THATTA: The resting place for the dead has now turned into a source of refuge for the living. A world heritage site is being used as a relief camp by people who do not want to shift to Karachi, where arrangements to cater for them are in place.
“We’re not used to living in a city, why is the government insisting that we move there? Why can’t they let us sit here in peace!” yells Najma, one of several thousand Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), who has sought refuge at the Makli graveyard.
Najma is a resident of Damdamo village in Sujawal, who arrived at the graveyard in one of the Karachi Capital City Police vans with 40 other neighbours, all of whom insisted that the driver stop at Makli instead of driving them towards a city they are not familiar with.
“After being displaced from your home, the last thing you want is someone pushing you to leave your home town. Although Makli isn’t our tehsil, it is part of Thatta district. It still feels like home,” says Najma. Many other IDPs echo her views and cite several other reasons for not migrating to Karachi. “Hum dehat ke log hain, humein ek din mei shehri na banao (We’re villagers, you can’t force us to adapt to the city in a day),” says Murad Khatoon, who hails from a village in Mirpur Bathoro tehsil.
The Sindh government, however, is oblivious to the problems these villagers are faced with and insists that they move to the relief camps in Karachi that promise better facilities. Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah claims the camps, which can house over 50,000 people, have been especially set up for IDPs from Thatta but have been lying empty over the past week.
“How can we believe these claims? If they cannot deliver relief goods to us here in our own district, is there a guarantee that we will be well taken care of in Karachi?” Khatoon asked.
For the past five days, IDPs from Daro, Bela, Thatta and Sujawal have brought life to the ruins of the historic graveyard of Makli.
Older men have sought refuge in the covered graves to avoid the sun, while younger ones squat behind the higher graves when they need to relieve themselves. Children are seen using the magnificent architecture of the graveyard for games such as hide-and-seek and young girls either hang around or sit on the graves to pick each other’s lice. The women are the happiest as the curved tops of the graves serves as a pan for cooking chappatis.
No official survey of the number of displaced has been conducted yet, but locals at the graveyard estimate that are nearly 2,000 people are housed here, mostly because the tomb of Hazrat Abdullah Shah Ashabi is in the graveyard where thousands are offered langar (free food) every evening.
“But there is a limit to how many mouths we can feed,” Habibullah Memon, a caretaker at the tomb, says. “These queues are endless,” he said. Memon added that while relief trucks are delivering goods across the district and the IDPs at the graveyard are completely neglected. “I have not seen a single relief truck on the premises yet,” he said.
The government, however, has its reasons for doing so. “The graveyard of Makli hills is our heritage site, not a relief camps, says an official, requesting anonymity. “Why should we deliver goods to people who refuse to respect our historic graves and have no sound reasoning for not moving to the camps we established,” he says.
When asked why the graveyard is not guarded and why the villagers were allowed to enter the premises in the first place, the official was quick to shift the blame to the Auqaf department that is responsible for the upkeep of the graveyard.
Other IPDs, who are settled along the Thatta-Badin highway, Makli public park and the Makli cricket stadium have been provided with camps and clean drinking water, but food is no where to be found. The IDPs complain that loaded trucks are attacked by locals of Makli, depriving the displaced of even one square meal a day.
Allah Dino, an IDP who arrived at a camp along the Thatta-Badin highway on Monday morning told The Express Tribune that he and his mother have been starving for three days because he chose to stay back in Sajawal to guard his ailing mother and their belongings. “My mother has a fractured leg so I decided to keep her with me and sent my family to Makli. We’ve been here since morning, but see no food coming our way yet,” he said.
Others who managed to commute a few more kilometres with the hope of finding better aid and facilities instead landed on empty plots in Dhabeji. One such settlement adjacent to Al Abbas gas factory houses at least 400 people from Sujawal, Mirpur Bathoro , Belo and Baran who do not have camps to begin with. Most of them are forced to sit or lie beneath the trucks that brought them here to stay away from the sun. Among these are 11 pregnant women, who are yet to be examined by a doctor.
A government Lady Health Worker Shaheen Zakarya and a local of Dhabeji has been voluntarily visiting the camp for the past two days to compile a list of patients, but says she is helpless due to the limited resources she has. “All I get is five Paracetamols and a few syrups at the beginning of each month, which is meant for locals in my area.”
There are some who have decided to travel further after news of better facilities being offered ahead of Thatta. “If this is how we are being treated at Dhabeji where our relief goods are being stolen by locals as the government stands by, then what hope do we have in Karachi,” said Omar Gandera, a resident of Sujawal.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 31st, 2010.
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