Monthly Archives: March 2013

The perfect mismatch

By Zubeida Mustafa

Shan went to school for 10 years, and his mother, a domestic worker, spent thousands and thousands to pay for his schooling (Rs500 per month in the last two years). He had dreams and wanted to “work in an office on a computer”.

Last year Shan’s mother informed me that Shan had found a job as a janitor in a residential apartment block. “What about his studies?” I asked. She didn’t know because she had no idea if he had managed to clear his matric examination. I suspected that he hadn’t because I knew he had failed in the ninth class. It was then that I realised how little he knew. The little tutoring I arranged for him obviously didn’t help. Continue reading The perfect mismatch

Is this the problem?

By Zubeida Mustafa

IN an article titled ‘Is Pakistan’s condition terminal?’ published in Foreign Policy, Robert Hathaway, director of the Asian Programme at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars in Washington, has reprimanded Pakistanis for tolerating “for too long shoddy governance, venal politicians, failing institutions and second-best performance.”

The writer adds: “Pakistan has failed abysmally in cultivating leadership, vision and a national commitment to turn around the fortunes of an ailing state.” He finds astonishing the equanimity with which Pakistanis accept bad governance. Mr Hathaway goes on to pronounce Pakistan to be in terminal decline. Continue reading Is this the problem?

Rest in peace little sister, Parveen Rehman

By Zubeida Mustafa

I NEVER had a younger sister but at some stage, I can’t recall when, a woman entered my life to fill the vacuum I had always felt. Actually she was my friend Aquila’s “little” sister and so charming were her ways that we became connected. She brought sunshine into my life as she did into the lives of many others.

This little sister of mine — Parween Rahman — was shot dead last Wednesday leaving not just her family and supporters devastated. The whole country — in fact the community of caring social workers the world over — is mourning her loss.

There was something about Parween. Anyone who met her was attracted by her cheerful disposition and warm, caring nature. Her versatile personality allowed her to strike an immediate equation with people of all ages and background who met her. Her witty retorts followed by her musical laughter have now been silenced for ever. That really hurts.

Why should anyone want to touch a gentle soul like her who was incapable of doing anyone any wrong? Why? Why? Why? was the question asked in the hundreds of messages that poured in. Continue reading Rest in peace little sister, Parveen Rehman

My Last Meeting with Slain Parveen Rehman

By Nafisa Hoodbhoy

“Did you find that religious extremism has grown in Pakistan on this trip?” asked Sheema Kirmani, sitting cross-legged in the front of the crowd, after I had finished presenting my book at a session of the Karachi Literary Festival.

“Oh yes,” I responded. “But its not just religious, but also ethnic extremism that’s taken hold of Karachi. guest-contributorI think that the more violence permeates society, it causes individuals to fall back on the groups that give them a sense of identity.”

Sitting in the audience was Parveen Rehman. She had promised to attend after I went to her sister, Aquila Ismail’s presentation of her book “Martyrs and Marigolds,” a couple of hours before my launch. Continue reading My Last Meeting with Slain Parveen Rehman

It would be safer if she was not the only one

By Steve Inskeep


Several times in Karachi I went to see Perween Rahman. We first met in 2008, as I researched informal settlements where millions of Karachi residents lived. People who knew these vast stretches of concrete-block homes told me to seek out Rahman, who knew more.

We met at her office, the Orangi Pilot Project-Research Training Institute. Someone would lead me across a courtyard to find Perween in one or another of the institute’s cluttered rooms – a dim room, usually, because the power was out. A photo from one of our meetings shows sunlight from a window reflecting off her glasses. Her hand is moving as she talks, and her mouth is bending into a smile. The image suggests her vitality, though I never managed a photo that fully captured the pleasure she took in her work. It was like trying to photograph a bird in flight.

Rahman showed me maps of the city’s incredible expansion. She introduced me to neighborhood activists. And she told stories of illegal land developers she’d met through her research. Though she knew some would kill to protect their business, she published her findings and helped journalists like me.

“Please write about this,” she told me once. “Write about it in your name. It would be safer if I was not the only one!” She spoke with a smile and a laugh, as she often did when describing her precarious existence.

