August Issue 2015
Who Was Afraid of Parween Rehman?
In March this year, police officials announced that one of the main suspects in the Parween Rahman murder case was arrested from Mansehra in a joint operation by police teams from Karachi and Mansehra. The culprit, Ahmad Khan alias Pappu Kashmiri, had apparently gone into hiding since Rahman’s murder two years ago.
Ahmad Khan, the rebellious son of a well-known prayer leader Sahibzada Abdul Baqi in the mosque at Banaras Chowk, is a known figure among the criminal gangs affiliated to and patronised by assorted political groups in the city. His father, Sahibzada Abdul Baqi, died a few months back, but there was no one from the family to take over his position as both of his sons chose to follow the criminal path. His elder son was involved in armed robberies and other criminal activities and was killed in an encounter. The younger one is facing a trial for his involvement in one of the most high profile murders in Karachi.
“Ahmad Khan gained notoriety for his involvement in many criminal activities and acts of ethnic violence,” says a shopkeeper near the mosque. “It is due to this fear of him that the mosque in which his father was a prayer leader has not yet fallen into the hands of any other religious group, though given its location and commercial value, different groups are vying to get hold of it.”
However, there are many twists and turns in the police account, prior to Ahmad Khan’s arrest. On the day following Parween Rahman’s murder, the police killed a lesser known militant, Qari Bilal, in a staged encounter and claimed that he was the murderer of Parween Rahman. But their claim proved to be unfounded as no investigations were carried out, and the police account of the Qari Bilal killing was fraught with inconsistencies as was the way the forensic evidence was handled. Various TTP factions were named in the killing and later the ring leader of a drug mafia, Mehfuzullah Bhallu, was killed and the same charges were levelled against him.
Some news reports have suggested that Ahmad Khan has named Rahim Swati as the planner and perpetrator of the attack. Rahim Khan Swati was the District West information secretary of the Awami National Party (ANP) and was living near the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) head office. In one of her interviews, Parween Rehman referred to him as one of the persons who were threatening the OPP team.
Swati has been declared an absconder and his whereabouts are not known to the police, but they maintain that Rahim Swati is linked to the illicit water hydrants business and was infuriated at one of the OPP reports on the subject. However, the report was published four years back and it is hard to establish its link to a murder that took place in 2013.
The initial murder probe had pointed towards the involvement of some TTP factions as they were beneficiaries of the illicit water hydrants business and had also taken hold of the surrounding areas, forcing the ANP to shut down their offices. Moreover, MQM offices in the area were bombed several times, killing scores of political workers, including an MPA of the MQM.
“Criminal elements often use the names of parties as a cover-up. It is possible that these criminal elements [using the ANP’s name] collaborated with TTP in the killing of Parween Rahman and Abdul Waheed, another activist associated with OPP, as both TTP and criminal elements benefited to the tune of millions from water hydrants,” says an ANP official. “Since ANP itself was at the receiving end of terror attacks on their workers and had forced closures of their offices, people associated with it cannot be linked to such a crime. However, if an individual is found to be involved in such an act, he should be prosecuted as per the law.”
The case of Parween Rahman is now in the Supreme Court and investigations are underway, but why don’t the police want the OPP team to continue work at their offices in Orangi Town? On whose behalf have some lower -ranking police officials been conveying messages to the OPP team not to visit the Orangi office? Who was behind the attack on OPP-RTI director Saleem Aleemuddin last year? Why has the OPP-RTI acting director, Anwar Rashid, been threatened and asked to leave the country? Who sent armed militants to Parween Rahman’s home to threaten her mother and sister? What part of the OPP work is a matter of concern for those who don’t want to keep it going?
Newsline raised these questions with OPP officials and Parween Rahman’s family while researching this article. The police, for some reason, are not happy with the progress in the Parween Rahman murder case, and their ire is mainly directed at those among the OPP officials who are petitioners in the case. The acting OPP-RTI director, Anwar Rashid was approached by the police and asked why he wasn’t travelling abroad when he had multiple visas? Or referring to his residential address they said, we know you live in Surjani etc. Typical intimidation tactics!
If the police version is correct, then why are they wary of the reinvestigation on Supreme Court directives? And if the suspect in the Parween Rahman murder case had already been killed, then who threw a grenade on the car of the OPP-RTI (then) director, Saleem Aleemuddin, in the vicinity of Pirabad Police station?
Just a few weeks earlier, two armed militants had barged into the entrance of Parween Rahman’s home, where her mother and sister Aquila Ismail live, and enquired about Aquila. She was not at home then, and they left after hurling abuses and threats to the family.
What has brought some of the suspected criminals and the police together against the OPP team and Parween Rahman’s family to try and intimidate them and force them to withdraw the case? Does this not seem to suggest that the issue is far beyond the involvement of some petty criminals infuriated at some issue or TTP militants?
Anwar Rashid suggests that the main cause of concern is not OPP’s work in an area known for militant influence, nor does it have anything to do with the water hydrants issue. The real issue is the politics of land which has put OPP officials in the crosshairs.
