A part of the St Joseph’s Church in Karachi’s Sadiq Nagar area was razed on Tuesday as part of the demolition drive along Gujjar Nullah, depriving at least 4,000 local Christians of their only worship place.
Activists and civil society groups like the Karachi Bachao Tehreek, along with member of the Gujjar Nullah Affectees Committee, had raised alarm against the demolition on Sunday night with calls for protest against the operation. However, the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation’s anti-encroachment teams were not deterred and razed roughly 30 per cent of the building, according to reports.
“There was no resistance from the community. No one can protest and stop these people,” said Sonia, a local resident.
The authorities had marked 11 per cent of the only church in the area as ‘encroached’ but they razed over 30 per cent of it, she lamented. “There are over 4,000 Christian people whose only place of worship was razed. The other church in the neighbourhood was torn down a couple of months ago.”
Local residents have complained of the authorities’ discriminatory attitude against the Christian community.
“There was a wine shop which was marked but no dares to demolish it. There are worship places of other religions as well and they are left untouched,” said a resident.
One elderly affectee, Zeenat, said her house was raised to the ground during the ongoing operation. “But it’s more painful to see our worship place being destroyed.”
The locals decried that even leased structures have not been spared by the anti-encroachment teams. As they await alternate locations for rehabilitation by the provincial government – as directed by the Supreme Court – many locals whose houses have been completely or partially raised are still living atop the rubble. Some families have put up make shift tents while others reside on the debris under the open sky.
Some residents could be seen collecting iron rods from the rubble. “This is the only source of income my family can rely on,” said Zeenat. For the past two months her sons have been excavating material from the debris to sell in the market.
Explaining her living situation, Zeenat said her family had limited resources and could not move. “Those who could afford to have already left the area.”
According to Zeenat, the affectees have been staging protests since the demolition drives began. “Nothing happened. No one cares for our protests. No one actually counts us [as people].”
Another resident, Irum, commented on the apparent callousness of the anti-encroachment teams. “We were praying and weeping. We stared at them [as they razed the church].”
The demolition drives along Karachi’s Gujjar and Orangi nullahs have been repeatedly criticised by urban planners, researchers and members of civil society groups. Hundreds of families have been rendered homeless since the drive began and most await rehabilitation.
The Supreme Court had ordered the removal of encroachments along the nullahs to prevent urban flooding and smooth drainage of rain and sewage water. Local residents have argued, however, that the anti-encroachment teams are demolishing more structures than needed to clear the nullah and are preparing for the construction of a 30-feet-road on either side of the nullahs, which was not included in the plans submitted before the apex court.
The top court has also directed the relevant authorities to ensure that the affectees are provided alternative housing.
Meanwhile, criticism over demolition of the church continued to pour in. “Church is being demolished by KMC along Gujjar Nala. People are cutting through the Church diagonally, to follow contour of the road. It is not the case of widening the Nullah its about to construct road [sic],” tweeted urban planner Muhammad Toheed.
Similarly lawyer Abira Ashfaq tweeted, “This is how we treat our minorities. This is how we destroy what they built, their Church. Government of Sindh, you will have to pay [sic]”.