Truth of the matter is, as Roland D'Souza of Shehri pointed out, it is already too late. We are neck deep in illegal commercialization, and illicit collaborations amongst the real estate developers, the military, political parties, and the so called land mafia..
Every day I drive by the Abdullah Shah Ghazi shrine. Small business along the shrine, including shops and rehri walas, were illegally evicted by 2008. The area was home to sea shell craft sellers, some of whom had been there for 80 years. There is a new kind of development -- a gaping wound in the belly of the earth: foreign excavators, cranes, machinery of the highest quality. Needless to say, an investment of crores of rupees. Ejecting the poor residents of Karachi from the area, Behria Town (BT) is constructing a power plaza right next to the shrine where the affluent will enjoy offices, spas, gyms, and high end stores. They had no legal recourse, and were stripped of their vested and customary rights to use the land to run their businesses
There are two points worth noting:
BT is a rogue builder. In 2007, an accounts committee was set up to investigate how the Ministry of Defense had allowed private builders like it to use the name of the armed forces. The links are there -- BT has developed special housing schemes for retired generals and judges at subsidized rates.
Smack next to this proposed glitzy project stands the shrine that suffered a suicide attack earlier this month.
Do the math.
Shrine: A place that suffered a breach of security with fatal consequences for the poor who probably had no social and health insurance.
Plaza: A place that must never suffer a breach of security, and if it does, there is insurance cover of millions.Plaza: Military real estate and private corporations.
Right Next to Shrine: frequented by the superstitious poor who must pay homage to their saints, armed with taaveez and garland, when health, education, housing and all social safety nets miserably fail them.
The concerns I have:
Was the attack staged by the powers to secure more real estate for further voracious development? Doesn't the land make land speculators lusty? This land that the shrine is on is worth millions; but it is a sacred space for the poor and the middle classes. Most of old vendors have already been driven out.
Does this seem like a bid to see if the rest of them can be shooed away as well. Afterall, Muslim sufi followers are a tricky bunch. While the temple close to the shrine is easy prey, the shrine represents the sentiments of a large, loyal population.
The state has also been promoting sufi Islam as a hybrid and tolerant version of the religion that preaches peace and love -- both locally and abroad. Multinationals jump on the bandwagon and Coke studio does shows on Sufi kalaam. In that narrative, an attack on a shrine threatens peace of a sacred nature - never mind that it is a fictionalized, hyper, corporatized version of peace and Islam.
But isn't it evident that the real threat to peace is the slow, gradual, and systemic destruction of the landscape by builders with dubious connections with the military -- raising towers that break the law, ignore the deleterious effects on the environment, evict legal occupiers, and necessitate high level security assurances? Buildings that will do nothing to elevate anyone's economic status except that of the military, the builders, the landowners, the multinationals, and the banks.
Now even if the shrine does not possess the magic to cure tuberculosis and cancer, at least it is a multi-class space. Its a place to visit on a Thursday. Its an amenity. The glitzy tower will only see construction workers slog in the initial phase - and then it will be cordoned off, and become inaccessible to the poor.
Will the shrine then pose a risk for the tower, or an eye sore? Is the attack going to serve as a convenient precedent to heighten security measures along the road of the shrine to control and monitor access by the poorer residents of the city? Will big business want to be neighbors with the wretched?
Just thinking out loud in a Karachi state of mind when everything seems plausible, and life imitates a conspiracy theory.
There were at least 11 killed in Shershah today. The future is bleak, and its going to be a long, long time before we see real social change. Who cares if Che is on a shoe?