The changing face of Karachi

Published: May 5, 2015
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The writer holds MSc in Violence, Conflict and Development from SOAS and currently works with at-risk youth to promote peace in Karachi’s most violent neighbourhoods

The writer holds MSc in Violence, Conflict and Development from SOAS and currently works with at-risk youth to promote peace in Karachi’s most violent neighbourhoods

Karachi is a city whose name is synonymous with resilience. It has witnessed many glorious times and, in recent history, many unpleasant memories have been revisited. They say Karachi is the jugular vein of Pakistan. A large commercial centre, contributing a significant proportion of the national revenue; a melting pot of diverse ethnicities and more than its fair share of challenges that any large metropolis would struggle to overcome.

While I am proud to be a Karachiite, I must confess that the city sometimes frustrates me. It seems to have strayed away from its rich history — of a city where diversity of peoples, cultures and traditions coexisted peacefully. Karachi has become a polarised and fragmented society with little or no tolerance for the diversity that once characterised it.

It has been marked with sectarian conflict, increasing ethnic divide and a growing lack of tolerance. With each passing year, Karachi exceeds its own record of human lives lost to violence. Be it industrialists, businessmen, journalists, students, labourers or homemakers — the violent accounts are endless. Increasingly, our lives are consumed with fear. This fear further encourages the socio-economic, ethnic and sectarian divides and reinforces the familiar stereotypes we continue to believe in. There are fewer opportunities for cultural rejuvenation, creativity and expression, and the citizens of this city seem to be unable to come together and interact with each other across the intangible boundaries that have been created.

The news overwhelms us with tragedies, targeted killings and crimes — mostly characterised by a lack of tolerance. Minorities and their places of congregation have been targeted. Expatriates, the few who are braving this posting, do not feel safe. Even schools are not spared the threats of extremist groups using violence to challenge and destabilise the state. In this environment of underlying fear, mistrust and uncertainty, all groups remain confined to their own respective circles.

For the first time a civil society-led campaign has been launched under the name of ‘I Am Karachi’. It aims to embrace the city’s lost identity in three ways; reclaiming public spaces, bringing civil society together and enhancing public awareness and advocacy. The recent ‘I Am Karachi’ day held at Frere Hall was an event that attempted to break barriers and bring people across the city together for the cause of a peaceful and vibrant city. It marked the declaration of an annual day, the second Sunday of every March, to be celebrated as a day for Karachi.

Having had the opportunity to take part in some of the activities organised by this campaign, I have realised that the only way to reclaim our lost identity is to form a collective one, based on the one factor that is common to us all — the love for our city. I have spent afternoons with people from across the city at the travelling exhibition, Numaish, and have been witness to interesting debates as part of the ‘I Am Karachi’ Dialogue Series only to notice we have become numb to what goes on around us. And this campaign seeks to address exactly that. It creates an opportunity for us, the citizens of Karachi, to reclaim this city.

We must continue to salvage our city’s lost identity. As author Umair Naeem puts it, the city is “so very beautiful … multidimensional … There is a soul here … and that soul is as pure as the heat of the sun that shines down on it and the rain that falls to purify it”.

So let’s all be a part of the ‘I Am Karachi’ campaign and put some soul back into this city.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 5th, 2015.

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Reader Comments (6)

  • May 5, 2015 - 2:06AM

    Excellent article. Cannot fault anything in it. Textbook case solutions.
    Here is a simple and urgently needed solution. A separate Province
    for Urdu speaking Muhajjirs. Karachi, Thatta, Hyderabad. This is a
    Muhajjir City, dominated by Muhajjirs. Let the Muhajjirs rule themselves,
    and bring the city out of the Intensive Care Unit,….back to life.Recommend

  • Karachi Race Club
    May 5, 2015 - 4:56AM

    I think about Karachi with tears of anger in my eyes. Each and every ethnic group has decided to make his home here. Were the native sons ever asked ? Karachi is a multi ethnic sewer with each groups sucking the blood of the city.Recommend

  • Parvez
    May 5, 2015 - 2:49PM

    When those who run this city and those who run this country decide to have both their feet planted in this country and not in Dubai, London, Canada, USA etc…….we will see a change for the better. Until then we can have all the ‘ feel good ‘ events but nothing much will change.Recommend

  • Sameer Sindhi
    May 5, 2015 - 8:05PM

    @Gopeet:
    Karachi is heartland of Sindh and we welcome our Mohajir brothers to live and thrive on our land. Together we make this city and whole province strong, tolerant and developed. Certain groups and parties do want to make us fight as saying goes – Divide and Rule.
    Common Sindhi-Mohajir has same issues, and we want peace, better lives and future, and this can’t be achieved based on politics of hate and violence.
    To haters- You’re welcome to live on our land but if you aint happy with us on our motherland, Pakistan does n’t end in Sindh, you are free to leave. Division of Sindh agenda is an agenda of hate, violence and destruction, and we people of Sindh won’t let you succeed in it inshAllah.Recommend

  • May 5, 2015 - 11:00PM

    @Sameer Sindhi:
    The Urdu speaking Muhajjirs tried for 68 years to be assimilated, be
    integrated, accepted in Sindh, and in Pakland. But they were thwarted
    prevented and denied and discriminated against, at every turn by the
    so called true Sons of the Soil, the Sindhis the Punjabis the Pathans
    and the Balochs. It is too late now. Time simply ran out. Recommend

  • JusticeHunter
    May 7, 2015 - 6:30PM

    Sameer, what a view you are still carrying bro; I wish it had happened long time ago. But there is the other lot; the leadership that runs after the loot they’ve made their lifestyle of. God had gifted this piece of land to us that is made a mess. Further divisions will not solve our problems, the fruit is only in peace and harmony. I wish some people stand up for this, I am sure they will…. Recommend

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