The Ladies Club in Larkana, which hosted the wives of Sindh’s first chief minister and other bureaucrats, has lost some portion of its pre-Partition building to the land mafia.
Two of the shops that fall under the club’s jurisdiction have been occupied and the authorities have failed to pay attention to the complaints of club members running from pillar to post. “In 2004, the government had announced that it will sell the club and the plot to a builder but we protested with the help of civil society and some political parties and managed to save it,” said Dr Sabiha Mughal, the Ladies Club chairperson. “Now, two of our shops have been occupied and the land mafia has become active once again to grab this precious plot and historical building.”
The Gomibai Jawaharmal Ladies Club was built by a Hindu deputy collector, who named it after his sister. On January 3, 1934, the club was inaugurated by Mrs RE Gibson, the wife of a senior British bureaucrat. The club has around 107 members and it runs without any financial support from the government. Its governing and management committee manages its affairs with the help of the annual membership fee of Rs4,000 that each member pays.
“This land is a property of the district government,” explained a former secretary general of the club, Shazia Jalbani. She also recalled how the facility was shut down for a few years in 2004 following the government decision to hand it over to a builder who wanted to convert it into a hotel. The members had formed a citizens’ action forum and started a campaign against this decision. Later, the authorities succumbed to pressure and withdrew the decision to handover the land to builders.
With these fresh threats to their club, the members have decided to spring into action again. “We have written to the deputy commissioner and other authorities to take action against the land mafia who have occupied the two shops,” said Ladies Club president Parveen Abro. Since the club is located in the centre of Larkana city, it is once again being handed over to some builder, she said. “Some people, with the help of government officials, have even started surveying it,” she said.
Abro recalled that a Pakistan Peoples Party lawmaker, who was a club member, assured them of the Sindh government’s support. An amount of Rs5 million were even allocated to the club in the annual development plan in 2012 to build a community hall and add more rooms, she recalled. “The work remained unfinished as the government ended up releasing only Rs1.5 million.” For their part, Larkana deputy commissioner Javeed Jaghirani assured that he will take action against the land grabbers and evacuate the plot since he has taken over charge now. “I have no idea whether or not the government will sell the club,” he added.
Going back in time
The club, which is a significant part of Larkana’s heritage, has hosted some famous guests in its time. “This is the club where Rana Liaquat Ali Khan visited several times after the launch of All Pakistan Women Association,” pointed out Dr Mughal. “Members of this club also gave a reception to Lady Mountbatten.”
Jalbani recalled how the club was home to cultural activities organised by Hindu, Christian and Muslim women. But these events came to standstill after Partition as many Hindu families migrated to India, she said. The linguistic riots in the 1970s put a big dent on social gatherings as many Sindhi and Urdu-speaking middle-class families left Larkana for Karachi and Hyderabad, she added.
Initially, it was customary to appoint the wife of Larkana’s deputy commissioner as a chairperson of the club but, later, the members decided to become more democratic. They hold elections after every two years to elect office bearers and governing body members.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 11th, 2015.
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