Residents work on a low-cost sanitation project in Orangi

Her words came back to me after Rahman was shot by men on motorcycles this month. Police say they killed the killer, a man linked with the Taliban, though Rahman’s friends have doubts. “I am shattered, my heart bleeds, I feel powerless,” one wrote. The feeling of helplessness is widespread. But Perween Rahman suggested one thing to do. Write about this, she said. Don’t let me be the only one.

The OPP-RTI is famous for “helping the poor,” though that is not precisely what it has done. Akhtar Hameed Khan, the social scientist who founded it in the 1980’s, said the poor must help themselves. His mission was to spread information. If people must live in extralegal developments, he would teach them how to dig their own sewers or lobby for basic services.

Rahman embraced this philosophy, helping an entire city learn about itself. She wrote a report explaining who was stealing city drinking water. A wall map at her office charted sewers and storm drains clogged by unplanned development. Other maps identified hundreds of square kilometers that the informal builders were capturing. She courageously lit a torch at the shadowy intersection where politicians, business interests, criminal organizations, and violence come together.

Pakistanis do not have nearly enough information about that intersection, and Rahman’s death illustrates why.

She courageously lit a torch at the shadowy intersection where politicians, business interests, criminal organizations, and violence come together

Pakistan can be proud of a robust media, brilliant researchers, and dedicated activists who often work at the risk of their lives. The trouble is that they are not yet numerous enough, or supported strongly enough. It is hard to speak truth to power in any country, including mine. And it’s much harder than it should be in Pakistan. The whole ecosystem of information is cramped by scarce resources and constant peril. Vast social trends are under-examined. Murders are described but not often explained. Newspapers commonly edit stories so that basic facts, such as the name of a political party, are omitted. Journalists and activists must make practical decisions about whether this or that statement is so important that they are willing to leave the country after making it.

Pakistan as a whole is safer than any stereotype of the country would suggest. Karachi is not among the world’s most violent cities, which are mostly in Latin America or the United States. More than 80 countries have higher murder rates than Pakistan. It is the narrower problem of political violence that disrupts civic life, and risks staining a nation’s soul. All too often victims are targeted simply for what they say – people like Malala Yousufzai, shot as she was promoting education; Salman Taseer, assassinated for his opinion of Pakistan’s blasphemy law; Saleem Shahzad, dumped in a canal after he reported on extremists and the military; or Perween Rahman, producing her maps and reports on Karachi.

The Orangi Pilot Project is famous for ‘helping the poor’, though that is not precisely what it has done. The social scientist who founded it in the 1980’s said the poor must help themselves

But if these attacks horrify the world, there is an opportunity to inspire. Pakistanis can carry on the basic task of citizenship Perween Rahman performed for more than thirty years. Find reliable information. Pass it on. Publish it. And cite your sources, saying how you know what you know.

When I wrote a book about Karachi called Instant City, residents helped me follow Rahman’s example. They helped me to document a battle over park land, which ended in the murder of the activist Nisar Baloch in 2009. Although I could not identify who pulled the trigger, court records, maps, and interviews revealed a great deal about the land grab that led to the murder. Brave citizens helped me because they cared about their city. In the same spirit, citizens can continue the work to which Rahman devoted her life.

How to do this and survive? “It would be safer if I was not the only one,” Rahman said. When in danger, researchers, activists, or journalists can share information. They can publish their findings in many places, so criminals will know they are up against too many citizens to silence. Those who are not writers or activists can offer financial support, whether through a donation to a public interest group or simply a newspaper subscription. Contributions, however small, strengthen institutions doing dangerous work. Through such contributions, citizens effectively band together to inform themselves. It is a form of “self-help,” the principle for which Perween Rahman lived and died.

Ultimately, of course, the government must more effectively prevent or prosecute political violence. That would require extraordinary patience and political skill, especially when violent actors are found to have links to powerful parties or the state. But it is possible to imagine how Pakistan’s next prime minister might begin the job after the elections May 11.

First, congratulate the outgoing government on completing its five-year term, which no elected civilian government had ever done. It was a vital step in establishing democracy, and an overarching goal that the whole country understood. It was a departure from bitter history, worth achieving no matter what else went wrong.

Next, take a moment to recall Perween Rahman and other citizens who have been killed. Define the next vital step toward democracy, an overarching goal that is worthy of the next five years: Make public discourse safe.

