With worried expressions writ large on their faces, dishevelled women were huddled together reciting the Quran and praying on the rosary in the large halls of Kutchi Muslim Soomra Jamaat Khana in strife-hit Lyari.
Located on an uncharacteristically wide street in an area otherwise known for its maze of narrow lanes, the Jamaat Khana as a community centre has seen happier days when people clad in their best clothes would gather here to celebrate weddings and other festivals. The current spell of violence has, however, turned it into a shelter home for people displaced by the ongoing turf war between the defunct Peoples Amn Committee and the Kutchi community.
“Our house was sprayed with bullets and we have become homeless,” cried out an elderly woman who has been living in the Jamaat Khana for the past eight days. “My brother-in-law is in coma after being shot twice and my son is also in the hospital.”
“The gangsters barge into our homes, beat us and pick up our men,” said another woman who did not wish to be named. The Jamaat Khana currently shelters 500 people, belonging to Rahimabad, Mandhra Mohalla and other adjoining areas, in its spacious community hall and the classrooms on the first floor. The men and women live in different sections of the building segregated by makeshift tents. For most men death is just one bullet away as they risk their lives every day to go out for work. Some men, however, stay back to keep a watch over the area while the women spend the better part of the day in prayers and hoping for the situation to normalise soon.
Among the crowd are also two pregnant women, one of whom is nearing her delivery date. “The situation is so volatile in my area that I cannott even go home to collect money which I would need to pay the doctors,” said the worried woman.
Despite all the odds, the community has put up a brave front and is standing by each other. “I have cancelled all my catering orders to look after the people here,” said Salay Muhammad, a member of the Jamaat Khana Trust. “We collect donations to provide meals and with the help of Saylani Welfare Trust we ensure every person gets food twice a day besides tea and biscuits for breakfast.”
“It is so unfortunate that this happy place has turned into a place of sorrow. God help us,” Muhammad said as he disappeared into the kitchen to supervise the dinner preparations.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 14th, 2013.