Parween Rahman used to say, “There are two types of naags (snakes), the kala naag (the black snake) and the peela naag (the yellow snake). The black one represents the government administrative officials, who take the informal settlements around the city known as goths or katchi abadis for granted. They do not acknowledge the ownership rights of those living on these lands for decades and do not hesitate in resorting to forced evictions. And the yellow snake is the developers and builders, who want to acquire land for their projects and try to get it as cheap as they can.
“We opted for the yellow snake, the developer and builder, a preferred option among the two. By helping people living in the goths to get their land regularised and secure proper documentation, we prevent them from forced evacuations by the authorities and bring them into a better bargaining position with the builders and the developers.”
The OPP initiative of getting these goths regularised with the help of the PPP government was successful, as 1,063 goths were notified, but with the death of Parween Rahman, the process came to a halt. Not a single goth has been notified since March 2013, while more than 1,000 files of goths are under process and waiting to be notified.
Halting the process of notifying i.e. regularising the status of the goths and the environment of hostility surrounding the OPP work, has given rise to concern among those involved with the process. To borrow from Parween Rahman, it seems that the kala naag and the peela naag have joined hands against the inhabitants of these goths and are collaborating to keep in check the value of land by blocking its regularisation and documentation. This way, both the builders or developers and government officials can negotiate with each other, without the hassle of taking on board the wishes of those living on these lands.
A League of Her Own
Aquila Ismail, in her novel Of Martyrs and Marigolds, has written a moving account of the people who were displaced and dispossessed in the aftermath of political conflict in former East Pakistan, which resulted in the creation of Bangladesh. Among them is the character of a young girl, ‘Munni,’ who suffers tremendous emotional upheaval and feelings of estrangement as the fires of hatred rage around her. Ismail’s family, like many others, moved to Pakistan, but memories of that tumultuous period shaped their own existence. For Aquila, the ruminations of those days translated into a novel; for ‘Munni,’ now Parween Rahman, it led to her transformation into a person who dedicated her life to serving the displaced and the homeless.
Perhaps that was the reason that when Parween joined the remarkable Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) and was introduced to the man who was to be her mentor, Akhtar Hameed Khan, she knew at once that she had arrived at the right place. She settled in nicely and worked and influenced hundreds during her time at the OPP in Orangi Town.
Siraj Ahmed from Technical Training & Resource Centre (TTRC) in Ghaziabad, Gulshan-e-Bihar Orangi Town, an organisation which had started as an extension of OPP and later became an independent institution, shares memories of his work with Parween Rahman. “I started working at OPP in 1996 and came to know Ms Parween Rahman. Her dedication changed our whole perception towards community work. Her involvement in each and every aspect of our work, her sharing of ideas, listening to others and paving the way for them to take the lead were remarkable.
“When we returned from an international conference in Singapore, based on the learning and experiences of various organisations from different parts of the world, we began a community-based micro-credit project to encourage women to save money, and established a women-savings group. The initiative was welcomed and there was good participation from the community. Parween sahiba was very happy and said, ‘Now you are an innovator, get on with it and lead’.” Siraj provides further details of how the OPP ethos had influenced many others like him, and how their community initiatives have been replicated by hundreds of organisations across Pakistan.
“Last night, I returned from Larkana, where the Ali Hasan Mangi Memorial Trust has started a community-based sanitation project. All we have to do is provide technical assistance.” Siraj showed some photos of his Larkana trip.
Muhammad Shamsuddin is another social activist who has, in the past, worked on various community projects with the OPP and is now commuting between Karachi and Layyah in the Punjab, where he has started working with the villagers to encourage them to establish “savings groups” and then spend it on building toilets in their homes.
“We have encouraged the villagers there to save on a monthly basis,” says Shamsuddin. “One person among them is assigned the task of collecting the money and then small loans are disbursed to members of the savings groups, who utilise them for the construction of toilet facilities in their homes.” The facility is more helpful for the women as they don’t have to go outside their homes to use these facilities, which, in some cases, gives rise to disputes among the villagers.
Siraj Ahmed refers to a similar project in Bhagwan Goth, Baldia Town, a settlement of low-caste Hindus who have no water supplies despite KWSB pipelines in the same localities which are providing water to the Naval Colony and its adjacent areas. “We have established savings groups there to cover the financial costs of getting them water through drilling, so they have easy access to water for domestic use.”
I asked Siraj if he had ever considered working for any organisation other than the OPP subsidiaries? “Some of my colleagues have learned various skills here at OPP and TTRC and are now working with different organisations and government institutions as well. What I have learned here, I owe it all to Parween Rahman, so I cannot think of quitting and going somewhere else.”
That’s the spirit and the level of loyalty to ones work that Parween Rahman bequeathed to the OPP team. And it is this spirit that has kept the organisation alive despite the many hurdles in the way.
This article was originally published in Newsline’s July 2015 issue.
Ali Arqam main domain is Karachi: Its politics, security and law and order