KARACHI, June 4: With no effective measures taken by the authorities to check growing threats against the Orangi Pilot Project whose team was recently forced to stop work and relocate, the perpetrators have taken a step forward by visiting the house of slain OPP director Parween Rahman and threatening her sister and mother besides terrorising the caretaker, it emerged on Wednesday.
Threats with impunity, which have surged in recent times since the murder of OPP director Rahman in March 2013, brought together representatives of civil society organizations to the Karachi Press Club to publicly take a stand against Sindh government inaction and warn of public mobilization and moving court if security was not provided to the family of Ms Rahman and those currently associated with the project.
The press conference was addressed by chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Zohra Yusuf, executive director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) Karamat Ali, architect Arif Hasan besides representatives of the Women’s Action Forum and other civil society organisations.
Speaking about how the OPP was left in the lurch with a constant barrage of attacks on its leadership causing the current director, Anwar Rashid, and over two dozen members of staff associated with the project to relocate, Piler executive director Karamat Ali said two men visited Parween’s house last week.
They threatened her sister, Aquila Ismail, and their 80-year-old mother, and also terrorised the caretaker, he said.
“This is an unacceptable situation,” he added.
“Previously, police officers in plain clothes had come to the OPP office in Orangi and asked workers to shut down the project and leave the country. Repeatedly, we have had senior police officials forcing us to take back the case against Parween’s killers,” said Mr Ali.
The state, specifically the Sindh government, was criticised for “failing to solve the question as to who murdered Parween Rehman and for what purpose.”
The civil society representatives also shared their frustration about how the threats were not being taken seriously by the authorities, “which has virtually brought the work of OPP to a halt.”
With the case finally making some headway in the Supreme Court (SC), the threats are a means to derail this progress, according to Mr Ali.
“We demand that the state fulfil its constitutional obligation to provide security to all family members of Parween Rahman, to Anwar Rashid and to the members of the OPP.”
Petitioners of the case against Parween’s killers, some of whom were present at the press conference, laid down other demands that included uncovering Parween’s killers, launch of an investigation into the coercion by the police officials who asked them to withdraw the case, as well as prosecuting all those who have broken the law and not carried out their duties with regard to the case.
“The SC’s binding instructions to provide foolproof security cannot be ignored any longer, and if action is not taken by the necessary authorities, we will file a complaint in court,” said Mr Ali.
“Also, we will have to resort to public mobilisation against the intimidation of OPP.”
HRCP chairperson Zohra Yusuf said that none of the petitioners would succumb to this intimidation by taking back the case.
“We have lost three great women working for society — Parween, Zahra Shahid and Sabeen Mahmud. We are no longer afraid and will take this matter to the court if justice is not upheld and the loss of lives not prevented,” she said.
Architect Arif Hasan said the mapping section of OPP, which is at the centre of all these threats, had to be relocated. “We had planned to return to Orangi but due to the severity of these threats, we are unable to do so.”
Of the many projects OPP was working on, the regularisation of goth land garnered the most controversy. Working alongside the PPP government, Parween had helped facilitate this process by establishing the existence of more than 2,000 goths. Around the time of her death, 1,063 goths had been regularised with more than 1,000 others pending. After her murder, not a single goth has been regularised so far.
Threats with impunity have become a regular feature with OPP projects, specifically the one related to goth regularisation. These are, according to those present at the press conference, merely discouraging other community-based organistions from taking up the cause of the poor.