Protests, demonstrations and processions are for the powerful only

Protest at Mauripur road
Mauripur road yet another infamous location for protest in Karachi, mainly by the residents of Lyari.

Pakistan is synonymous to protests. Few term it as the victory of democracy but for major Pakistanis, demonstrations have just become painful. Imtiaz Fazal, a resident of Sadar area of Karachi, shares his experiences; he has been accidently caught up in over 100 processions, protest, and demonstrations in the metropolis.

He likes to call Karachi the ‘Dharna Capital’ of the world where he is a regular at such events. Anyone who tells him that the city has not much to offer he quickly takes them to at least five demonstrations a day. Asserting his cheeky tagline “Dharnay¬†Pe Hi Marna Hai”. Last year he states that there were nearly 500 protests in and outside the Karachi Press Club alone. In total Karachi had approximately 1,964 protests, demonstrations, and processions in 2015. These ranged from a crowd of few dozens to hundreds of thousand. Political parties across the country have been at the forefront of conducting rallies sometimes to topple the government and on other occasions to ensure a healthy voting bank. In their over-powering nature, the real issues on which protests take place often go unreported. The citizens’ protests are based on core issues such as electricity, water, gas and infrastructure. However, if political parties are not in support of these protests, the demonstration either gets violent or quickly gets over without being highlighted in the media or to the concerned authority.

KMC protest outside Karachi Press Club
KMC protest, image courtesy Aarish Jameel.

Imtiaz asserts that recently there was no news of the protest by KMC workers over non-payment of 3 months salary, demanding better equipment and a stop to the privatisation measures that the government is mulling over. The demonstration was conducted outside the Karachi Press Club, but it failed to make news as there was no political affiliation or mafia involved in the act. Instead just common citizens desperately wanting justice. Also, in the past few days, Sindh small industry corporation also protested because of non-payment of salaries for nine months and a government school in Karachi demonstrated in view of the neglect from the Sindh Education Department.

Sindh small industry corporation protest outside Karachi Press Club
Sindh small industry corporation protest, image courtesy Aarish Jameel.

With hardly any justice to the vast majority of the society, things in Pakistan are not only difficult, but a lot of citizens have relocated to other countries for better prospects. If one needs to be heard it has to shake hands with political parties, mafia or the organisers of mass mob movement. To create any pressure or get the demands approved, influential people run businesses of rent a mob. These mobs are available to facilitate from anywhere between Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 5,000 per person. It depends on what you want the mob to do. A simple protest will cost as less as Rs. 1,000 but the rates spike up pretty fast if one wants to block roads, vandalise property or cause casualties.

Many protests in the city have security fears. In the past decade, while coming from work, Imtiaz has been looted and hit by angry protestors or those posing to be one. The incident has not happened once but at least six to eight times. Numaish Chowrangi located near Sadar is the head office for such activities. Road blocks, containers and a rush of people holding flags and placards are usual scenes. After Jummah prayers, every Friday one needs to think before planning to take that route to go home. While the government has remained clueless and helpless, the public as a whole are the sufferers. Unfortunately, the traffic congestion on protest days prolongs commute by at least 200 percent. While things have become better, these demonstrations are likely to be decreased by at least 50 percent – a relief to the locals.

However, people like Imtiaz will keep on suffering. Their security and well-being are at risk. Regularly roadblocks are a major problem because of the health of her mother. “God forbid if she ever needs to go to the hospital and a demonstration or procession is taking place I am afraid we will lose on time to save her precious life”, said Imtiaz Fazal.

The government needs to designate one and only place in the city which has ample space to hold hundreds of thousand protestors. Also that there should be enough parking, exit and entry points to ensure smooth flow of traffic. But according to Imtiaz if all the inconvenience is no longer present government will be least bothered to hear demands of the distress.