Beyond the media glare: The Katchi Abadi plight

If justice is served

 

In his early 40s, Nasir Khan is a mild-spoken, fairly handsome man. Having won the seat of Councillor from UC-44 Islamabad, he has not lost the touch of humility and kindness. Precise and short in his talk, he gives a hint of an introvert.

Sitting at a Dhaba in the Sabzi Mandi located opposite what was once his home – I-11 Katchi Abadi — he recalls fondly the years he spent growing up here.

“I spent 35 years of my life here and this place was my home until CDA razed it to ground,” said Nasir.

Marked with barbed wires, what was once home to more than 2,300 families now presents the look of an abandoned and flattened place. Citing illegal encroachments to be the reason, Capital Development Authority (CDA), acting on the orders of Islamabad High Court, started an operation to evict the slums on 30th July.

With thousands rendered homeless, CDA announced alternative residential areas for the slum dwellers which were never granted. Almost five months since the slums were evicted, people, who are mostly daily wagers, are still struggling to settle.

“These Katchi Abadi people are living their lives in great misery because two or three families are forced to live in just one room. All of them earn a small amount of money with which they are unable to manage their daily expenses – let alone pay rents,” lamented Khan.

Marked with barbed wires, what was once home to more than 2,300 families now presents the look of an abandoned and flattened place

These residents belong to KPK districts like Mardan, Charsadda and Nowshera who moved to Islamabad years ago to explore better future prospects. Escaping the landlords in their villages, Sabzi Mandi became a major source of attraction for them.

Most of the residents work at the Sabzi Mandi to earn their livings. Unable to find refuge near their workplaces, they are forced to live as far as Tarnol, Chakra, Taxila, and 26 no bus stop. To reach the Mandi on time, they wake up as early as four in morning to travel all the way from their homes – adding to their daily expenses.

The average daily wage at Sabzi Mandi is in the range of Rs250-300.

“It was easy for me to manage the household expenses with this amount when I lived here but now I have to pay for the house rent as well,” said Sajid, a labourer.

Although moved to far away areas, these slum dwellers have their votes registered in I-11. In the recent Local Bodies Elections, they came all the way from their homes to cast their votes. CDA may have portrayed them as outcasts but they have their addresses registered at I-11.

“I cast my vote here in I-11 five times before I contested the elections myself. How am I foreign to this area?” asked Nasir Khan.

Many officials at CDA claimed that majority of the population in I-11 Katchi Abadis consisted of Afghans – but in reality, there were only 6-7 Afghan families, that too were registered with the local police station.

A myth was going rounds that LEAs didn’t have access to the slums and there were a lot of criminal activities going on under the cover of a so-called residential area.

“Police conducted regular checks and monthly search operations in the area. We always came out clean – it can be found in their records,” claimed Rahim Dad Khan, a middle-aged man who submitted his nomination papers to contest the seat of General Councillor but was pressurised into withdrawing.

Qaim Khan, a fruit vendor who lives in a single room flat at Tarnol, feels guilty to wake his children up at four in the morning and drag them along with him to the Mandi to earn a few bucks.

“But I don’t have any other option,” he said.

“They used to go to schools when we lived here in I-11 but now I have to manage for house rent – as well as electricity and gas bills.”

Fazal Shah contested for the seat of Chairman in the LG polls. He lives in Tarnol with his family – along with the families of his five brothers and pays Rs20,000 as house rent.

“It is very difficult to manage the expenses and my kids are deprived of school because I can’t afford their fee,” comparatively well off Shah added.

Being hard-working and law-abiding citizens, these slum-dwellers wonder what else they need to do in order to remove the labels of criminal and terrorist

Shah has changed four houses so far over various issues.

“We can’t admit our children to schools because we keep shifting places. It gets impossible for us to pay for the admission fee, buy our children new books and copies only to shift to a place far away from the school,” complained Fazal Shah.

He was arrested by police on terrorism and disturbing law and order charges the day after I met him.

Being hard-working and law-abiding citizens, these slum-dwellers wonder what else they need to do in order to remove the labels of criminal and terrorist.

“We are Pakistani citizens, we belong here. Where else shall we go if we are not welcome here?” asked Shah.

Dejected, troubled and disappointed, but they are not without hope.

“Our case is in the Supreme Court and we have gained significant success. We are hopeful that justice will be done,” said Nasir Khan, who is all set to play his role to help the people as a Councillor.

Rahim Dad Khan is also optimistic about the pending decision: “I’m expecting these hard times to be over soon.”

“I want my children to go back to school and make a good future for themselves – which is only possible if justice is served,” Khan added.

Umer Ali

The writer is a journalist based in Islamabad. He focuses on human rights issues, social problems, and more. He can be reached at: [email protected], and on Twitter at: @iamumer1.



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