This newspaper cannot name the political parties in this story where we need to.
Instead, we bring you silence - of the police, the Orangi family who lost their son and the businessmen. This silence is about the gouging of the city’s populace before Eid when charity gathering turns into extortion.
“I have five more brothers. I can’t risk their lives by talking to the media,” comes the plain reply from the brother of the 21-year-old intermediate student Muhammad Shahid who was shot dead in Orangi last Wednesday.
The family couldn’t fork out Rs40,000 in Fitra demanded by political activists. “Our house has since been fired at. Outside, people are watching us,” he whispers. Their home at Rehmat Chowk sits right next to a political party’s neighbourhood office, since sealed, six activists reportedly suspended. Outside, men parked there against the wall keep an eagle eye on Shahid’s black gate, monitoring the comings and goings. They innocently let the breeze lift their shirts to show TT pistols tucked into their pants.
On a charpoy under the shade of a tree inside the house, Shahid’s father, a garment trader, stammers his son’s name. He wanted to speak, register a case. “We have been told by our ‘elders’ not to talk to anyone, not even the police.” However, the police openly accept that it was a case of forced fitra collection.
The Rs40,000 that Shahid was killed for is a far cry from the Rs80 per person decreed as compulsory charity to be paid by Muslims in Ramazan before Eidul Fitr. The money is supposed to go to the deserving and is the equivalent of 2.25 kilogrames of flour. The scholar who fixed the rate this year, Mufti Muneebur Rehman, explained that people can pay more than the fixed amount, but it is un-Islamic for groups to go around demanding Fitra. “Money which is collected by political parties by force of guns or sticks is not acceptable in Allah’s eyes,” he remarked. The government has said no door-to-door collection is allowed. It urged parties to set up camps where people could come themselves.
The Jamaat-e-Islami was the first political party in Karachi to start the concept of Fitra collection with its welfare organisation, Al Khidmat Foundation. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement later formed its Khidmat-e-Khalq Foundation.
For years, they were the only ones. Then arrived the Sunni Tehreek’s Ahle Sunnat Khidmat Foundation Trust, the banned Peoples Amn Committee’s Lyari Resource Centre and the Awami National Party’s Bacha Khan Welfare Trust (in 2010). The pie thus grew smaller and traditional turfs began to overlap.
Hotspots and turf wars
The highest amount of Fitra is collected from the old city areas where activists try to one-up each other. “This year it seems that we won’t be able to complete our target in these localities,” said one political worker.
An activist from a rival group told The Express Tribune that now they need to first cut through two other political parties before they can even think of reaching the people. “People used to give us Fitra because of their political or sectarian preferences,” he said. “But today they give it to the most powerful one in the area, which is the […].”
The amount can go as high as one million rupees. Some parties give out entire Fitra booklets like the perforated double-slip ones used in charged parking and others helpfully write you a receipt.
Traders are already paying extortion money all year round. A prominent trader, heading an association with 300 markets, said that shopkeepers across the city have received one party’s booklets worth Rs2,000 to Rs10,000. “Everyone knows that the city’s largest political party is involved the most in forced Fitra collection. But no one complains.”
When the business started in Ramazan, the traders complained to one religio-political group’s leaders. But that group just changed its tactic and instead of going shop to shop, started sending a ‘request’ to the head of the business association. Even non-Muslim businessmen are being netted. Christian shopkeepers in Essa Nagri and Azam Basti were told to pay Rs500 by activists from one party using another party’s name.
The police have noted that slips for one party have surfaced in what was considered the absolute stronghold of another party. Their theory is that parties are using each other’s names so that they don’t get caught. One political entity uses the less formal system of hand-written notes or verbal requests.
“This is not Fitra. This is bhatta,” declared an angry resident in Kharadar. “We don’t get to donate to the charity of our choice.”
Some markets are finding themselves paying more than one party. A frustrated shopkeeper in Jodia Bazaar has shelled out Rs500,000 to different groups. “We are not even earning as much as we have been asked to pay!”
And pay they do. As the owner of a Maripur truck stand told The Express Tribune: “Everyone paid them because no one wants to be killed for just Rs3,000.”
A top police official requesting anonymity said apart from areas where parties collect charity, there are some disputed areas, in which more than one group operates. A resident of Landhi D-1 told The Express Tribune that in the first week of Ramazan, two activists asked for the total number of family members in the house. “Though we told them that we won’t give them Fitra, they harshly said that the Fitra has to go to them.”
A human rights activist living in an apartment in North Karachi received booklets worth Rs1,400 with 25 slips. “They just hand you the entire booklet, and you can’t say no.”
In Zamzama, a retail outlet staffer said that one party’s men walked in and handed out booklets, but since the shopkeepers had “strong” connections the threats were defused.
The party line
As has been their stance, MQM leader Wasay Jalil pegged the problem on criminals who used the party’s name and said that they were tracking them down. The activists who are collecting Fitra carry an official letter. The party has an annual function where the poor are given money, basic appliances and household goods.
The ANP took the same position with Bashir Jan saying that while he does not know of any case, if anyone uses the party’s name, the police should arrest them and if the ANP catches an activist, they would be expelled and handed to the police. “Fitra is the right of the poor, helpless and orphans in society and the ANP does not like to snatch the rights of orphans.” The party used to collect hides after Eidul Azha for its Bacha Khan Welfare Trust but stopped last year.
For their part, the banned Amn Committee’s Zafar Baloch said that they did not collect Fitra like other political parties. “We don’t have a parchi (slip) system. Friends and relatives collect or donate their share to our charitable organisation, the Lyari Resource Centre. But we haven’t forced anybody for Fitra neither this year nor before.”
The Sunni Tehreek assigns only five men at the provincial constituency level to collect Fitra, Zakat and rations. “Ordinary activists are not allowed,” said central leader Shahid Ghauri. “We have issued special cards to those who have been given the job of collection for the Ahle Sunnat Khidmat Foundation Trust.” The ST distributes Rs5 million in food among 2,500 families each Ramazan.
Good cop, bad cop
The official code of conduct is not followed but no arrests have been made. A senior police official said that they just want to see the holy month pass peacefully. “Things are in control, and targeted killings have gone down,” he said. “We don’t want to ruin the peace of the city by getting involved in this.”
For whatever it is worth, Additional IG Iqbal Mehmood said they were taking action on specific complaints. The problem is, perhaps, though that most people are too scared to complain.
To make a complaint:
Sunni Tehreek: 021-32775462; 021-32761789; 021-32775382
Peoples Amn Committee: 021-36065570; 021-35432929;
Awami National Party: 021-35803030;
Home department: 021-99207772;
Police complaint centre: 021-99212652; 021-99212653; 021-99212662;
Published in The Express Tribune, August 10th, 2012.