By Ardeshir Cowasjee, Dawn 15 Nov, 2009
Death of a social activist
THE desecration of Gutter Baghicha, a designated parkland for the people of Karachi, has been written about umpteen times over the past couple of years, but no effective action was taken by those concerned.
On Nov 7, 2009, Nisar Baloch, the spearhead of the Gutter Baghicha Bachao Tehreek and a member of Shehri, two NGOs which have been trying for the last two decades to save this lung of the city,was shot through the head by unidentified assailants as he was leaving his house.
As recorded in a Nov 10 editorial in the national press, “After Baloch’s death, most of Old Golimar, Bada Board area and Pak Colony, predominantly Sindhi and Baloch lower class neighbourhoods, were shut down in protest. The police had to be called to control the public outrage against the murder of a concerned citizen, known for his long-standing campaign against the land-grabbing mafia and the indiscriminate conversion of parks, playgrounds, beach promenades, sewage treatment plants, government building plots and even plots in the sea into commercial projects by the authorities.
“The City District Government Karachi is accused of having changed the status of at least 26 parks and playgrounds in middle, lower-middle and working-class neighbourhoods of the city. While a large tract of land by the sea has been turned into a sprawling recreation point, Bagh-i-Ibn-i-Qasim, in the heart of a posh locality, the right of the lesser mortals in the metropolis to public spaces and amenity plots is being flagrantly flouted. Several petitions are pending at various levels of the courts against illegal conversion, grabbing and disposal of land as well as amenity plots all over Karachi….
“Nisar Baloch understandably became a thorn in the side of the land-grabbing mafia, reportedly backed by influential ethnic and political parties of the city. Ironically, he had addressed a press conference only a day before he was murdered where he highlighted the issue in detail and pinpointed (perhaps fatally) the forces lending administrative and political support to the illegal occupation of the land of Gutter Baghicha.
Importantly, Nisar Baloch had criticised both the MQM and PPP in equal measure, the former for complicity in coercion and the latter for its expedient tardiness. The Sindh chief minister had slapped a ban on the disposal and leasing of plots by the city government in July 2009. The ban was challenged by Nazim Mustafa Kamal but this public interest matter was settled out of court as if it was a compoundable dispute.”
Nisar’s widow, 29-year old Madiha, has written to Chief Justice Iftihkar Chaudhry under the heading: ‘Appeal for justice in the matter of Gutter Baghicha, Manghopir Road, Karachi (a) Punish the killers of my social-activist husband, Nisar Baloch (b) Save Gutter Baghicha Park from land-grabbers and criminals’.
The text: “My 45-year old husband, Nisar Baloch, resident of Old Golimar in Karachi, worked most of his life for the poor people of our area, and laboured especially hard over the past 16 years to preserve the remaining 480 acres of Gutter Baghicha Trans-Lyari Park.
“Powerful political parties, corrupt officials and vested interests want to grab this amenity land, and, during the past six months, have occupied a part of the park and are building houses on it. My husband held a press conference at the Karachi Press Club on Nov6, 2009 to expose by name the criminals involved and to ask for your intervention in the matter (see press clippings attached….)
“He was brutally shot dead the next morning at about 9.30 am near our house while driving his motorcycle, leaving me a widow with a two-year old daughter. Details of the murder in cold blood are given in the attached press clippings of Nov 8, 2009.
“This brutal act has ruined our life; I and my daughter request your Honour to take lawful action against those responsible, order an impartial investigation of my husband’s murder, and help preserve his dream of a developed Gutter Baghicha Park accessible to all for recreation.”
This targeted murder was undertaken the day after Nisar’s press conference. Who will be next on the list? Could it be a man of the Rangers? Or could it be a police official? Or a functionary of the City District Government’s Revenue Office whose sworn duty it is to protect government and amenity land?
Karachi is a volatile tinderbox that could ignite at any time. It has slowly reached this stage over the past three decades because our politicians and government officials (not a single statesman among the lot) have progressively abdicated their statutory duty to render good governance and maintain the writ of law.
The recent campaign to free the judiciary from the shackles that since 1947 have increasingly restrained it augurs well for the re-establishment of justice across the land. The citizens of Pakistan look to Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who has himself been a victim of injustice, to come to the aid of the oppressed and exploited.