If Karachi never sleeps, Lyari is primarily responsible for its insomnia. The city’s oldest neighbourhood is also its most restless. Lyari, as one would know from the media, is a hub of violence.
Geographically, Lyari is the smallest of Karachi’s 18 towns. Its inhabitants, however, make up 10 per cent of the city’s population. For the outsider, Lyari may appear to be just another slum. Most outsiders fear Lyari, preferring to speed past it on the way to the Hawkes Bay beach. Step inside and you will find a completely different world. The streets are so narrow that one has to walk sideways to fit through some of them. Most areas have been affected by the violence; the gaping holes caused by bullets are a testament to that.
But this has not affected the spirit of the area’s residents. Yes, some may be wary of the gangs but it is their resilience that is most striking.
In Lyari, almost every family has experienced the sorrow of losing a loved one, either to the gangsters or the law enforcers. On a recent visit to the area, I asked an eight-year-old boy what he feared most. “Ramjus,” came his immediate reply.
Ramju is the residents’ nickname for Rangers personnel, explained his elder brother. The Rangers, he said, come around in their ski-masks, wielding big weapons. Most people are scared for their safety so they run when they see them coming. The paramilitary soldiers, assuming the people are running because they have something to hide, chase them and often end up detaining them. “Once you have been arrested by the Rangers, you can only get out by paying Rs50,000 to Rs100,000,” explained the elder brother.
Are the law enforcers’ actions doing more harm than good? Most young children I met in the area had two things in common: their love for football and their distaste for the law enforcers. If things don’t change soon, another generation growing up in the area will soon be lost to the gangs. It is the duty of the law enforcers to enforce the law. One cannot blame them for taking harsh action in the area.
The government, however, must come up with sustainable initiatives to improve the lives of the youth and give them alternative avenues for personal growth.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 18th, 2014.