Rest in peace little sister, Parveen Rehman

By Zubeida Mustafa

I NEVER had a younger sister but at some stage, I can’t recall when, a woman entered my life to fill the vacuum I had always felt. Actually she was my friend Aquila’s “little” sister and so charming were her ways that we became connected. She brought sunshine into my life as she did into the lives of many others.

This little sister of mine — Parween Rahman — was shot dead last Wednesday leaving not just her family and supporters devastated. The whole country — in fact the community of caring social workers the world over — is mourning her loss.

There was something about Parween. Anyone who met her was attracted by her cheerful disposition and warm, caring nature. Her versatile personality allowed her to strike an immediate equation with people of all ages and background who met her. Her witty retorts followed by her musical laughter have now been silenced for ever. That really hurts.

Why should anyone want to touch a gentle soul like her who was incapable of doing anyone any wrong? Why? Why? Why? was the question asked in the hundreds of messages that poured in. Continue reading “Rest in peace little sister, Parveen Rehman”

My Last Meeting with Slain Parveen Rehman

By Nafisa Hoodbhoy

“Did you find that religious extremism has grown in Pakistan on this trip?” asked Sheema Kirmani, sitting cross-legged in the front of the crowd, after I had finished presenting my book at a session of the Karachi Literary Festival.

“Oh yes,” I responded. “But its not just religious, but also ethnic extremism that’s taken hold of Karachi. guest-contributorI think that the more violence permeates society, it causes individuals to fall back on the groups that give them a sense of identity.”

Sitting in the audience was Parveen Rehman. She had promised to attend after I went to her sister, Aquila Ismail’s presentation of her book “Martyrs and Marigolds,” a couple of hours before my launch. Continue reading “My Last Meeting with Slain Parveen Rehman”

It would be safer if she was not the only one

By Steve Inskeep

Several times in Karachi I went to see Perween Rahman. We first met in 2008, as I researched informal settlements where millions of Karachi residents lived. People who knew these vast stretches of concrete-block homes told me to seek out Rahman, who knew more.

We met at her office, the Orangi Pilot Project-Research Training Institute. Someone would lead me across a courtyard to find Perween in one or another of the institute’s cluttered rooms – a dim room, usually, because the power was out. A photo from one of our meetings shows sunlight from a window reflecting off her glasses. Her hand is moving as she talks, and her mouth is bending into a smile. The image suggests her vitality, though I never managed a photo that fully captured the pleasure she took in her work. It was like trying to photograph a bird in flight.

By Steve Inskeep

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Several times in Karachi I went to see Perween Rahman. We first met in 2008, as I researched informal settlements where millions of Karachi residents lived. People who knew these vast stretches of concrete-block homes told me to seek out Rahman, who knew more.

We met at her office, the Orangi Pilot Project-Research Training Institute. Someone would lead me across a courtyard to find Perween in one or another of the institute’s cluttered rooms – a dim room, usually, because the power was out. A photo from one of our meetings shows sunlight from a window reflecting off her glasses. Her hand is moving as she talks, and her mouth is bending into a smile. The image suggests her vitality, though I never managed a photo that fully captured the pleasure she took in her work. It was like trying to photograph a bird in flight.

Rahman showed me maps of the city’s incredible expansion. She introduced me to neighborhood activists. And she told stories of illegal land developers she’d met through her research. Though she knew some would kill to protect their business, she published her findings and helped journalists like me.

“Please write about this,” she told me once. “Write about it in your name. It would be safer if I was not the only one!” She spoke with a smile and a laugh, as she often did when describing her precarious existence.

Residents-work-on-a-low-cost-sanitation-project-in-Orangi
Residents work on a low-cost sanitation project in Orangi

Her words came back to me after Rahman was shot by men on motorcycles this month. Police say they killed the killer, a man linked with the Taliban, though Rahman’s friends have doubts. “I am shattered, my heart bleeds, I feel powerless,” one wrote. The feeling of helplessness is widespread. But Perween Rahman suggested one thing to do. Write about this, she said. Don’t let me be the only one.

The OPP-RTI is famous for “helping the poor,” though that is not precisely what it has done. Akhtar Hameed Khan, the social scientist who founded it in the 1980’s, said the poor must help themselves. His mission was to spread information. If people must live in extralegal developments, he would teach them how to dig their own sewers or lobby for basic services.

Rahman embraced this philosophy, helping an entire city learn about itself. She wrote a report explaining who was stealing city drinking water. A wall map at her office charted sewers and storm drains clogged by unplanned development. Other maps identified hundreds of square kilometers that the informal builders were capturing. She courageously lit a torch at the shadowy intersection where politicians, business interests, criminal organizations, and violence come together.

Pakistanis do not have nearly enough information about that intersection, and Rahman’s death illustrates why.

