It has been almost two decades since women were banned from entering the Karachi zoo over the Eid holidays. This year, too, won’t be any different.
The ban was imposed after a woman was assaulted in the zoo around 18 years ago. “Since then we haven’t allowed women in for first three days of Eid,” said Dr Kazim Hussain, the director of Karachi Zoological Garden. “There are so many people that it is impossible to keep an eye on everyone. No matter how hard we try, there will be too many people to handle. But this does not mean that the ban would continue forever.”
Zoo officials say that thousands of people visit the zoo because they have spare time on their hands. Almost all of them are from the socio-economic strata which find other modes of recreation a burden on their meagre incomes.
The zoo officials have considered restricting the entry of men in the zoo but haven’t implemented it for the fear of being dragged into court. “It would have become an issue of civil rights,” said another zoo official. “We tried and implemented that at Safari Park. But I am not sure if it will work at the zoo as well.”
He said that tens of thousands of labourers work in Karachi and they can only afford to either go to Clifton beach or the zoo, where the entry fee is only Rs10 for adults.
Poor security had already made the zoo a no-go area for women, even on the week days. But the three-day Eid holidays were the worst. Former mayor Mustafa Kamal tried to improve the security in 2007 and vowed to lift the ban but nothing actually happened.
When Bashir Sadozai took charge as the zoo director last year, about 40 city wardens were deputed there to assist the security guards who were outnumbered and overwhelmed with work. The addition of city wardens helped ease the burden on the security guards who had 25 extra pairs of legs to patrol the zoo premises. But when Ramazan began, all 40 wardens were transferred by the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) to different road intersections to help traffic police regulate traffic.
The zoo administration has asked the KMC to increase the number of guards immediately. At present there are 33 security guards at the zoo’s payroll and they work in three shifts. This leaves just 11 guards for an eight-hour shift. There are five gates and each one is manned by one guard. “Two of them are on weekly holidays and among the remaining four at least one is always sick,” said a security official. That leaves only three guards to patrol the entire zoo at a given time. “Three men for patrolling 33 acres of land!” he exclaimed. “It’s just not possible.”
However, harassment of women is not the only security concern, says one guard. “People harass the animals even more,” he said. “They throw fruit, popcorn and even packets of juice into the cages.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th, 2012.
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