Heaps of cattle dung and cemented containers of fodder and forage greeted the 400 students and their teachers on Tuesday as they entered what used to be a school in Green Town.
After the long summer break, the students of Asif Government Boys Primary as well as Lower Secondary schools were shocked to find their institute had been reduced to rubble, save the boundary walls.
The premises, where a total of four public schools were operating, was nationalised during the early 1970s and carried the same status to date, said the Karachi director of school education, Abdul Wahab Abbasi, adding that the education department had, in the year 1981, shifted two more institutions, Akhtar Government Girls Primary as well as Secondary Schools, within the premises.
Saleem Anwarwala, who claims to be the owner of the plot, was apparently in hiding, not ready to face a dozen media vans that had clogged the streets around the school on Wednesday morning after the news went viral. His wife, Safia Saleem, however, told The Express Tribune that they had bought the school around four years ago through a certain Rasheeda Bibi.
“The Sindh education department, by not paying the rent to use our property as a school for the last three years, had constrained us from demolishing the building,” she maintained, before she started shouting loudly to all those gathered. “I dare you media wallahs, we are not ‘qabza mafia’ [encroachers].”
School education director Abbasi asserted, however that the claimant’s action was a transgression of the law as the decision on their litigation against the department, contesting ownership of the premises, was still pending in the courts. “We have lodged two FIRs against the culprits and will make sure that they are arrested soon.”
The Express Tribune has learnt through the Shah Faisal colony’s police station that the said FIRs were lodged against ‘unidentified persons’. The police had, however, detained the in-charge of the cattle pen, identified as Muhammad Yaseen.
Oblivious to the developments, Mahnoor Abdullah, a class nine student at the school, stood at the rubble perplexed. “There used to be my classroom,” she said pointing towards an empty space. “I do not know what will happen to my studies now.”
The feud between the Sindh education department and the claimant was going on for the last several years and had exacerbated since March, 2013, when Anwarwala’s son barged into the school premises and threatened the headmasters and headmistresses to vacate the premises, explained Roshan Ara Panwhar, headmistress of Akhtar Girls’ Secondary School. “Later, they cut off the electricity and water connections, apart from sending hooligans who pilfered the schools’ belongings and science lab equipments and employed threatening tactics of taking photos of female teachers and students.”
The school staff had submitted a couple of dozen applications to the education department officials and the Sindh governor to provide them security and prevent the hooligans from looting the public property. After all those complaints, a committee, headed by the education department’s additional chief secretary, Dr Fazlullah Pechuho, was finally formed last year in October to sort out this issue. On Wednesday, when the school had been razed to the ground, Dr Pechuho told The Express Tribune that “he was looking into this matter.” Sindh Education Minister Nisar Ahmed Khuhro was, however, more interested in talking about the fact that the school was converted into a cattle pen. The tendency to convert schools into cattle pens is not specific to the ‘feudal’ mindset, he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 7th,2014.