As he struggled with his wooden crutches, sixty-year-old Iqbal Masih was scrambling to catch up with other protesters who had taken to the street against a possible operation to clear illegal katchi abadis in Islamabad.
His eyes skimmed through the crowd that fleeted past him, chanting slogans against the recently-announced Capital Development Authority and Islamabad Capital Territory Administration eviction plan.
“If the shelter above my head is demolished, I will consider this my destiny. I do not have another plan. I will be living on the road,” said Magsi, who has been living in F-6 slums with his wife and three children for the many years.
Hundreds of katchi abadi residents gathered outside the National Press Club on Wednesday for the second time against their possible eviction by the city managers.
Swinging black flags and placards inscribes with slogans such as “what will happen to us? Where will we go?” they said that the government has failed to offer them a viable resettlement plan. Aliya Ameer Ali, a student activist, said that according to the Kachi Abadi Policy 2001, if the government intends to demolish homes in slums, it will have to consult the residents before taking any such step. “They have not done so,” she said.
She said that there were all kinds of housing schemes for middle and upper-middle class people, but there were no such schemes for the poor. “It is unfortunate that, because of their economic stratum, the government calls them freeloaders and encroachers,” she said. There are ten registered and 24 unregistered slums in the capital. The demolition plan covered 12 unregistered slums including the Afghan Basti in I-11, which, according to the Islamabad Police, has become a breeding ground for terrorists and extortionists.
Akhtar, a protester, said that the government was using the Afghan basti as an excuse to carry out operation in other slums. He said that labeling Pakhtuns in the basti as terrorists had a negative impact on others.
Former federal minister J Salik said that the state of Pakistan claims to be a modern and democratic was hollow. He said that the poor, particularly non-Muslims, have no rights whatsoever in the country.
PML-N Islamabad Youth Wing member “Munna Bhai” said that most of the residents had voted for the PML-N during the last elections but the possible eviction decision has disappointed them.
The protestors announced they would take to the streets again next week if their demands were not met.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 3rd, 2014.
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