “assume” that their readers already know the story! what I gathered: there was a road accident, people protested (I don’t know why :S), pathans were at fault but didn’t get they blamed a punjabi, and MQM fixed karachi.
    Uhh.. makes no sense.


  • Haider Hussain
    Mar 8, 2012 - 2:31PM

    @Saqib Ali Kazmi:
    Because ethnic divide over there is not as big as in Karachi.


  • TMohsin
    Mar 8, 2012 - 2:48PM

    @Proud Pakistani:
    “You forgot to mention why the residents of the city began hating the pathans. Whether anybody Justifies it or not facts need to be mentioned clearly and in a well-balanced manner.”

    Can you please tell us. I am not from Karachi and I would like to whether “all” the residents of karachi really hate pathans? Why?


  • Lobster
    Mar 8, 2012 - 2:55PM

    Alas her death was exploited, and party that born out of it is the most violent party in Pakistan.


  • Mar 8, 2012 - 3:55PM

    @Seema Faraz

    very correct.not only bushra case but go back to gohar ayub killing of the innocent people of Karachi. These “drviers and conductors” have become a little more civilized otherwise they used to think women as animal. But how can you make it understand to most of these ignorant commentators who dont live in this city and live in a communally monolithic environment.


    Shame on you. Years from now when I will be an old man and probably sitting in a small room drinking tea, I will be telling these incidents to my children.

    Bushra Zaidi. Rest in peace my sister.Recommend

  • Ali Wazir
    Mar 8, 2012 - 4:00PM

    Blood Libel..


  • Proud Pakistani
    Mar 8, 2012 - 4:30PM

    @TMohsin Due to the sensitivity of the topic ET will not publish my comments and I need to be responsible myself. Let me tell you only this that the residents of Karachi(again I rather not mention the ethnicity here) used to get run over by bus drivers as if they are insects…cockroaches.

    Bushra Zaidi incident was not a first of its kind, it just followed what was going on for a very long time and something had to be done to stop it for once and for all. I don’t condone how it was dealt with but those who have seen the situation at the time themselves know better that it was unfortunately, necessary.


  • Mar 8, 2012 - 5:14PM

    Let me tell you only this that the residents of Karachi(again I rather not mention the ethnicity here) used to get run over by bus drivers as if they are insects…cockroaches.’

    I can assure you that ‘any bus driver of Pakistan’ – is the exact replica of the above. Everyone for them is an insect, irrespective of ethnicity.


  • Ali S
    Mar 8, 2012 - 5:23PM

    This article demeans this young lady’s death – who was clearly a victim of an accident or careless driving. You’re suggesting it was a good thing that it happened?


  • Bilal
    Mar 8, 2012 - 5:47PM

    Thank you Tribune for instigating an ethnic debate here! Our country will never prosper.Recommend

  • Hamid
    Mar 8, 2012 - 6:08PM

    Ah remembering Bushra is such a painful thing!!


  • TMohsin
    Mar 8, 2012 - 6:39PM

    @Proud Pakistani:
    But the article mentions here that Bushra was not run over by a Pathan bus driver was a punjabi driver..then why the hatred..whats the proof that all drivers did deliberate accidents and all were pathans?


  • usmanx
    Mar 8, 2012 - 7:32PM

    I grew up in nazimabad after this event.
    The kids of all ethnicity played cricket in a garden near “gole market”… we were oblivious to the world around us. Our nemesis was only the Maali.

    We cannot blame any ethnicity in its entirety. we are brothers and sisters of one one family.
    The root cause of pakistan’s problems are lack of governance. of law and order of justice and ethics turning neighborhoods in lawless jungles.


  • Tama-shah
    Mar 8, 2012 - 8:11PM
  • fus
    Mar 8, 2012 - 8:40PM

    Bushra Zaidi case was just a catalyst that brought the issues to limelight. Unfortunately people of other cities really don’t care what happens or happened with the people of karachi in last 60 years. Discrmination has been a major issue, thankfully Karachi private sector was big enough to provide decent living to its people, otherwise the govt jobs were made out of reach for people with karachi or should I say ppl with Sindh Urban domicile. Secondly the seed of hatred was sowed by Ayub khan when he brought Pathans to kill people of karachi who supported MFJ in elections. You can go to state bank library and see the pics in old new papers from that time. Next is the police, which is 90% non-local. How can they be sincere to the people if they are in police just to make money? Then it was Mumtaz Bhutto, who ignited the hatred b/w urdu speaking and Sindhis. This odd that only in Sindh you divide province on basis of Urban and rural domiciles, why don’t we have this in other provinces?. People may hate me for saying this but if people of karachi were givin opportunities they deserve on merit, probably things would have been little better since people of karachi unlike many other place tend to give preference to merit rather than families, religion, ethnicty or sects. Karachi and its people, which include all the communities , have survived on their own. Anyone can live in this city as long as they follow the rules and treat it as his or her own city, but many people who come from other places exploit this city and its people, and try to make quick money. This city and its people have given a lot and will continue to give, but atleast give something back.


