P. Sainath – upcoming talks in America

Sainath-MIT1aThe eminent journalist P. Sainath, author of the groundbreaking collection of reports Everybody Loves a Good Drought, is headed to the USA from his base in India. He will give a series of talks at various campuses about his work and the unique, empowering, online journalistic endeavour he launched last year, the People’s Archive of Rural India – PARI. Worth going to hear him speak if you are in the area. See my article about him: Travels though history with a rural archivist.

Campus times and dates below, with some posters by a PARI volunteer. Continue reading

‘The Orangi Pilot Project and Legacy of Architect Perween Rehman’ @ MIT

Arif Hasan: Architect with ethics
Arif Hasan speaking at the syposium: Architecture with ethics. Photo: Beena Sarwar.
Parveen Rehman, photo by Steve Inskeep, NPR
Perween Rehman, photo by Steve Inskeep, NPR

 An abbreviated version of my article on the symposium held at MIT to commemorate Perween Rehman and her legacy was published in The News on Sunday last weekend, titled Commitment personified. Below, the full text with additional links and photos:  

IMG_5449
Audience members at the MIT symposium on OPP and Perween Rahman, included Miloon Kothari. Photo: Beena Sarwar.

Speakers at a symposium in the Boston area last week, on “The Orangi Pilot Project and Legacy of Architect Perween Rehmanpaid tribute to the late architect and OPP director, as “a woman, architect and social activist”. They also discussed parallels between the issues faced by the urban poor in and elsewhere. Hosted by the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the symposium featured prominent academics from India, Pakistan and the United States.

The event, spearheaded by graduate students Fizzah Sajjad and Hala B. Malik from Lahore, had been in the planning soon after the murder of Perween Rehman in Karachi on March 13, 2013.Academics from India, Pakistan and the United States presented papers and participated in discussions. Prominent among them were Akbar Zaidi, Kamran Ali Asdar, Balakrishnan RajagopalJames Wescoat, Anita M. Weiss, Laura A. Ring, Anita Spirn (of the pioneering West Philadelphia Landscape Project, which has many parallels with OPP), and Miloon Kothari, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing who is currently at MIT.

Ironically, Perween herself had taken a deliberate decision to not attend such events, reflected the prominent architect Arif Hasan, Chairperson of the  Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) and Urban Resource Centre (URC), whose keynote speech kicked off the day-and-a-half long event. Perween Rehman, who graduated in 1981 from the Dawood College of Engineering in Karachi, was among the first batch of students he had taught. The following year, fed up with doing projects for the rich, as she put it, she came to work with the legendary Dr Akhtar Hameed Khan at the Orangi Pilot Project that he had launched in 1980.

Orangi Pilot Project: Self help and advocacy
Orangi Pilot Project: Self help and advocacy. Photo: courtesy Arif Hasan.
OPP-sewage-drainage
Orangi Township, Karachi. Map: Courtesy OPP.

It was Agha Hasan Abidi of BCCI who had asked Dr Khan, a retired bureaucrat famous for his uplift work at Comilla (in former East Pakistan), to help the people settled in Orangi. Dr Khan said he would not work with any one ethnic group or to do any social work, but agreed to investigate the problems in Orangi. After “roaming around” as Arif Hasan puts it, and talking to the people for several months, Dr Khan became convinced that the area would never become developed unless the people organised themselves and raised the money needed. In 1981, he asked Arif Hasan to develop a sanitation model, and later a housing model. There were psychological, social and economic barriers to be crossed. And there was a need, Arif Hasan suggested to Dr Khan in a note, to hire a young person to head the project and grow with it. However, one after the other, the young men they hired barely lasted beyond a few hours to a week at the job. And one day, Perween serendipitously showed up at Arif Hasan’s office, fed up of doing meaningless projects. She wanted to do something that would actually help people. She had done her homework and asked her former teacher about the various options she had investigated. He suggested that she go meet Dr Khan. She did, and he hired her. Unlike the others before her, she stayed on, “very serious in those early days”.

Dr Akhtar Hameed Khan: the guru who showed the way
Dr Akhtar Hameed Khan: the guru who showed the way. File photo.

She learnt on the job, supervising the mapping and surveying of OPP, that students not much younger than herself carried out. This cost a fraction of the amount that an international agency had quoted, said Arif Hasan.

Rehman’s second major learning was to start a research institute. She “learnt by doing, observing and association”. In 1987, she was made director of the research and training institute, much to the resentment of the conservative lobby who considered her as a young “girl” – “but she stuck it out”. In time, she became close to various social organisations and activists, winning over many detractors who became her protectors and friends.

Her third major learning, said Arif Hasan, was through Khuda ki Basti, the housing project that the bureaucrat Tasneem Siddiqui started (see his interview in The News on Sunday on katchi abadis). To Perween Rehman’s credit goes the removal of the old complicated system of registering land and other legalities, and the establishment of a one-window operation open in the evenings that people could avail of.