Source: The Friday Times

Revolutionary resolve

by Rabiya Ezdi

Rahman had a capacity to pick up on the potential of people, and believe in them until they had no choice but to believe in themselves

It is a natural human instinct to celebrate those that leave us. But a tribute to Perween Rahman is like sharing some of the stuff that real legends are made of. Not the people of big awards and media coverage, but those that make change on the ground while shunning publicity; the true heroes of Pakistan.
I first met Perween eleven years ago. After being disillusioned by the role of mainstream architects in making the kind of change that was needed in our cities, I had decided to plunge into the NGO sector. The replication of the OPP (Orangi Pilot Project) model in Punjab had begun, adding to its recognition as a development alternative with much promise. I expected Perween to be the proverbial ‘NGO-type’: scary, aggressive, intimidating. She was none of these. With a warm smile, a chirpy voice, and a kind demeanour, she welcomed me to the OPP-RTI (Orangi Pilot Project-Research and Training Institute) and told me that I should spend the first two weeks just trying to understand the work of the organisation.
OPP was at the time and still is, running on the momentum of Dr Akhtar Hamid Khan’s teachings; simplicity, frugality, and the ideals of love and humanity. Two of the first of Dr Sahib’s axioms I was told I must remember were: “I made a mistake”, and “I have not understood”. Being used to an academic and professional world where flaunting one’s knowledge, talking more than listening, and proving one’s point often in heavy jargon, were characteristic of ‘strong’ professionals — this new ethos was most liberating, and one of the things that made me fall instantly for the OPP’s development philosophy.


Anyone interested in being a part of this most beautiful process of true, rooted change, could just sit back, listen, observe, and internalise when ready. There was no room for ego. Also, where mainstream development work is about ‘doing’ for the poor, this was about learning from the poor, and supporting their initiatives with whatever know-how is appropriate, from technical input, to maps and training. It was the self-help model, committed to bringing human dignity back into the formula of helping the poor help themselves.
It was this that I learnt most from Perween and those at OPP: working for ‘real’ development is, more than anything else, a spiritual discipline.
On the operational side of the organisation, there was the weekly Monday meeting. In appearance just a tedious reporting of the week’s progress by every OPP-RTI team member including Perween herself, in reality it is an exceptional tool for accountability, transparency, and inclusive decision-making. It was the platform for debate, disagreement, acknowledgement of failures, and a celebration of small and big successes.
In work ethic, Perween was a disciplinarian and this had trickled down to all members of the institution. Work was the temple, the worship; there was no compromise. While she was gentle, she was as firm and upright as the trunk of an oak tree. The OPP-RTI research objective was clear: advocacy for the poor. The methodology was simple — interview, mapping, writing, and dissemination.
And then there was Perween’s insistence on using the right words; “It is the terms we use that shape our biases towards the poor,” she would say. Perween was not opposed to the city’s ‘mafias’ any more than she was saddened by the government’s indifference in solving the problems of the poor. She had come to realise that the term ‘mafia’ is misleading; in a system that is not fair by its very nature, and where the majority has no choice but to fend for themselves, a ‘mafia’ was simply an opportunist’s response in a crisis.

The word ‘katchi abadi’ she would say, leads to an automatic anti-poor prejudice. It was merely ‘People’s Housing’, “They are people who have found no alternative and this reflects the failure of the government to absorb them”. And ‘informal settlements’? Perween had concluded that there is no such thing; it was simply that which was ‘unofficial’ planning, unofficially supplied services, and unofficial systems, versus what was ‘officially’ done and recognised. And it was these ‘unofficial’ systems that existed often in collusion with the government, and supported the lives of 70 per cent of the city’s population, hence the need to recognise and understand them.

Perween was high on life. Along with countless people from community-based organisations in Sindh and Punjab, we travelled across the country several times a year, trying to understand and support poor people’s initiatives. Travel was not just business; while the tone was always jovial, it was above all an opportunity to make connections and give people hope. It is this people-building that was the real and lasting investment. Perween had a capacity to pick up on the potential of people, and believe in them until they had no choice but to believe in themselves. She would instil idealism, humane values, and a work ethic without overtly ‘preaching’. She was that rare combination of mentor and friend.
Perween was not the change itself, she was one of change’s most potent agents — the faith of change, the brain behind change. In her inside-out understanding of the city’s ways, and in the networks and relationships with government and communities that she had forged over the years, Perween had crystallised a movement of sorts, where the marginalised were shown ways in which they would really no longer be the city’s ‘Citizen X’. And it is always the true change-makers of the world that shake the hold of those who live only to maintain a ruthless status quo.


Many theories abound about who would want to so heinously rob this gentle soul of her life, this soul that couldn’t hurt an ant. The truth is simply that in the years since she first joined OPP, Perween had quietly grown and come to a point where she could move mountains. The OPP’s ground-breaking low-cost sanitation model, and the upgrading of housing in Orangi, were the primers. The Karachi master plan for the conversion of Karachi’s open nallahs into box culverts was achieved through an arduous process of lobbying with the KWSB. Research into the truth about Karachi’s water crisis, and unearthing water ‘thefts’ was geared by the OPP.

The 2006 floods in Karachi and their connection with the choking of Karachi’s storm-water nallahs due to encroachments by government and private interests alike, was investigated by the OPP. And now the Secure Housing Initiative, wherein it was discovered that pre-partition villages or Goths in Karachi’s peripheral areas, were being evicted by political interests in order to create new constituencies for political parties. Where the government’s figures recognised these goths to be 400 in number, through research the OPP-RTI discovered that there were more than 2000. The OPP-RTI had entered into a process of mapping these goths, and supporting goth dwellers to advocate for land title.

In 2010, these maps helped convince the government to issue land titles to over half of those communities. Now, by 2013, more land titles were on their way. “The maps did it. Maps help to build relationships,” she would say, “The maps tell us what to do, where to go, who to lobby. They help professionals to understand the reality and have the courage to accept it. They help government to understand the reality and accept it too, because they are no longer the only ones that have that information. The people have this information now, and the NGOs and media have it too.” Most of these maps of the goth settlements have now been accepted as official government maps. “It is the community youth who actually do the mapping. We only help train them, and then take a back seat, become invisible.”

Despite negativity and despair all around, with the youthful spirit of a sixteen-year-old, Perween never stopped being an incurable optimist.

In a presentation she made in Bangkok in February at a meeting of community-based organisations from Asia, Perween’s words are the only solace one finds in the midst of this painful turn of events: “Today Karachi is in flames, and one of the aspects of the violence in the city is the politics of land and who gets title to it. Getting land title for these goth settlers, who have lived there since long before partition in 1947, has been a very powerful step forward for the peace and the political balance of Karachi. We were just saying amongst ourselves that if we die today, we will die so happily, because we have done it.”

This was Perween Rahman. With the childlike vivacity of a fluttering bird, the resolve of a revolutionary, and the magnanimity of a sage, this gentle soul had helped to change the map of Karachi.

The Death of a Nobody

By Ghazala Akbar

Hundreds of lives lost, homes destroyed and we are not even in the first quarter of the year. In other countries this would constitute a national emergency. Heads would roll, governments might fall but in Pakistan, it’s just another bad day at the office. We are as they say a very resilient people. Very. There is no other option. When you are down, the only way is up. That’s what an optimist like the late Parveen Rahman might have said. Parveen who? Exactly. In the recent tsunami of violence, it’s easy to forget. Coming hard on the heels of back to back bombings of Shia neighbourhoods in Karachi and Quetta plus the burning of homes belonging to Christian families in Lahore, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep count or remember names.
Continue reading The Death of a Nobody

Parween Rehman: Lane by Lane

By Zofeen T. Ebrahim

pr-photoPerween Rehman is most at ease sitting with a group of people, especially if they are from a katchi abadi (low-income settlement) and can exchange ideas with her. A qualified architect, she heads
the well known Orangi Pilot Project- Research and Training Institute (OPP-RTI) in Karachi. There are piles of papers waiting for her and scores of meetings with Government Officials and their partners. But poor people are more important. And herein lies the success of the project, for people are “their own best resource”. Rehman radiates warmth. She smiles easily and frequently bursts into a chortle. You marvel as you listen to her with rapt attention, trying to figure out why she is the way she is. “I am an optimist. The maximum I can remain depressed for is ten minutes,” she tells you later when you interview her in a spacious, well-ventilated meeting room in OPP’s office, in Orangi.


“Maybe it has to do with what happened to us in East Pakistan,” and she begins her story. “I was in Class IX, in 1971, when Pakistan lost its eastern half (present Bangladesh). I was spoilt and pampered, being the youngest among four siblings and was like any teenager, obsessed with music, friends and partying”. Life was a never-ending joyride till the day the Mukti Bahini came to Mirpur, in Dhaka, where Rehman lived with her middle class parents. Rehman was transported to the seventies of East Pakistan. “We
saw people being killed, right in front of us. They separated the men from the women. I thought this would be the last I’d see of my father”.

Rehman, the Architect It was in her final year of studying architecture, in 1982, when Rehman, a star student of Dawood College of Engineering and Technology, Karachi, realised that what she was being taught was “not relevant”. “I was really confused. I didn’t know why I’d taken up architecture. The way the architects were designing was all wrong and the way they were treating young architects was worse,” was her first impression.

She had been visiting katchi abadis and had become interested in the social networks that existed there. Unwittingly, she was chalking out her future. The next two decades saw her totally committed to understanding development in the poor settlements of Karachi.

Even before her graduation, she landed in one of Karachi’s highflying architectural firms. She didn’t last there for even a month. After graduating, she got another plum job but her heart was just never in it. Restless, yet not knowing exactly why, she started exploring the city of Karachi by herself.

One morning she read about a low-cost housing project by some United Nations agency in Orangi, and decided to visit the place herself. A few hours later, she was in the office of the late Dr. Akhtar Hameed Khan, the renowned Pakistani social scientist. “I still remember my first encounter vividly. It was quite fascinating. It was a tiny room, with barely any natural light. I didn’t know what to expect,” recalled Rehman. “’Doctor Sahib’ looked me up and down and asked why I had come. I said I wanted to work,” she narrated her first meeting in detail. “He sat next to me and listened attentively to all my woes as a disillusioned youngster”. The thing that struck her was the respect he gave to her.

Every Saturday after that, she would be in Khan’s office in Orangi and among the people with whom she felt most at ease. He gave her an assignment, a sanitation model that was not working. “He wanted me to go into the community, talk to the people and find out what was wrong with it”. At that time the OPP was not providing technical guidelines. It was providing maps and motivating people to work on a self-help basis. “It became evident that leaving things to the masons doesn’t work. You have to provide technical guidance. This resulted in a lot of conflict within our office.”


In 1983, Rehman formally joined OPP as a full time architect to provide technical guidance. Rehman said that Khan was very clear that his work needed social organisation and technical guidance, provided by professionals. “He tried getting professionals but they were not willing to work at the kind of salary he was offering,” she said ruefully.

On the other hand, despite low wages and long hours, Rehman just took to the work. “I am lucky to have worked with the best. At the OPP you learn as you grow. It teaches you that you can have a good life even in simplicity”. She described OPP variously during the course of the interview – as “a way of life”; an “attitude”, a “catalyst”, “great people’s work”, an “urban phenomenon”, a “movement”, but not a project.

She has fond memories of the eighteen year relationship with Khan. “He taught me a way of life. When I first joined I would fight with a lot of the other team members. Fresh out of college, armed with a degree, I thought I knew more than them and ordered them around. Naturally there were many rifts”. Khan taught her to “first acknowledge what you lack, try and see who has those skills and then stick to them like a leech and pick their brains!”

When Rehman joined the OPP, she was the only woman among a group of men. Somehow, water and sanitation have long

Orangi not a Slum
Orangi Town, once a blighted settlement, is often referred to as Karachi’s biggest slum.

Today, Rehman takes it as a personal affront if anyone calls Orangi a slum. She’d prefer the term “poor, unofficial settlements”. To her, slum, a derogatory term, means “physical and social degradation”. “But here, in Orangi, you won’t find one dirty lane!” she points out. “Even legally it does not come under the purview of a katchi abadi. It has been notified by the Government. In fact, 72 percent of Karachi settlements, which were once bracketed as slums, have been notified.”

“The Government likes to use the term to get donor funding,” she says.

pr-workingremained a male-dominated sector. But that did not deter her in any way. In 1988, the OPP branched out as three independent institutions. The OPP-RTI takes care of sanitation, housing, education, water-supply and secure housing; the OPP-OCT (Orangi Charitable Trust) and the OPP-KHASDA (Karachi Health and Social Development Association). Today, there are 24 women in all the three programmes, including six working in water and sanitation. “I think it’s very important to have men and women working in a team. Women learn to be assertive and men become gentler,” she said.