She courageously lit a torch at the shadowy intersection where politicians, business interests, criminal organizations, and violence come together

Pakistan can be proud of a robust media, brilliant researchers, and dedicated activists who often work at the risk of their lives. The trouble is that they are not yet numerous enough, or supported strongly enough. It is hard to speak truth to power in any country, including mine. And it’s much harder than it should be in Pakistan. The whole ecosystem of information is cramped by scarce resources and constant peril. Vast social trends are under-examined. Murders are described but not often explained. Newspapers commonly edit stories so that basic facts, such as the name of a political party, are omitted. Journalists and activists must make practical decisions about whether this or that statement is so important that they are willing to leave the country after making it.

Pakistan as a whole is safer than any stereotype of the country would suggest. Karachi is not among the world’s most violent cities, which are mostly in Latin America or the United States. More than 80 countries have higher murder rates than Pakistan. It is the narrower problem of political violence that disrupts civic life, and risks staining a nation’s soul. All too often victims are targeted simply for what they say – people like Malala Yousufzai, shot as she was promoting education; Salman Taseer, assassinated for his opinion of Pakistan’s blasphemy law; Saleem Shahzad, dumped in a canal after he reported on extremists and the military; or Perween Rahman, producing her maps and reports on Karachi.

The Orangi Pilot Project is famous for ‘helping the poor’, though that is not precisely what it has done. The social scientist who founded it in the 1980’s said the poor must help themselves

But if these attacks horrify the world, there is an opportunity to inspire. Pakistanis can carry on the basic task of citizenship Perween Rahman performed for more than thirty years. Find reliable information. Pass it on. Publish it. And cite your sources, saying how you know what you know.

When I wrote a book about Karachi called Instant City, residents helped me follow Rahman’s example. They helped me to document a battle over park land, which ended in the murder of the activist Nisar Baloch in 2009. Although I could not identify who pulled the trigger, court records, maps, and interviews revealed a great deal about the land grab that led to the murder. Brave citizens helped me because they cared about their city. In the same spirit, citizens can continue the work to which Rahman devoted her life.

How to do this and survive? “It would be safer if I was not the only one,” Rahman said. When in danger, researchers, activists, or journalists can share information. They can publish their findings in many places, so criminals will know they are up against too many citizens to silence. Those who are not writers or activists can offer financial support, whether through a donation to a public interest group or simply a newspaper subscription. Contributions, however small, strengthen institutions doing dangerous work. Through such contributions, citizens effectively band together to inform themselves. It is a form of “self-help,” the principle for which Perween Rahman lived and died.

Ultimately, of course, the government must more effectively prevent or prosecute political violence. That would require extraordinary patience and political skill, especially when violent actors are found to have links to powerful parties or the state. But it is possible to imagine how Pakistan’s next prime minister might begin the job after the elections May 11.

First, congratulate the outgoing government on completing its five-year term, which no elected civilian government had ever done. It was a vital step in establishing democracy, and an overarching goal that the whole country understood. It was a departure from bitter history, worth achieving no matter what else went wrong.

Next, take a moment to recall Perween Rahman and other citizens who have been killed. Define the next vital step toward democracy, an overarching goal that is worthy of the next five years: Make public discourse safe.

Source: The Friday Times

The Death of a Nobody

By Ghazala Akbar

Hundreds of lives lost, homes destroyed and we are not even in the first quarter of the year. In other countries this would constitute a national emergency. Heads would roll, governments might fall but in Pakistan, it’s just another bad day at the office. We are as they say a very resilient people. Very. There is no other option. When you are down, the only way is up. That’s what an optimist like the late Parveen Rahman might have said. Parveen who? Exactly. In the recent tsunami of violence, it’s easy to forget. Coming hard on the heels of back to back bombings of Shia neighbourhoods in Karachi and Quetta plus the burning of homes belonging to Christian families in Lahore, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep count or remember names.
Continue reading “The Death of a Nobody”

Parveen Rehman’s death has left me heartbroken

An impish smile, one that reached her eyes and made them twinkle; the way she’d intertwine her arm with yours, like school girls do; her intelligent conversations; her wry humour that was always interspersed with chortles of laughter – there was a sort of joie de vivre about Parveen Rehman that suggested a new lightness of being. She exuded warmth and a gentleness that is hard to find these days.

By Zofeen Ebrahim

Parveen Rehman left a job at a high-end Karachi architectural firm to join the Orangi Pilot Project, a nongovernmental organization that supports people living in illegally built settlements.
Why was her life snuffed out in that terrible manner? Was it because she was a messiah for the poor? PHOTO: NPR/FILE

An impish smile, one that reached her eyes and made them twinkle; the way she’d intertwine her arm with yours, like school girls do; her intelligent conversations; her wry humour that was always interspersed with chortles of laughter – there was a sort of joie de vivre about Parveen Rehman that suggested a new lightness of being. She exuded warmth and a gentleness that is hard to find these days.