  • Rashid
    Mar 8, 2012 - 8:47PM


    if you start the story from 80’s it means it is incorrect.. It starts from Ayub Khan era.


  • Tariq Jameel
    Mar 8, 2012 - 10:54PM

    for all those non-Karachiites who think this incident sparked Mohajir-Pakhtun differences in Karachi, get your facts straight, in the 1960s, Gohar Ayub – son of Ayub Khan – sowed differences between the two communities and I know how we defended our neighborhoods in Jacob Lines and Jamshed Quarters against Pathan attacks. >Recommend

  • Proud Pakistani
    Mar 8, 2012 - 11:06PM


    Even though I answered yoru question very mildly ET decided not to publish it.

    Let you try to explain it to you in a few words.

    Ayub Khan, Elections, Rigging, Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah


  • MM
    Mar 9, 2012 - 1:48AM

    I’m amazed some readers go through this article and think that we are suggesting that Bushra’s death was a good thing. Our intent was to remember her on international women’s day. She is important in Karachi’s history because her killing was a turning point. If we do not learn from history we will repeat mistakes. And just in case anyone has any illusions about the ground reality, men from ALL ethnic backgrounds are guilty of killing. Everyone of the murderers are guilty no matter what damn language they speak. And as for the person who thanked us for starting a debate on ethnicity, all I’d say is that newspapers are meant to do that at some levels. The problem is that we assume in debates that people will change their opinion. That is never the case. Debates just harden ethnicist prejudices as this case has shown.


  • Ali Tanoli
    Mar 9, 2012 - 2:37AM

    I guess the problem of karachi was all ways Racism and give me more so Gen Ayub khan decided to made new capital in islamabad close to Hazara and this decision was great we have seen this after therty yaers.


  • Mar 9, 2012 - 2:49AM

    Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah, won hands down in East Pakistan. Maulana Bhashani did not even offer himself as a candidate. Guess who started a defamation campaign against her. Ayub Khan was just a boob, easily manipulated by the college educated in his cabinet. Recommend

  • papoo piplia
    Mar 9, 2012 - 6:11AM

    Karachi should be ruled by Karachites instead of outsiders and should have right to the resources it generates which unfortunately are stolen from the city and spent elsewhere.


  • syed Imran
    Mar 9, 2012 - 9:22AM

    All one can say is that those parties involved in killngs and those who support these parties are all equally responsible for the bloodshed and will be answerable to Almighty Allah on the day of Judgement.


  • samm
    Mar 9, 2012 - 9:41AM

    @ fus:::: i love ur comments


  • Ali Tanoli
    Mar 10, 2012 - 2:02AM

    Bushra zaidi was great exusse for creating MQM and altaf bhai terror and karachi black days.


  • fus
    Mar 10, 2012 - 10:18PM

    @Ali Tanoli , Apmso was created before Bushra Zaidi case.


  • Faraz
    Apr 3, 2012 - 9:08AM

    I lived in Nazimabad during that period and carry the sentiments those were there in those days. Bushra Zaidi, may her soul rest in peace. But the problem was somewhere else, as rightly mentioned by someone, “straw that broke the camel’s back”, it all started from shifting of Capital to Islamabad, then Ayub’s Presidential elections against Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah, followed by that infamouse “Lantern in donkeys neck march” by Ayub’s supporters to exploit the Urdu speaking majority of Karachi, then 1965 War, of which every bit we Pakistani know is false and it was started by Ayub to divert people’s attention from rigging in his election. Subsequently, aligarh/ qasba colony incidents, then we witnessed Mr Gohar Ayub on rampage against Mohajirs, the Hyderabad Pakka Qila episode by Mr Qadir Magsee. And lately Bushra Zaidi case. My father is also a victim of those days, as the driver of minibus said to him after hitting, “Aik tou Urdu bolte ho phir samne bhi ate ho”. Notwithstanding, I doubt my narration could bring about any change in the mindset of biased so called Son of the Soil.


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