However, she feels w o m e n h a v e a n advantage over men in the development field, especially vis-à-vis the poor. “As a woman working in the field it was very easy for me to enter a household and talk to the women. That gave me an edge over the men in my team and let me look at issues in a more detailed manner”.With OPP-RTI now actively lobbying with the Local Government, R e h m a n , b e i n g a woman, finds it easier to meet the Mayor. “My male counterpart may well be made to wait for hours before being allowed an audience. Women are treated with more respect!”

But to be taken seriously, women in the water sector, have to prove that they are technically knowledgeable. “Only then they would be accepted,” says Rehman. She experienced that too. “I was young and talking about serious issues. For many, who were not used to women in this area, it was initially a little difficult to digest. But once they started working with me, things were different and acceptance was forthcoming”.

Women as Motivators
After over two decades of working with women in the urban areas, Rehman quickly puts to rest the long-held view that women have no say in decision-making. “My experience has been otherwise. However, women may be using men as their mouthpiece and it may seem that men are making that decision. Women, by nature, are not assertive but gentle persuaders. We had to take women on board first. Men may have laid the pipes, but it was the women who collected the money; they were the mobilisers. I’d say things are a lot less complicated if you involve women!”

Rehman gives the example of Dadi Ama, the octogenarian who went door to door, convincing the people to lay the sewers. Single-handedly she collected money for the work from all 50 houses in her lane. It was the first lane in Orangi’s Mujahid Colony where OPP carried out sanitation work.

The OPP took people into its confidence and started by advocating for the development of an underground sewerage system, one lane at a time, without a master plan, and convincing the Local Government to “build and improve on the existing external drainage system of the rest of Karachi, which would cost less than starting a new system”.

OPP – one lane at a time
Once swarming with flies and mosquitoes, over-flowing soak-pits, bucket latrines, sludge and sewage, Orangi, with a population of 1.4 million spread over 113 settlements was considered an eyesore even by Government Officials.

Thirty years later, OPP-RTI proudly show-cases its biggest success story to local and foreign urban planners, donor agencies, NGOs, community activists working in water supply and sanitation, and even anthropologists.

The transformation of Orangi can undoubtedly be attributed to a vibrant, three-way partnership among community, civil society and state, based on the philosophy of the late Akhtar Hameed Khan. He believed that by mobilising and organising the community you can enable them to find their own alternatives in accessing municipal services.

It costs a household, on an average around PKR 1900 (USD 23) to contribute towards the underground sewerage line and a sanitary latrine. This development is called ‘internal’ development by Rehman who said similar improvements done by the City Government would cost five times more. To date, Orangi residents have installed sewerage and water lines in 6,934 lanes, serving 100, 000 houses. The people’s work has been complemented by the Government which laid the main trunk lines.

Over the years, OPP- RTI’s work has expanded and been replicated beyond Orangi Town. “We have grown in different ways”. From one neighbourhood, lane by lane, the initiative spread to the entire city and from a community project it became a communitycivil society-government partnership.

Emphasising documentation, the OPP-RTI has published survey maps, painstakingly marking each and every sewer, water line and drain surveyed so far. All the branch drains have been surveyed but new ones are being discovered. It has also documented 451 of the 539 low-income settlements in Karachi, and physical and economic proposals for upgrading. This has led to developing 60% of all natural drains through which most of Karachi’s sewage flows. In addition, 102 goths (small villages in the periphery under the city’s administration) have also been documented.

Their work bore fruit in 2004 when the City Government requested OPP-RTI to assist it in developing around 105 natural drainage channels all over Karachi. “Our success is that the Government has finally accepted OPP-RTI’s sewage disposal plan for Karachi”. OPPRTI suggested that the natural drains be used for disposal of sewage and rainwater and treatment plants be installed where these drains enter the Arabian Sea.

Further, OPP-RTI’s philosophy is well entrenched in the 2006 National Sanitation Policy. This includes component sharing model, build on what exists, mapping and documentation using local resources, refusing foreign loans and Government working in partnership with the people. The OPP-RTI has also influenced similar projects in 28 other cities and over a 100 villages in Punjab and Sindh, reaching more than two million people. Some elements of the programme have been adopted in Nepal, Sri Lanka and India.

“We’re neither contractors, nor delivery people, we are teachers, ourselves learning from situations,” says Rehman.