She also initiated the OPP-RTI (Research and Training Institute), which manages projects like low-cost sanitation, secure housing support, education, water supply, and women’s savings, and training programmes. One of its greatest contributions has been mapping and documenting numerous settlements in Karachi.

Over 70 per cent of katchi abadis in Karachi are now regularised, thanks largely to the advocacy work of Perween Rehman and the OPP. Her greatest achievement, reflected Arif Hasan, was to make OPP “a people’s project”, and to “bring people closer together”. She refused to deal with the ‘big’ bureaucrats, preferring to focus on those working at that ground level. That in itself was a major shift in how advocacy was done. It led to changes in the laws, and changed perceptions towards informal settlements. “Laws are important”, as Arif Hasan put it, pointing out that it took 11 years to frame the Sindh Katchi Abadis Act, which in turn, became part of the Karachi Development Plan.

Rajagopalan Balakrishnan: universal parallels.
Panel discussion after Arif Hasan’s talk – Rajagopalan Balakrishnan: Universal parallels, anti-poor bias. Photo: Beena Sarwar

There is a strong anti-poor bias, not just in Karachi and Pakistan but all over South Asia, and indeed, the world, observed Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Associate Professor of Law and Development and founding Director of the Program on Human Rights and Justice at MIT.

Around the world, the poor are being pushed into smaller settlements, he said in his thought-provoking talk on various kinds of violence, including those that are structural and institutional, weighed against the poor. Transport is geared towards the much-touted vision of the ‘world class city’, rather than connecting the poor. Indeed, slogans like “world class” or “slum-free city” are “dangerous ideologies that sanction violence on the vulnerable at the policy level”. Re-locating people to make room for ‘development projects’ causes an increase in poverty levels as incomes decrease. Children pay a heavy price as their schooling is interrupted. Meanwhile, as literacy levels are rising, people are becoming more aware of their political rights.

Ironically, the more assertive they become, the more conflict is generated — the police tend to be heavy-handed when it comes to dealing with protests by the poor. Another common phenomenon, from Mexico and Brazil to South Asia, is the personal risk taken by those who work with the poor. The violence against defenders of equities, rights and the poor needs to be explicitly recognised, suggested Balakrishnan.

Over-commercialisation and commodification are giving rise to a certain kind of consumerism, and the consolidation of a trans-nationalist capitalist class. Exploitation of natural resources pushes rural dwellers to the cities, where they are forced into slums, making them vulnerable to disease and other issues related to urban poverty. Arif Hasan has suggested that architects and town planners develop a code of ethics and take oath like doctors do, to refuse projects that displace the poor or are environmentally or ecologically unfriendly.

Given the neo-liberal agenda that is being pushed globally, the suggestion is unlikely to receive a sympathetic hearing among his colleagues (“Arif Bhai, hum bazaar mein baiThey haiN,” as one of them put it). Still, it is certainly an idea worth pushing for.

When urban planning meets disaster management and mental health

Harvard SAI Karachi confMy article published in The News on Sunday today, about the Contemporary South Asian City Conference in Karachi last month co-sponsored by Harvard South Asia Institute and Aman Foundation, with Pakistan Urban Forum – by all accounts a most dynamic and exciting event. I spoke to two Harvard professors in Cambridge MA after their return from Karachi.

By Beena Sarwar

Rahul Mehrotra is no stranger to Karachi. From his base in Mumbai, he built Amin Hashwani’s house in Karachi some years ago, a project for which he visited the city several times. “By the time we did the interiors though, we couldn’t get visas,” he added, when we spoke in Cambridge recently. Continue reading

As winter sets in, flood survivors in Sindh need more help

In all the excitement about ‘memogate’, let’s remember to spare a thought — and some cash and other items — for the flood survivors of Pakistan. As winter sets in and the cold winds start to blow, they need our help more than ever. Here’s a note I’ve been meaning to post out for some time, information provided by friend and music lover Siraj Khan who personally vouches for the Pathfinders Welfare Organisation, a volunteer group doing flood relief work primarily in the Badin area of Sindh. “PWO is unique in many ways. Its team is made almost entirely of students from local medical colleges. Many are girls. There was one who even used to ride her brother’s motorbike for work, if other transport wasn’t available,” says Siraj. “PWO needs more visibility for its work and, of course, funds.”

