Non-Muslim residents of Lyari afraid of returning home
KARACHI: “There were five of them,” she said while holding her young child with one arm and hiding her face with the other.
That’s how the young mother of three, and a victim of gang-rape, started narrating her ordeal at a press conference called at the Karachi Press Club by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on Thursday.
On Dec 10, Human Rights Day, she was on her way to her uncle’s place near Moosa Lane when she was stopped by the men who demanded she call her brother. “When I didn’t comply, they kidnapped me and took me to my sister’s old place at Slaughter House in Baghdadi. The place was vacant. My sister had fled her home a couple of months ago. That was where they tortured me while threatening me with guns and grenades. It went on for over two hours,” she said.Later, she said, she managed to flee when the men were talking to each other while shifting her to a torture cell somewhere else.
The incident was the aftermath of the Oct 26 attack when Lyari gangsters had entered Slaughter House, which was until then considered a peaceful abode of Christians and Hindus, to beat up its residents. Today, some 500 families who lived there don’t have a roof over their heads.
“We shift from one relative’s home to another because we can’t return to our own,” said Rubina Yusuf, whose husband, Yusuf Iqbal Masih, was murdered that day. “He was a poor kabari who cared for his community. He tried to solve the problems of all coming to him for help but now he is no more. And his four young boys and wife are left homeless,” she wept.
“The men came at around noon. The children were at school then and I was about to go to pick them up when four to five men banged at our door asking for my husband. He went out to speak with them but they dragged him away. Later I heard gunfire. A little boy then came to our place to tell me that they had killed Yusuf.
“Meanwhile, all the other houses in the vicinity were also being ransacked. While all this was happening our children were stuck at school as no one could go to pick them up from here. We were trapped here and they there. Some of us managed to run for help to the Rangers already present there due to the Lyari operation but they said they didn’t have orders to intervene. We were on our own. Somehow we escaped from there through the garbage dump. We left behind all our valuables and belongings.
“Slaughter House has been occupied by Christians and Hindus since 1916. I was born there as was my late husband and our parents,” she said. “We have seen good times here, too, but besides what happened the prettier of our girls are also being forced to marry Muslims against their will. If they don’t agree they face rape and even murder. I am grateful to God that He has given me sons, not daughters, as it is no longer safe to bring up girls here,” she said.
Amar Nath Motumaal, vice chairperson of the HRCP Sindh, said that earlier there were as many Hindus as Christians in Lyari but 25 per cent of the Hindus quietly migrated to India. “There are now 90pc Christians and 10pc Hindus at Slaughter House but after Oct 26 people from both communities have scattered all over Karachi,” he said while pointing out that Slaughter House was valuable property being eyed by Lyari gangs as well as some law-enforcement agencies.
“In 2001, the Karachi Municipal Corporation [KMC] wanted the block for itself. We had to go into litigation to get a stay order to stay there. The trial went on for three to four years and finally the verdict was in the favour of religious minority residents. Now it looks like this, too, is linked to grabbing the property,” he added.
“Being members of minority groups, the displaced, who have been staying with relatives in places such as Akhtar Colony, Baldia, Manzoor Colony, Korangi, Landhi, Malir, etc, are afraid to come out to talk of the injustices they are facing. After throwing them out, the gangs of Lyari are using their homes for storing weapons,” said HRCP chairperson Zohra Yusuf.
“Though we have no proof of this but we see the Sindh Rangers, too, as having a part in the injustice carried out on minority families on Oct 26 as they did nothing while remaining bystanders,” she added.
Peter Bernard, who said he represents the Christian community of Lyari, recalled that he with the HRCP help wrote to the government, the director general of Pakistan Rangers, Sindh, and also police chief but no action was taken against the criminals. “Our people, getting constant threats, have also not been provided with any kind of security to enable them to return home and resume normal lives. Their children are missing school. They are a burden on the families they have moved in with. Killing our men and raping our women is a grave violation of human rights but nothing is being done to prevent it,” he said.