KARACHI: At the memorial service for Faisal Masih in Essa Nagri, a threat of being under siege was palpable in the air. Friends, family and residents of the area had gathered near a roadside tent where prayers for the 24-year-old victim were organised on Sunday.
On August 29, Faisal Masih had become the first resident of Karachi’s Essa Nagri, a majority of whose residents are Christians, to be killed by extortionists. Faisal, who used to offer cell phone credit transfer facilities to consumers, was shot dead outside his shop when he refused to pay the extortionists who had made his life a living hell.
Criminals had repeatedly called upon him in the past as well.
But shopkeepers in the area, many of whom were present at the memorial service, had been receiving threats from the bhatta mafia for quite some time. Sadiq Masih, a resident of the area, was handed an extortion slip two months ago and was directed to pay Rs500,000. He received a threatening phone call soon afterwards. “The extortionists told me that I was making a lot of money from the mobile phone tower at the top of my roof.” Sadiq temporarily moved out of the area, but was unable to shake away the criminals. He ended up paying half of the money that was initially demanded by the unknown men.
John, who owns a small grocery store in the area, said that he had paid Rs10,000 to extortionists three months ago. “Seeing that what they did to Faisal, I am glad that I gave them the money.”
Criminals have managed to put in place a very sophisticated system for collecting money from innocent, peace-loving residents, completely undermining the security apparatus in the city.
Three political parties have divided streets among themselves, from which they extort money, claims a Christian leader of the area, Michael Javed. Criminals have also moved into Essa Nagri after the Lyari operation. “One party collects money from three streets, while another collects it from other four streets,” he said.
While the bhatta mafia has proven itself to be the bane of existence for countless businesses all over the metropolis, Christian shopkeepers in Essa Nagri believe that they are being targeted so that they would ultimately leave the area. “Political parties want to turn Essa Nagri into their own constituency,” exclaimed Samuel Bashir, Faisal’s uncle. “Robberies have become rampant in the area and bandits fire into the area. We feel helpless.” He added that three families have already moved from the area.
The police’s response
PIB police say that they are treating the incident as a regular crime. “This is prevalent throughout the whole city, and is not something new,” said sub inspector Gul Sarfaraz.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 3rd, 2012.