Continue reading

This Eid, donate a goat for women flood survivors: Indus Resource Centre

Saving precious livestock in Badin / Photo: Reuters

I had earlier circulated an appeal from Sadiqa Salahuddin, the well known educator, whose Indus Resource Centre is doing exemplary work in Sindh regarding girls’ education and also working since last year for flood relief. She sent out the following update on Oct 24, requesting people to donate a goat rather than sacrificing one this coming Eid:

Dear all,

You may recall that around this time last year, I requested you to complement or divert your qurbani (sacrifice) budget for donation of animals to those poor rural women who had lost their animals in the floods of 2010. I am making the same appeal this year as unfortunately, the situation is not any better. According to Provincial Disaster Management Authority Sindh, 115,586 animals have perished during this monsoon. Besides, thousands of villagers from the rain affected districts sold their animals at throwaway prices as they had no money to feed themselves or animals. Continue reading

Pakistan floods: Want to help?

Dr Geet Chainani in the field: NEED food, medicines, water, tents

Pakistan was still reeling from the devastating floods of last year when fresh disaster struck.

The situation is worse than reported,” messaged the journalist and activist Aslam Khwaja, back in Karachi after a recent five-day visit to six rain-hit districts of Sindh. Many others working in the affected areas have relayed similar obervations as they scramble to renew their efforts.

Young Doctors Assocation volunteer at Mirpurkhas relief camp: URGENTLY NEED MEDICINES

8.1 million people are homeless, with less than a quarter of them (approx 0.71 million) accommodated in about 3,000 makeshift relief camps set up by the Sindh Government. Conditions are appalling, with severe shortage of food, water and medical supplies. Some 370 people have died, hundreds more injured, and some 6.1 million acres of land and 1.5 million houses underwater or severely damaged, according to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) of Pakistan. The estimated loss to the cotton crop is estimated at a staggering Rs 75 billion.

YOU CAN HELP by sending money and relief goods to the organization of your choice. The most urgent needs are: tents, food, clean water, medicine. Continue reading

General observations about Pakistan floods

Some general observations from the floods of 2010, which are sadly relevant again:

  • People affected by the floods (last year as well as now) were already among the poorest begin with although they do include some well-off farmers and trades-people too, in areas where there was already little access to education and healthcare.
  • The relief camps set up last year brought an unexpected silver lining in the opportunity to many flood affected people who had access to a doctor or a teacher – for the FIRST time in their lives – at the relief camps. This indicates the level of underdevelopment in Pakistan, the huge percentage of the population that lacks access to healthcare and education. Continue reading

Sindh floods – update and appeal from Sadiqa Salahuddin, IRC

Khairpur, Sept 2011. Photo courtesy: The News

For those looking for credible organisations to contribute to or work with, here’s information about Indus Resource Centre’s flood relief work in Sindh, based on an email update from Sadiqa Salahuddin, the well known educationist who runs IRC. They have been working with girls’ education in the Khairpur area of Sindh for many years; Sadiqa Apa is also a very dear friend (IRC contact details are at the end of this post). The most urgent need is for dry food – basic essentials for ten days for a family of six cost around Rs 3,000 (details below). During the Eid holidays, she spent six days in Khairpur and then in Hyderabad while her colleagues assessed the situation in Khairpur and Mirpurkhas districts. Immediately after Eid, she went to Badin (which was then accessible by road from Karachi). She writes: Continue reading

Sindh Flood Appeal – Indus Foundation Trust

Sindh. And much of Balochistan. Submerged.

From Sherry Rehman, The Indus Foundation Trust: Sindh Flood Appeal (Scroll down for donation options and details):

Dear All,

We are thankful to all the donors who had supported IFT during 2010 Flood relief activites.

Again, the Indus Foundation Trust is taking subsistence survival packs to various locations in Sindh. Floods caused by heavy monsoon rains have devastated communities in the Sindh provinces. Continue reading

Floods in Sindh: Please help PMA to help the affected

Children in Badin amidst rising flood waters. Image courtesy: Newsline

Urgent appeal from the Pakistan Medical Association:

The recent and continuing rain crisis has caused extensive disruption in upper and Lower Sindh lashing through Sukkur, Rohri, Pannu Aqil, Gotki, Mirpur Mathelo, Daharki, Khairpur, Thul, Jacobabad, Kashmore, Kandhkot, Shikarpur, Khanpur, Garhi Yasin, and Naushero feroz.

The ongoing torrential rains have affected 27 tehsils, more than 9,000 villages, 2.5 million acres of land and more than two million people, 85 casualties. More than 0.5 million houses have been damaged due to flash floods and downpours.

PMA has started relief and medical support in Badin,TMK, Mirpurkhas and Nawabshah. We need dry food supplies, tents, clean drinking water or water treatment tablets, medicines, powdered milk, clothes and other miscellaneous items of daily need would be useful.

Please donate items, or give a cheque in favour of “PMA” – send to: PMA House, Garden Road, Karachi, Pakistan; Phone (+92-21)-3223-1534 and (+92-21) 21-3225-1159

Dr Samrina Hashmi
President PMA Sindh

%d bloggers like this: