KARACHI: An unusual procession made its way to the Karachi Press Club (KPC) on Monday. Twenty camels, accompanied by about 80 owners, walked from Sea View to Saddar, to garner media attention for their problems.
It took them more than five hours to make the journey. Camel owners said that men in plain clothes extort money from them every evening on the excuse that they are conducting their business, selling camel rides to people visiting the beach, illegally.
In spite of having complained to the police, chief minister, governor, home minister, CCPO Karachi and Clifton police, in a petition carrying thumbprints of 64 camel riders, the riders are still being targeted. Now they want government licenses to conduct their business, in the hope that the official document would protect them from harassment.
“We ultimately had no choice but to seek the help of the media, so here we are,” one of the protestors said. They carried placards reading “Ye Rs800,000 bhatta kaun leta hai?” and “Humein license chahiye,” and were accompanied by their lawyer, Advocate M.A. Shahid, who has filed a case in the court on behalf of the camel riders.
Copies of the petition were also distributed. “[The extortionists] call themselves Shamim Bhai, Ataullah Bhai, Abbas Bhai and Salman Bhai when we ask them to identify themselves,” camel rider Mohammad Yaseen said. “Some of them claim to be the police while others say that they belong to different political parties. They take Rs300 from each camel rider.” In addition, people claiming to be political parties’ activists also force them to pay bhatta. And when anyone refuses to pay, he is either publically beaten or carted off along with the camel for a few days and tortured in captivity. “We know it is not the police station where we are taken.
We have no choice but to give in to these demands because we live on daily wages. Staying in custody for even a single day means not being able to put food on the table,” Yaseen told The Express Tribune. According to the people gathered outside the KPC on Monday, there are around 80 to 90 camel riders on Clifton Beach and most earn about Rs250 to Rs 300 a day.
Yaseem said that most of the Rs8,000 or so he makes a month is paid to thugs, what he calls the bhatta mafia. Camel owners said that they filed several complaints at the Darakshan Police Station but received no response.
For his part, SHO Darakshan police, Haji Sanaullah, said that he had received the petition a month ago but since he had only recently been posted to this station he was not aware of the complete picture. “I sent the application to another police in charge at Sea View and I’ve been told that the petitioner, when contacted by the police, withdrew his statement.”