Displaced at home

The 2020 Karachi rains were nothing less than a time of destruction and despair for most people in the city. But for the residents of the Gujjar and Orangi Nullahs, the rains ended up in their displacement. As life in Karachi came to a halt because of waist-deep standing water in different localities, authorities tried to find a reason for the mess. They settled on the Gujjar and Orangi nullahs – saying the choked drains had stopped the flow of rainwater and the only way out was to remove people’s homes. This marked the approval of an ill-thought-out and unplanned decision: raze down the houses along the nullahs, marking them as encroachments. Now, years after the demolition of well-built houses with proper leases, the Sindh government has finally decided to extend some financial help to the displaced – Rs5 million which will be distributed among the displaced as house rent.

Ever since the demolitions started, the displaced have been turning from one door to another in the power corridors in Sindh. Many displaced people have shared that their children’s studies have been greatly disturbed due to these evictions. Losing homes was not only about losing shelter; the affected also lost job opportunities, and suffered great mental distress. The decision that the evictions be carried out and the houses of these people demolished, even though this would lead to thousands of families living without homes, shows the impact of what poor development can do in a large city. Housing is a basic necessity. In fact, the right to housing – not just shelter – should ideally be a fundamental human right.

There is a difference between how a city like Karachi is handled and planned, and how a sleepy town is planned. And in a city there is even more a need for planned housing – not just for the posh that live in gated communities but for the teeming millions that need proper housing projects that give them at least a chance at civilized living. There have been too many cases of illegal construction on various lands. But, somehow, only the disenfranchised and under-privileged get eviction notices. The fact is that Karachi city’s development has never really been properly planned, and since the decades when the process began, the city has grown into the largest metropolis in the country. In this megacity, housing is an inevitable challenge – exacerbated by anti-poor policies, an apathetic state structure and profit-hungry private entities. The people of Karachi deserve justice, no matter to which community they belong, what their income level is, and where they live .While there are those that can operate with impunity, those who cannot afford to buy influence with the state are treated as interlopers in the only homes they have ever known.

Published in The News 14 Mar 2023