By Zia Ur Rehman
Monday, November 02, 2015
At an office near Saddam Chowk in Machar Colony, the country’s largest slum settlement, around two dozens residents gathered to listen to Muhammad Alauddin, a candidate for the neighbourhood’s chairperson slot in the upcoming local government polls scheduled on December 5.
Alauddin, a central leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Sher-e-Bengal faction (PML-SB), has served as the nazim of the Machar Colony union committee, a Bengali-majority area on the western side of the seashore, off Mauripur Road.
After a brief discussion, the meeting’s participants announced that they would support Alauddin in the polls.
Machar Colony, or UC-42, which is also known as Muhammadi Colony, lies in the city’s West district. Over 300,000 inhabitants live in the colony, most of them of Bengali and Burmese decent, followed by Pashtuns and Kutchhis.
The leaders of Bengali and Rohingya communities in Karachi have become politically active for the local government elections.
Machar Colony is one of over a 100 neighbourhoods of the city that house Bengali and Rohingya communities. Although the communities have traditionally aligned themselves with the Pakistan Muslim League and religious parties including the Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam-Fazl, they have their own political parties too.
The PML-SB, which previously operated as the Pakistani Bengalis Charitable Association, was formed in March 2006 and Dr Saleh Zahoor and Alauddin are its central leaders.
“We have named our party after AK Fazlul Haq, popularly known as Sher-e-Bengal, who moved the Lahore Resolution in 1940 that established the Muslim League’s demand for a separate homeland for Muslims,” Alauddin told The News. “But sadly, his contributions aren’t mentioned in our textbooks,” he added.
“The Bengalis living in the city are genuine Pakistanis but are denied of their right to be Pakistani nationals, compelling them to form their own political party.
Alauddin said the community had voted for each and every political party in every election in the past but no one had tried to address their issues.
Pakistan Muslim Alliance is another political group that represents the Pakistani Bengali community.
But its leaders have announced that it would support the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz in the local government polls.
Political parties eyeing the crown of Machar Colony have been trying to woo its Bengali-decent residents.
The PML-N and the Pakistan People’s Party have allotted the tickets for the slot of vice-chairperson to Bengali candidates, Maulana Shamsul Haq Hashmi and Dr Aziz, respectively.
The PML-SB’s candidates for the chairperson and vice-chairperson seats are from the Bengali community while its candidates for the four general councillor slots belong to other ethnicities living in the neighbourhood. However, the residents are unhappy with all political parties and individuals contesting the polls.
“We have voted for all political parties but no one is interested in resolving our issues,” said Muhammad Shafiullah, a resident.
“We elected Humayoon Khan of the PML-N and Salman Mujahid Baloch of the MQM as the area’s MPA and MNA but they didn’t even bother to visit the area afterwards.”
The residents had been pressing the authorities for years to pay attention to their civic issues, but their efforts have gone in vain so far. They have been outing up with several problems including lack of a proper sanitation system and potable water, piles of garbage in every street, and shortage of affordable healthcare facilities and schools. The main open drain in the area is clogged with garbage.
Shafiullah said in most parts of the neighbourhood including Purana Para, Jaffar Gali, Shah Jalal Gali, Banya Chowk, and Noorul Islam Chowk, the residents had no access to safe drinking water, there was no drainage system and the streets look like rivers when it rained.
The residents said Bengali fishermen, in the1960s, established the neighbourhood because of its close proximity with the city’s fisheries and port.
But then other ethnic communities, especially Pashtuns, also started settling in the area and it had now spread as far as Gulbai.
Zahid Farooq, an official at the Urban Resource Centre, an independent civic rights body in the city, said the neighbourhood was established on the Karachi Port Land’s land, but the PPP-led provincial government had recently regularised it.
“Despite its regularisation, the authorities have shown no interest in addressing the colony’s civic issues.”