Islamabad, the beautiful manicured capital of Pakistan, is currently in an awkward tussle with its own underserved class. The population of shanty towns who serve as guards, domestic workers and cleaners are now at odds with the city's administration because it wants to evict them from the land they have illegally settled for years, sometimes decades.
Protests on Thursday at one settlement turned violent, with police using tear gas and batons to disperse those gathered. A 6-day-old infant died allegedly from suffocation due to the tear gas, and at least three other people were injured.
Journalist Siddique Humayun spoke to residents of one settlement for a report in national newspaper Dawn. One shop owner named Murtaza said the eviction warnings have been coming for months:
According to him, someone from the government came three months ago and told the slum dwellers to vacate, but they didn't. The three-day notices kept coming, but the people did not move.
Other locals said if the Capital Development Authority (CDA), the agency behind the eviction drive, insists on kicking residents out, it should provide sufficient alternative housing arrangements as many of them are with families and small children.
Civil society is currently standing up for these not so lucky neighbours of theirs, with many tweeting under the hashtag #StopEvictions.
— #StopEvictions (@KachiAbadis) July 22, 2015
Entrepreneur Zarlasht Faisal tweets:
— Zarlasht Faisal (@ZarlashtFaisal) July 31, 2015
Usama Khilji, an activist from Islamabad, wrote on Facebook:
Horrible how houses of the poor are being demolished brutally with no alternative options being provided or even discussed by government & authorities. The elite strike against the poor yet again.
Hey CDA:The children’s library in #Islamabad has been occupied by a religious seminary 4 yrs. Would you evict those illegal occupants too?
— Raza Rumi (@Razarumi) July 30, 2015
Murtuza Solangi, the head of Radio Pakistan, also saw a double standard in CDA's actions:
All farm houses in Zone-4 are illegal because the area was not meant for housing. Will CDA bulldoze them?
— Murtaza Solangi (@murtazasolangi) July 30, 2015
Journalist Fahad Desmukh writes:
— Fahad Desmukh (@desmukh) July 31, 2015
— Nosheen Abbas (@Goshno) July 31, 2015
This fight for the evicted has been taken up not just by civil society activists but also by the left-wing Awami Workers Party. The party raised the alarm over dozens of residents and an activist who were reportedly arrested under the Anti-Terrorist Act.
— AWP Islamabad (@AWPIslamabad) July 30, 2015
Some are worried that people are only standing up because these colonies provide cheap labour and their removal would mean lowering their own standard of living. Motivations aside, it remains to be seen how the government will react to the strong uproar on social media over this enforced eviction. If it continues on this course, one thing is for certain: civil society is ready to put up a fight.