RIP Perween Rahman

Published: March 17, 2013
The writer is Editor of The Express Tribune

The writer is Editor of The Express Tribune

Goodbye, Perween Rahman. We will miss you. Your only crime was that for three decades, you devoted yourself to the cause of the poor. You gave them a voice and hope. You helped families better their living conditions, encouraged women to stand on their feet and brought a community spirit into some of Karachi’s most deprived and neglected neighbourhoods. You are my hero.

On 13/3/13, you were shot dead. Possibly because you were upsetting the status quo. You did this by encouraging people to better their lives. They cleaned up their neighbourhoods, built better houses, laid down proper water and sewerage lines and set up schools.

You were an inspiration for others. When I worked at The News, we invited you to give a talk to the paper’s young journalists. On how they should not always expect the government to deliver and how they should take things into their hands to better their future. And most important, on how they should not give up on Pakistan. You knew this because you faced the trauma of separation, when as a teenager, you left Dhaka, your birthplace, and relocated to Karachi.

You were soft-spoken but there was a determination in your voice. For thousands of people, who visited you at the Orangi Pilot Project, you were their only hope. They came to you to solve their problems, to give them encouragement, and show the way. But your work came in conflict with two very powerful entities or systems. First, the city’s oft-talked about mafias. These mafias, which work with the blessings and connivance of the government and its high officials, suck the blood of the poor.

These are the land encroachment mafia, the water tanker mafia, the transport mafia, and other smaller mafias. None of these mafias would last a day if there was no official patronage. But they continue to thrive and grow over the years.

The other more potent enemy that you seem to have challenged, we are told, were the Taliban. They have gradually established themselves in the hills that overlook Karachi. On one side of these hills is Orangi Town. On the other side is ilaqa ghair. Even the police don’t want to go into these parts of the city. But you did not make that distinction and helped communities on both sides. But on the “other side”, there is a different set of rules. We are told that a strict code of conduct, not unlike what we saw in Kabul, under the Taliban and currently are seeing in parts of the tribal areas, is enforced. Schools are boys-only. There is a dress code. Anyone who enters or leaves the area is monitored. The Taliban also ensure law and order. One goes to them for justice, not to the local police.

We are told that it was these people who killed our Perween. In fact, in a rare show of efficiency, within days of your death, the police nabbed what they called a Taliban local leader and shot him dead in an encounter. Case closed. But one can only wonder whether it is as simple as that. We know that in Orangi Town, a number of people have been killed for a variety of reasons. Recently, a local MPA was shot dead. Before that, priests working at a Korean-run seminary were targeted. In between, we saw the killing of polio workers. In fact, hundreds of people have died over the past years, in this area, to shootings.

The city’s mafias have had their share of victims. Nisar Baloch, who worked at freeing encroachments from Gutter Baghicha — a continuous piece of green space which serves as the lungs for old Karachi — was shot dead in 2009. We have never found his killers. Similarly, anyone who was seen as outspoken against land encroachment, a multibillion industry, has been silenced or threatened. This is indeed the Wild West of Karachi.

Over the past five years, encroachment has been taken over by political parties, including activists of our ruling party. Then there are the petty criminals who seem to have captured parts of the city. Both have proliferated. In the recent action being conducted by the Rangers in Orangi Town and its environs, we are nabbing kidnappers, recovering the kidnapped, unearthing a dazzling amount of arms and ammunition that is stored here, and arresting a variety of criminals. And this, without even crossing the hill.

You were a brave woman, Perween Rahman. For three decades, you worked tirelessly against the odds. Maybe your family thinks it would have been best had you continued as a private architect. By now, you would have made millions. Instead, you now live in the hearts of millions. RIP Perween Rahman.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 18th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (12)

  • Riaz Khan
    Mar 17, 2013 - 10:14PM

    Bravo Pakistan! Way to treat your hero’s.


  • zehra
    Mar 17, 2013 - 10:45PM

    I think this brought a tear to my eye. You really know how to touch my heart. Fabulous piece!


  • Mar 17, 2013 - 10:48PM


    we have seen miracles of media pressure, if media does it again her culprits will be caught soon.


  • Sohaib
    Mar 17, 2013 - 11:48PM

    I am stunned. I live in the US and I have not been following the new. This is the first I have heard of her murder. Why kill a social worker who has done such good ? I heard of her good work and felt admiration for her. This is what is happening to our best people. I am feeling very upset and angry.


  • Shahid Jamil
    Mar 18, 2013 - 5:47AM

    Thanks for this beautiful piece.


  • wonderer
    Mar 18, 2013 - 8:43AM

    How many, or what percentage of Pakistani people, will bow their heads in shame? Very few of course. We must ask why?

    “Zarra Sochiye”


  • Sameera
    Mar 18, 2013 - 12:08PM

    Her cold blooded death is heart wrenching. Despite that we ” should not give up on Pakistan.”
    It is not just a piece of land but sum total of our identity, howsoever fractured it is these days, but it is all we have in this world.


  • Genius
    Mar 18, 2013 - 1:45PM

    I wonder. I do wonder as to why the wonderful Orangi Project has not been copied by people of other localities. Do the people in other localities not want to be involved in material and moral progress of their localities?
    The people want everything to be done by others. Yes? So the result of their lax and uncaring attitude is right in front of them. When people leave everything to be done by others then it is imperative that crooks, criminals, thieves and murderers will rule over the people, which is happening as one can see.
    The fault lies with the people. Uncaring people. Did anyone not hear Lord Almighty’s command which is ” I have never changed the condition of those who do not come forward to work for that change.”
    The cahnge that is needed in us is our bad habits. Our bad habit of leaving everything to be done by others.
    The winners i.e. the early Muslims became something from being nothing only because they obeyed the Lord and consequently each and everyone of them, left nothing for others to do. Rather instead them got themselves involved in everything in bringing the change Lord commanded them and every faithful to do. Are we obeying the Lord as such? No. So why would we not endure what we are enduring today?


  • Arif
    Mar 18, 2013 - 3:03PM

    Thank you! This is a fitting tribute to amazing, brave, humble and dedicated person who did so much for the poor of Karachi and also flood-affected people of Sindh.Recommend

  • Malik
    Mar 18, 2013 - 5:07PM

    A befitting tribute to a lady who all her life worked so that the poor and deprived could heave a sigh of relief. Kamal Siddiqi thanks for this. Such people like Edhi and Parveen is what Karachi desperately needs.


  • Parvez
    Mar 18, 2013 - 11:41PM

    In the blog section Zofeen T. Ibrahim wrote a great piece on Parveen Rehman but yours goes a step further where you have courageously brought up the issue of land grabbing and the mafia style of operating.
    I wonder if this frail yet strong lady had any connection to the two low lying islands inhabited by poor fishermen which is making the news because some powerful people in the country are interested that a big developer’s plans should materialise.


  • Omair Zeeshan
    Mar 18, 2013 - 11:46PM

    This gives me hope for Karachi. Thank you for giving me that.


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