Parveen Rehman’s death has left me heartbroken

By Zofeen Ebrahim

Parveen Rehman left a job at a high-end Karachi architectural firm to join the Orangi Pilot Project, a nongovernmental organization that supports people living in illegally built settlements.
Why was her life snuffed out in that terrible manner? Was it because she was a messiah for the poor? PHOTO: NPR/FILE

An impish smile, one that reached her eyes and made them twinkle; the way she’d intertwine her arm with yours, like school girls do; her intelligent conversations; her wry humour that was always interspersed with chortles of laughter – there was a sort of joie de vivre about Parveen Rehman that suggested a new lightness of being. She exuded warmth and a gentleness that is hard to find these days.

So why was her life snuffed out in that terrible manner?

Was it because she was a messiah for the poor or was it due to her attempts to make people understand what development meant in poor settlements?

Did they hate her for finding joy in simple things?

Parveen Rehman was an architect by qualification and she headed the well-known Orangi Pilot Project-Research and Training Institute (OPP-RTI), in Karachi’s Orangi area.

“I am an optimist. The maximum I can remain depressed for is ten minutes!” she told me in an interview I was conducting back in 2009, for a book “Women Managing Water” published in India for which was collecting inspiring stories of women from around South Asia.

And then she added,

Maybe it has to do with what happened to us in East Pakistan.

In her own words,

I was in class nine, in 1971, when Pakistan lost its eastern half (present Bangladesh). I was spoilt and pampered, being the youngest among four siblings and was like any teenager, obsessed with music, friends and partying.”

Transported back in time, she said life then for her was a never-ending joyride till the day the Mukti Bahini came to Mirpur, in Dhaka, where they lived and she finally saw men becoming animals.

Every night, she said, soldiers would pick a few women from among them.

I remember my mother telling me and my sister that if somebody dragged us out, we should kill ourselves.

Strangely, her harrowing experience back in 1971 did not turn her into a bitter person. She told me in an interview to Dawn in 2000,

All issues, in my opinion deal with society as a whole and women cannot be separated; you have to see the situation in its totality.

When she talked about the 18 years she spent with Dr Akhtar Hameed Khan, it brought a glow on her face.

“He taught me a way of life,” she said.

I am lucky to have worked with the best. At the OPP (Orangi Pilot Project) you learn as you grow. It teaches you that you can have a good life even in simplicity.

She described the OPP in various ways during the course of the interview – as “a way of life”; an “attitude”, a “catalyst”, a “great people’s work”, an “urban phenomenon”, a “movement”, but not a project.

The one piece of advice from Khan sahib that stayed with her always was,

“First acknowledge what you lack, try and see who has those skills and then stick to them like a leech and pick their brains!”

She believed it was important for men and women to work together as that way women learn to be assertive and men become gentler, she’d say.

My mind is still too numbed and my heart seems in physical pain; I cannot think beyond the fact that it’s the biggest loss for our country. I felt something akin to the way I felt when Benazir Bhutto was shot and killed.

I keep wondering what she felt when the bullets hit her. She was slightly built and didn’t stand a chance, so it’s ironic that she once said,

“Physical strength really does not matter; it’s all about what you have up here” and she’d pointed to her temple.

Back in 2000, just a year after Khan sahib had passed away I had asked her if she felt his absence and she’d said,

There is no vacuum, neither is there the pain of his departure. He lived a full life. I enjoyed being with him, now his thoughts are there to guide me.

I’m not sure I can say the same for Parveen’s hasty departure, but then I’m not so magnanimous, I had not learnt enough from her. Images and her words are all that remain.

Source: Tribune

Protest At Press Club Against Brutal Murder Of Parveen Rehman

“We protest the murder of architect, teacher, social activist, Parveen Rehman. She was dedicated to making lives better for the millions who live in squatter settlements in Pakistan and abroad, by directly working among them and by educating students. It is a huge loss for not just her family, students and colleagues, but Pakistan in general and the world at large.

Director Orangi Pilot Project, Parveen Rehman was shot dead in a targeted incident when she was travelling in her car near Orangi Town’s Peerabad neighborhood.

We know committees have been made to probe the matter and governor, chief minister and IGP Sindh gave orders to complete investigation. But we also know what happens after such orders. We demand justice for Parveen and strict measures against land-grabbers and elements responsible for such atrocities.”