Katchi Abadi

  • Kachi Abadi located right after N.I.P.A. Chowrangi, Karachi.
  • Syeda Arooma Zehra Naqvi

The site I have chosen for my ethnographic observation is a Kachi Abadi located right after N.I.P.A. Chowrangi. It’s underneath the Bridge that further leads towards Aladdin Amusement Park, right apposite to Sindbad Amusement Park and adjacent to a high rise apartment building. My guide for the day is my maid Rukaiya and her husband Jameel. They are originally from a small village in South Punjab, they define themselves as Saraiki however they can understand and speak Urdu.

The kachi abadi is formed on another one of those many abandoned government plots found around Karachi which were originally meant for the construction of a mosque, park or public place but then were forgotten and now are occupied illegally by people who have nowhere else to go. Karachi is without a doubt the largest metropolitan city in Pakistan and with the rate of people coming to Karachi from rural areas in search for jobs, there is a constant rise in demand for affordable housing, hence there is a great increase in these kachi abadis and makeshift living lodges or jhuggis (slums) as they are called in the local language. The kachi abadi is spread over quite a large area with many small houses packed together.

Rukaiya’s house consists of just a single small room made of mud and straw mats and a sheet of iron placed on top to serve as a roof, another very small room which is not more than 4 feet in length and breadth is right next to the relatively bigger room and that serves as a bathroom. The kitchen is outside which is basically just a wood stove on which she cooks and a few utensils placed around it. There is small area in one corner which she explains is the washing area, the plumbing and the water is a huge issue for the people living here but they have to cope with it for now.

The ‘houses’ are separated from each other by more straw mats supported by a few beams here and there. A chaddar which is hung on a rope serves as a gate. There are no lanes or streets it’s just a bunch of small makeshift houses placed haphazardly, most of the houses are similar to Rukaiya’s, a single room where the family sleeps in at night and a small bathroom. Some houses lack a bathroom so they share it with their neighbors. The electricity that they have is due to the illegal power tapping called locally as Kundey lagana, to put it simply it’s just that they take electricity from power lines and do not pay for it.

The housing is very expensive in main areas of Karachi Jameel explains, even the rent is too much for us to give and the places where houses are cheap they’re too far away and a lot of money goes in to the transport. They can’t afford that. Most of the men living in this kachi abadi are temporary laborers and the woman mostly work as maids. Most of the people living here are Saraiki Rukaiya tells me.

Rukaiya came to Karachi around ten years ago for a better life for her children and stayed here since. She has lived in different places all over Karachi over the course of ten years, they’ve been evicted multiple times sometimes because they were illegal inhabitants and other times because they couldn’t afford the rent so the landowner threw them out. She’s been living in this kachi abadi for two years’ now, I’m desperately searching for a cheap place to rent Rukaiya tells me, this place isn’t safe for us there are heroinchis in this area she tells me. Underneath the bridge after nightfall it’s a place for all people of this sort to gather and waste their time playing on snooker tables and taking drugs. Rukaiya particularly tells me about this boy who got in this stuff and is a complete mess now. She doesn’t want the same stuff to happen to her own kids.

Rukaiya has 7 kids the oldest one is a 14-year-old daughter named Atiya. Atiya is getting married very soon to her cousin. Rukaiya remarks happily about her to-be Son in law, he’s a farmer in Punjab and quite well off, Atiya will settle happily into the village after her marriage she won’t even have to work. “I don’t want my kids to have a life like me, that’s why I’m struggling, to give them a good life.” She says while cradling her newborn, the seventh kid to the ever growing family. While we’re talking, her kids are playing around us, dressed in dirty hand me down clothes and barefooted. They are scrawny and skinny looking. Why do you have so many kids if you can’t feed them all properly? I ask her. If we have more kids, we’ll have more people to bring in money she tells me.

All the people living in this kachi abadi have similar socio-economic standings as Rukaiya. And all the people here come from more or less the same back ground and mindset as Rukaiya and Jameel. They don’t know how long will they be allowed to stay here, when will the KMC come and evict them again. Other than that the day to day life for the people here is a complete struggle.

Jameel tells about how hard it is for them when it rains, he recalls to a few weeks back when the thunderstorms nearly flooded Karachi. It was devastating he says, everything came down because of the rain and the high speed winds. Their houses became filled with water, they didn’t had electricity for a full day, in a few cases the iron sheets serving as roofs also came down, they couldn’t sleep for the whole night, the kids were scared and they couldn’t do anything to help them, Jameel says with a look of helplessness on his face. In days like these it’s the hardest for them to live.

Jameel nowadays works as a daytime security guard in a nearby colony. But the job is not permanent, he’s substituting for a friend. When that friend comes back from his gaon Jameel would have to search for a new job. With all this crisis at hand there is another very pressing issue that worries Jameel and Rukaiya. They have to make jahez for Atiya too. Jahez is very important in order to ensure that Atiya gets to live a good and respected lives with her in laws. Rukaiya and her husband, Jameel have been working on it for months and have gathered quite a lot of stuff. “I Just hope all this stays safe.” Rukaiya remarks worriedly and narrates an incident that occurred six months ago. Six months ago there was a fire which completely burned down some of the houses. In the fire a woman lost all the jahez she had collected for her daughter’s marriage, the daughter’s in laws after learning about this incident refused to marry. Rukaiya doesn’t want that sort of thing to happen to her daughter.

Rukaiya also talks about some of her family issues and problems with me. She tells me about the problems her sister is facing in her married life due to a thing called as vatta satta. It’s basically a form of marriage common in their families. Rukaiya’s sister and brother were both married into the same families. Now her brother has divorced his wife and because of that his sister’s marital life is in jeopardy as her husband is threatening to divorce her (because his sister was divorced by her brother). As a result of these issues there is a whole family tussle going on. These things keep going on baji she tells me. But if these issues are so prevalent why do you people still do vatta satta? I ask her. She just replies with a shrug that it’s still the only way to ensure a good married life. They are doing what they can to survive and stay alive and teaching their kids the same as well. They haven’t yet found a way around all this.