So why was her life snuffed out in that terrible manner?

Was it because she was a messiah for the poor or was it due to her attempts to make people understand what development meant in poor settlements?

Did they hate her for finding joy in simple things?

Parveen Rehman was an architect by qualification and she headed the well-known Orangi Pilot Project-Research and Training Institute (OPP-RTI), in Karachi’s Orangi area.

“I am an optimist. The maximum I can remain depressed for is ten minutes!” she told me in an interview I was conducting back in 2009, for a book “Women Managing Water” published in India for which was collecting inspiring stories of women from around South Asia.

And then she added,

Maybe it has to do with what happened to us in East Pakistan.

In her own words,

I was in class nine, in 1971, when Pakistan lost its eastern half (present Bangladesh). I was spoilt and pampered, being the youngest among four siblings and was like any teenager, obsessed with music, friends and partying.”

Transported back in time, she said life then for her was a never-ending joyride till the day the Mukti Bahini came to Mirpur, in Dhaka, where they lived and she finally saw men becoming animals.

Every night, she said, soldiers would pick a few women from among them.

I remember my mother telling me and my sister that if somebody dragged us out, we should kill ourselves.

Strangely, her harrowing experience back in 1971 did not turn her into a bitter person. She told me in an interview to Dawn in 2000,

All issues, in my opinion deal with society as a whole and women cannot be separated; you have to see the situation in its totality.

When she talked about the 18 years she spent with Dr Akhtar Hameed Khan, it brought a glow on her face.

“He taught me a way of life,” she said.

I am lucky to have worked with the best. At the OPP (Orangi Pilot Project) you learn as you grow. It teaches you that you can have a good life even in simplicity.

She described the OPP in various ways during the course of the interview – as “a way of life”; an “attitude”, a “catalyst”, a “great people’s work”, an “urban phenomenon”, a “movement”, but not a project.

The one piece of advice from Khan sahib that stayed with her always was,

“First acknowledge what you lack, try and see who has those skills and then stick to them like a leech and pick their brains!”

She believed it was important for men and women to work together as that way women learn to be assertive and men become gentler, she’d say.

My mind is still too numbed and my heart seems in physical pain; I cannot think beyond the fact that it’s the biggest loss for our country. I felt something akin to the way I felt when Benazir Bhutto was shot and killed.

I keep wondering what she felt when the bullets hit her. She was slightly built and didn’t stand a chance, so it’s ironic that she once said,

“Physical strength really does not matter; it’s all about what you have up here” and she’d pointed to her temple.

Back in 2000, just a year after Khan sahib had passed away I had asked her if she felt his absence and she’d said,

There is no vacuum, neither is there the pain of his departure. He lived a full life. I enjoyed being with him, now his thoughts are there to guide me.

I’m not sure I can say the same for Parveen’s hasty departure, but then I’m not so magnanimous, I had not learnt enough from her. Images and her words are all that remain.

Source: Tribune

Protest At Press Club Against Brutal Murder Of Parveen Rehman

“We protest the murder of architect, teacher, social activist, Parveen Rehman. She was dedicated to making lives better for the millions who live in squatter settlements in Pakistan and abroad, by directly working among them and by educating students. It is a huge loss for not just her family, students and colleagues, but Pakistan in general and the world at large.

Director Orangi Pilot Project, Parveen Rehman was shot dead in a targeted incident when she was travelling in her car near Orangi Town’s Peerabad neighborhood.

We know committees have been made to probe the matter and governor, chief minister and IGP Sindh gave orders to complete investigation. But we also know what happens after such orders. We demand justice for Parveen and strict measures against land-grabbers and elements responsible for such atrocities.”

Parveen Rehman: The legend lives on

By Dr Masuma Hasan

Slender, almost frail, with her hair down to her waist, her captivating smile and melodious voice, Parween Rahman was a legend in her lifetime. An assailant’s bullets took her life on Wednesday 13 March, 2013 as she was being driven home from work. The target killer snuffed out her life but the legend that she was will live forever. She was 56 years old.
Continue reading “Parveen Rehman: The legend lives on”

For Perween Rehman

For Perween Rehman

 By Anwar Rashid

You got scared

of an innocent fledging little bird

like all cowards

how easily scared you are

The twitter of bulbuls

the softness of the clouds

the refreshing spray of cold water

has scared you

like all cowards

how easily scared you are

 

You can kill one Perween

but you cannot kill

the power of an idea

what you have done

has increased commitment and courage

and sense of purpose

 

The light of knowledge

will continue to spread

and with it awareness

in the villages and fields

 

On the lips of those

who have no shoes

there will be the smile of contentment

in the dancing fields

the sound of bangles

on the cheeks of the workers

the glitter of earings

 

These symbols of love

are messages to the enemies of peace

listen to them cowardly assassin

for we are not alone

we are not alone

(Translated from Urdu by Arif Hasan)

Karachi mafia seek political clout with land grabs

Taimur Khan

KARACHI // Sometimes, politically motivated killings in Karachi rise, as they did after a councillor was assassinated this year and more than 100 people died in 72 hours of revenge attacks.

