PAKISTAN: A fighter for the poor and disenfranchised gunned down 

Amir Murtaza

In a tragic incident, the well-known social worker, educationist and development expert Parveen Rehman was brutally shot dead in Karachi on 13th March, 2013. She had been working vigorously for the emancipation of the poor and marginalized people in Pakistan, for more than two decades.

Parveen Rehman was a very well respected teacher of architecture and the Director of internationally renowned Orangi Pilot Project, Karachi. It is pertinent to mention that Orangi Pilot Project was founded by Dr. Akhter Hamed Khan in Karachi in the 80s and later the project became a globally recognized model of participatory development initiatives.

Government officials, politicians, civil society organizations, NGOs, CBOs, human rights activists and social workers have strongly condemned the attack which took her life. Her sudden demise is not only a huge loss for her family or organization but certainly for thousands of inhabitants in Orangi and elsewhere, whose lives were touched by this brave and committed woman.

The motive behind her murder remains unclear; however, the incident appears to be a case of ongoing targeted and violent attacks on aid and health workers, NGOs officials and social workers in many parts of the country.

In December of last year, Sister Birgitta Almeby who had been working as a social worker for last 35 years in Pakistan was attacked and shot in Lahore. The Seventy-year-old Sister from Sweden was rushed to the local hospital and later shifted to Stockholm. However, the friend of many poor and downtrodden people passed away due to fatal bullet injuries.

In recent past six polio health workers, including lady health workers were killed while they were facilitating the anti-polio campaign. Additionally, news about the kidnapping of health workers, doctors and NGOs staff have often been broadcast by the national media.

The frequency of such violent incidents has literally shocked those who are engaged in social and economic development of the poor and marginalized people in the country. Salman Rizvi, a development professional, termed the situation very appalling and observed that due to the precarious situation in many parts of the country, civil society organizations are forced to restrict their welfare work.

Pakistani civil society organizations, NGOs and CBOs have contributed a lot in social and economic development of the country. These organizations and their staff have done remarkable work during horrible disasters, including 2005 earthquake and unprecedented floods in 2010 and 2011. In addition, a number of such organizations on daily basis are working sincerely to bring their fellow countrymen out into mainstream society, where they have opportunities to live a fulfilling life.

However, frequent violent incidents against development actors clearly indicate that federal and provincial governments have failed to provide any protection to those who are working for the emancipation of poor and marginalized people of the country. As it is not just the so called elite or powerful, whose lives are precious, the state has a responsibility to protect the lives, property and honor of all its citizens without discrimination. It is a high time for the government officials to revisit their security plans and devise a foolproof mechanism to provide protection and security to the common man including workers of civil society organizations, NGOs, CBOs, development professionals, and social workers.

Document Type : Article
Document ID : AHRC-ART-030-2013
Countries : Pakistan,
Issues : Non-state actors, Right to life, Rule of law, Violence against women, Women's rights,