PAKISTAN: A battalion of army grabs 3500 acres of land and seals the centuries-old grave yard
A battalion of the Pakistan Army has grabbed the land of old villages of the coastal area of Karachi, the capital of Sindh province. The fisher folk have been forced out of their ancestor villages and pressurised to leave the area. In a latest event Battalion 42 of army, stationed at Karachi, has grabbed the land of the centuries old grave yard of Chashma goth along the Rehrhi coastal line.
The fishermen, whose ancestors are buried there have been prevented from burying their loved ones or even visiting the existing graves which is a ritual for Muslims. On March 18, when the body of fisher man, Abdullah Khaskheli, was brought by the fisher folks for burial the army officials stopped the ceremony. The army officials announced that the grave yard was now under their jurisdiction and no one was allowed to bury bodies. The army has also sealed the graves by putting earth walls around the graveyard.
The protestors then went to Karachi Press Club, 20 kilometers away from their villages, and held a protest. The police contingents arrived to stop the protest and the station head officer (SHO) Mr. Syed Hassan Zulfiqar told the protestor that police cannot intervene in matters of the army. The police dispersed the protest. However, the fishermen are continuing to protest and they have decided to resist the land grabbing by the Pakistan army.
According to Pakistan Fishefolk Forum, a representative body of the fisher folk, the Battalion 42 has till now grabbed of 3500 acres of land from Rehrhi, Landhi town to Ibrahim Hyderi, Korangi. The Chashma Goth grave yard comes in between the areas. The battalion is stationed at Malir Cantonment which is far away from the grabbed land. The soldiers also prevented the fisher folks fishing in the area coming under the grabbed land. The Pakistan army has already a bad record of stopping the fisher men for fishing. As the army encroaches on the land of revenue board the fisher men and their settlements are retrenched from the occupied land.
The land in question was the property of revenue board and is referred in the record as the No Class (or Na class) land. This land was supposedly for the use of fishermen who have live in small villages for centuries. The Pakistan army claims that the land was given as a gift to the army when Second World War was over and Britain left the country. But the army could not produce any evidence to prove that this was true. The actual position is that the land of Malir Cantonment was given to army which is far away from the land which it has been grabbing for a decade. The army actions can not be challenged in the courts because of national security.
The Defence Housing Authority in Karachi has stopped the fisher men to use their centuries old route for fishing. Please see the following link, http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/mainfile.php/2008/2914/, wherein officers of a military residential area, the Defence Housing Authority (DHA), have stopped the local inhabitants from fishing in the areas close to the DHA, burned the boats, fishing nets, and their cycles, the only source of communication for fishermen, and barred them from using their ancestral jetty, in the name of beautification of the military residential area. The Sindh provincial government remains silent spectators.
The Defence Housing Authority was formed in 1980 by the military dictator, General Zia ul Haq. Prior to this the DHA was a housing society under the Sindh provincial government and residential land was acquired at throw away prices in the early 1970s, which incidentally have not yet been paid by the military. General Zia transformed the society into an Authority by a simple ordinance and made it a supra constitutional body, which does not come under the constitution of the Pakistan. No civil law can be applied on the DHA.
After becoming a supra constitutional body in the name of security of the country the DHA has started reclaiming the land all around its territories. It has acquired vast areas of the sea by landfills thereby destroying several centuries old fishing villages. The army has built recreation clubs, golf clubs, hotels, and commercialized the areas reclaimed. The fishermen have been left with nothing and deprived of their basic right to life and livelihood.
The DHA has even bulldozed their graveyards and built commercial structures on them. At present the fishermen have to hire a bus at the cost of Rs. 3,000 (USD 44) to take the bodies of deceased relatives to the nearest graveyard. For that, they get financial help from different trusts and welfare organizations. All this was done to create an atmosphere which could render them helpless, hopeless and compel them to flee their centuries old villages and vacate the land for further construction of palaces for military elite and other rich people.
The Sindh government is a silent spectator to the land grabbing by the powerful army men. It cannot challenge the illegal way of land grabbing by the army because of political expediency and it feels that if army is stopped then it would be difficult for the civilian government to survive.
It is the responsibility of the provincial government and revenue board to stop the land grabbing by the powerful institution in the name of national security. The government should provide the centuries old villages and their land for the safety of the fisher folks and their employment. The right to shelter of the indigenous people be respected by the authorities and the officers who are responsible of land grabbing should be prosecuted according to the law of land.