But on most days, the hum of death in Pakistan’s largest city is steady and routine. It is fuelled by the city’s ethnic political parties and their “land mafias”, who fight to control property that provides profits and political power. Continue reading “Karachi mafia seek political clout with land grabs”

Female Workers Break Stereotypes in Karachi

On a narrow, unpaved Karachi street that has never had water service, a handful of men were digging a trench recently. They were digging it for their own water line, at their own expense.

For this part of Karachi, that’s normal. But surprisingly, for this part of the world, a woman was supervising the men.

Sabra Khadun has a cold, steady gaze and a stud in her nose. She explains that everybody on the street is donating money for the water line.

by Steve Inskeep

Sabra Khadun and neighbors are digging a water line. They have been buying water in tanks, but it has become too expensive.
Sabra Khadun and neighbors are digging a water line. They have been buying water in tanks, but it has become too expensive.
Tracy Wahl/NPR

On a narrow, unpaved Karachi street that has never had water service, a handful of men were digging a trench recently. They were digging it for their own water line, at their own expense.

For this part of Karachi, that’s normal. But surprisingly, for this part of the world, a woman was supervising the men.

Sabra Khadun has a cold, steady gaze and a stud in her nose. She explains that everybody on the street is donating money for the water line.

She lives in a tiny house, in a settlement that you could call a slum. The living room is painted pastel blue. And there’s a cushioned wood couch, big enough to hold a few of her 11 children — four sons and seven daughters. Every child’s name begins with the letter “S,” just like hers.

Parveen Rehman left a job at a high-end Karachi architectural firm to join the Orangi Pilot Project, a nongovernmental organization that supports people living in illegally built settlements.
Parveen Rehman left a job at a high-end Karachi architectural firm to join the Orangi Pilot Project, a nongovernmental organization that supports people living in illegally built settlements.
Tracy Wahl/NPR

It’s not unusual to find women in leading roles in Karachi’s development. At the city’s public universities, female students vastly outnumber the men in key fields like architecture.

People aren’t sure why, but it’s happening.

One of Karachi’s former architectural students is Parveen Rehman. She started her career dismayed by the work she was doing.

“When I graduated, I was very confused,” she says.

Rehman worked for a famous architect, designing a hotel, when she decided to walk out and change course. She ended up going to work instead for an organization called the Orangi Pilot Project. It gives poor people the help they need to dig their own sewers, or water lines, when the government does not.

Rehman vividly recalls something that she heard from the project’s male founder, who spoke of the power of women. He compared himself to a grandmother — “not your grandfather, because your grandmother gives love … and through love she’s able to encourage and make people grow.”

Women are active in the development of Karachi, but Rehman says “they do not like to publicize” their roles.

‘Gentle but Persuasive’

A woman “is in charge of the entire house, [the] entire budget,” Rehman says. “And if she’s not convinced, no money can be let out for the development. No house can be improved, no child can go and get educated. It’s a woman who [makes] the decision.

“But when you go into some house, a man will come and talk and be very upfront and high profile, because by nature the women have been very gentle but persuasive. They know how to persuade their men … to do the things that they want to get done.”

Dealing with government officials initially was difficult for women, Rehman says. If women told an official, ” ‘You do this, you do that’ … he would start avoiding us. There’s a lot of things he can’t do. The system is such. But now we go and we say, ‘We want your advice. Please tell us what to do,’ and they feel very happy.

“I feel sometimes — not with men and women — with any group, if you come just upfront and try to be … the person taking credit for everything, that’s where things start going wrong,” she says. Once you rise up horizontally, you take everybody with you. But if you want to rise vertically, you will rise, but then nobody will be there for you.”

Rehman heads a research center in Orangi, a section of Karachi. She also teaches a college class in architecture. The list of students right now includes 11 women — no men.

It’s not unusual to find women in leading roles in Karachi’s development. At the city’s public universities, female students vastly outnumber the men in key fields like architecture.

People aren’t sure why, but it’s happening.

One of Karachi’s former architectural students is Parveen Rehman. She started her career dismayed by the work she was doing.

“When I graduated, I was very confused,” she says.

Rehman worked for a famous architect, designing a hotel, when she decided to walk out and change course. She ended up going to work instead for an organization called the Orangi Pilot Project. It gives poor people the help they need to dig their own sewers, or water lines, when the government does not.

Source: NPR