The Karachi Conference Foundation hosted its Seventh Annual Karachi Conference from the 1st to the 3rd of November, 2019 at the JS Auditorium, IBA City Campus.
The Karachi Conference aims to showcase current research and critical discourse taking place in and around Karachi. Not only did it examine questions that define the city’s inner life today, but also global patterns of change deeply linked to these local processes. The conference celebrated the socio-cultural mosaic that is Karachi and highlighting the city’s significance through the exploration of the unique facets of its existence, discussions of research undertaken by academics, development workers, educators, and social activists.
The first day of the conference was dedicated to films made by students and independent filmmakers. The diversity within the films was representative of the diversity within Karachi. Shot in a variety of languages including Sindhi, Urdu, and English, the films touched on a barrage of themes. A student film, Darya Pir, explored a shrine in Sindh that was visited by Muslims and Hindus alike. Another discussed the unethical practices of the media in getting a buzzworthy story at the expense of the victims; others explored themes of developmental disorders, like autism, and the ingrained concept of colorism in our society.
On the second day, the conference began with a keynote by Haseena Moin as she reminisced about the people around her. She asked a pertinent question – ‘who are we?’ stating that questions beyond her identity of being a Pakistani disturb her. Tracing her journey to fame, she said that the question had become increasing difficult to answer, and that our salvation lies in trying to find that answer.
Future of Heritage
Chairing the first session was Arif Hasan. Dr. Kaleemullah Lashari, the first formal speaker, presented his work on the future of Karachi’s heritage. Dr. Lashari, began his presentation by lamenting on the time it had taken to get sensitize and convince the authorities to devise laws for the sake of heritage preservation.
Tracing the history of the laws, he mentioned that the first of heritage law was established in 1904 during the annexation of Sindh; however, that law was rarely used, and eventually became lost during partition when Karachi became the capital of the country. Heritage buildings were utilized by the government as offices but were never returned to original use even after the capital was shifted to Islamabad. Dr. Lashari emphasized that the existence of laws meant nothing when there was no actual regulation, creating a gap in existence and implementation.
Future of Development
The second session, chaired by Mansoor Raza, was on the future of Karachi’s development. The first speaker, Dr. Farooq Sattar, presented on the development issues of Karachi, in specific drainage systems during the monsoon season. He stated there was criminal negligence behind the issues that Karachi faces, and that Article 140(A) would rid Karachi of its problems. Saying, “We cannot continue to do experiments with democracy” he implored Karachi to adopt a pluralistic vision.
Displacement and Resettlement
The final day began with the politics of displacement and resettlement through discussion of the research carried out by Karachi Urban Lab and Habib University students. Soha Macktoom presented her paper titled ‘Constructing House and Home,’ which discusses the plight of the people living around the line of the Karachi Circular Railway who are in danger of being displaced. She reminded the audience that when the Japanese International Cooperation Agency was carrying out a study, they termed these people ‘project-affected persons’ but when the Agency pulled out they began being referred to as encroachers and their homes were called illegal settlements and slums.
Macktoom pointed out that this language was being use to propagate violent action against them, they are seen as a menace, something to be looked down upon, illegal and thus bulldozed. This language and outlook denies the fact that these people have been here since the 1950s, beginning with bamboo sheds to concrete structures. She added that civic amenities and politicians had recognized these settlements and vied for their votes when they needed to. Removing them from their housing would break their connection to the city, forcing them to begin anew.
Kevin Shi presenting his paper ‘Definition, Delineation, and Destruction’ through newspaper archives. Arsam Saleem probed the question of who financed the projects of the Karachi Circular Railway and who was expected to use and benefit from it.
Fizza Qureshi highlighted the problems women face due to displacement due to how they must navigate the city. Displacing these women remove them from the spaces they occupy forcing them to use public transport, a utility that most women feel unsafe using. Eventually this would force them to stay within their homes, isolating them further from society.
Students of Habib University, Shahmir Faisal and Zarah Batool, focused their research on the Afghan refugees. Batool presented her paper ‘Documentation and Opportunity Nexus: Afghan refugees’ access to employment and education in Pakistan’. She added that their lack of national identification prevents them from having bank accounts, educating their children, and from getting good jobs.
Faisal added on through his paper ‘Afghan migrants in Pakistan: ethnic discrimination,’ stating that through all the issues, the refugees feel safer living within their small communities where they may have a semblance of support.
Panelist Dr. Severine Minot observed that the common thread in these papers was that these people feel vulnerable in the situations they find themselves in, further stating that such situations would hurt national unity. Architect Arif Hasan articulated that the state itself was no longer in the picture when it comes to such projects, foreign investments made it so that such decision making has been attributed to the corporate sector.
Book Cultures of Karachi
The next session of the conference was about the book culture of Karachi, chaired by Dr. Kaleemullah Lashari, featuring owners and managers of libraries and authors discussing the accessibility of libraries to the people, along with panelist Dr. Aqeel Abbas Jafri.
Habib Hussain Abbasi, who inherited the 109-year-old Abbasi Kutb Khana, discussed its history and facets. The library, situated in the heart of the old city, houses not only literature in Urdu and English, but books written in Sindhi, Pashto, Persian, and Arabic.
Sister Rukhsana Samuel spoke of the Christian Bookstore founded in 1915 by Pauline Publication. Nasir Javed presented on the Mushfiq Khwaja Trust Library, which houses the private collection of the late writer, critic, and poet Mushfiq Khwaja. He mentioned that the collection was in the process of being digitized. Dr. Gibran Siddiqui spoke of the Anjuman-e-Tarraqi-e-Urdu Library.
Sohail Zaki presented on the famous Urdu Bazaar. Author of Karachi ke Qaumi Kutb Khanay, Mohammad Yousuf, said that even after making two editions of the catalogue of libraries in the city, there are still libraries that he did not know of.
Dr. Masuma Hasan, chairperson of Pakistan Institute of International Affairs spoke of the institutes library that houses rare and valuable books and journals, adding that they have the complete archives of Dawn, Jang, and Nawa-i-Waqt from the time that they began publication.
The day ended with the film screening of the renowned film Lal Kabootar, an action thriller shot in various parts of Karachi. Overall the three days of the Conference bared Karachi to us as candidly as possible, celebrating its diversity while also analyzing its disparity.