Askari V

In any other place in Karachi, a nineteen year old girl sitting alone for hours on a staircase in front of an apartment building at night time, would be considered dangerous. However, this is Malir Cantt. Going to five different civilian residents of Askari V, I asked what their primary reason to move to Malir was. Their reply: it is a safe zone.

It is now ten o’ clock as I sit here and observe. A solitary street lamp gleams in an otherwise pitch dark street. Its white light shines on piles of loose gravel and sand. Men lay on charpais under half constructed apartment buildings, sleeping soundly after a day of hard, intense work.

The smell of freshly applied cement mixed in with the metallic twinge of something iron permeates the air. The smell is brought to my nostrils by a cold, consistent breeze cutting through the damp, vapor infused air.

The landscape before me is a peculiar blend of concrete and greenery. Short trees spot the sidewalk, resting in a small island of dirt surrounded by a sea of gray bricks. A rather sad, field of wild grass surrounded by a shabby sidewalk made up of dirt and sand lies parallel to a cement cage they call a basketball court.

Not only an hour ago both these places were ringing with sounds of little girls playing pakran pakrai on the grass and teenage boys, in their sweat-drenched t shirts, playing a game of football in the basketball court.

Pedestrians walked the street towards the newly opened local mart. An old man was being led up the wheelchair ramp of a building by a male caretaker. A woman, adorned in stiff workout shoes, her dupatta tied to her side, power walked her way back in to her apartment building.

In the absence of the shouts of young laughter of the young girls playing and echoes of voices of people coming and going, the only prominent sounds are the chirping of the crickets, the howling of the wind and the occasional brr of a car engine.

The streets are riddled with signs here and there. Some are simply a source of direction while others carry nationalist quotes from the Quaid such as “There is no force on earth that can undo Pakistan.”

This is another example of a nationalist quote.

In this area, where construction is so constant, apartment buildings come in all shapes and size.. Older ones are the dusty red of old bricks, with fewer floors, dimmer lighting, rusty railings and fewer people. Newly constructed buildings have the shiny finish of new, white paint and the sleek silver of newly installed metallic railings. The white lights shine brighter in these buildings and the air-conditioned elevators ting with each open and close. Perhaps the only thing these buildings have in common is the wheel chair ramps. This makes sense because Malir is primarily meant for army officers who are retired or discharged due to injury or disability. A single flag, green and white, hangs from the railing of one apartment building. A child’s painting of our national flag hangs from another.

A single flag, green and white, hangs from the railing of one apartment building. A child’s painting of our national flag hangs from another.

These are the subtle reminders that we are in a military controlled, authoritarian zone. A couple of girls followed by a lady, presumably their mother, pass by my sitting spot, their chatter rising above the soft chirps of the crickets.

Interview 1: [The person I interviewed was a female in her mid-forties, an army wife, a mother of two daughters and one son, and resident of Askari V. She chose to remain anonymous, which is why we’ll refer to her as Mrs. X.]

Q. People say that Malir is a safe area. However, do you still feel hesitant in letting your daughters go out alone like you do your son?

Mrs. X: “Well…it’s not like I don’t let them go out. Mostly I tell them to go out together or with their friends or their brother. With so many drivers and construction workers around, it just makes me feel better for them to be in a group rather than alone. They do go out alone sometimes but only if they’re going somewhere near like a neighbor’s house.”

An interesting phenomenon to observe is how different genders feel about having the freedom to move around at night with limited threat to safety. Before I explore this, let’s examine the reasons why Malir is a safe zone. Why do mothers let their daughters roam around at all when in areas like Mehmoodabad they are not allowed out of the house unless it’s in a car?

Firstly, it’s very difficult to gain access to go inside especially if you are a civilian. The process for potential residents to get clearance can take months. Not everyone can enter Malir Cantt grounds and the selective population makes it a safer place to live. Secondly, there are guards armed with weapons stationed at check posts inside and outside the area, checking cars and keeping an eye on the area.

However, as seen with Mrs. X, regardless of the area being considered a safe zone, is it really as safe for females as it is for males? Does a girl walking alone at night in a dimly lighted street with male construction workers, guards, and military soldiers at every nook and cranny not feel at least some amount of trepidation?

While rationally thinking, we know that Malir is a safe area with slim to none chances of there being robbery, rape, and sexual assault for any person on the premises, the point of this observation is to see whether the sense of caution that females in our society are ingrained with from birth just disappears? The answer is not really. Regardless of having the freedom to move about like their male counterparts, female youths still move in packs unlike male youths whom you can even find driving around alone in their parent’s cars at Two AM.

Interview 2: [This interview was with another female named Zubaida in her early thirties who works as a maid in several houses at Askari V, is widowed, and lives in Saffora, an area outside Malir. The following text is in Urdu.]

Q.1 Aap ke liye idhar se ana aur jana theek rehta hai?

Zubaida: “Ji baji…wo…idhar koi bus nahi chalti to hum ko khud jana parta hai check post se ghar aur ghar se check post. Kabhi kabar koi gari se lift mang lete hain. Kabhi milti hai kabhi nahi”

Q.2 Aur jo mard raste mein kam kaj ke liye ja rahe hotay hain.. wo tang to nahi karte? Zubaida: “Unse to sar chupa ke jana parta hai baji. Nazar se bachna parta hai. Waisay to woh kuch aur karte nahi hain”

Females from different age groups and different social classes are different, of course. Females from middle class backgrounds who are residents of the area are more protected.

One reason for this is because they are car owners. As Zubaida mentioned, due to the lack of public transportation within the premises of Askari V, maids coming out of their work places are forced to wrap themselves in their dupattas, hiding from the leers of construction workers as they walk the long way to the Malir check posts.

They are more exposed to the elements than say the daughter of an army major who arrives back home in her air conditioned Corolla with her two brothers. She, in contrast to the maids, is protected by the roof of her car, the presence of her brothers and her father’s title.

The title, in particular, is an unbreakable form of protection. People fear it and respect it. No one would dare raise a finger to a major’s daughter for the consequences would be dire, which is another reason why Malir is a safe zone.

The purpose of this observation is not to question the fact that Malir is a safe zone. It is a safe zone. The purpose of this observation is to study whether the fact that it is a safe zone takes away the wariness that all females in our society are told to have when outside.

To a certain degree, the answer is yes. Parents feel more secure leaving their daughters outside and as a result, younger females have more freedom to roam around outside than those in other areas of Karachi.

However, taking in to account everything that I have observed and found out in my interviews, the wariness, while not that strong, is still very much alive.