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.

parveen-rehman-npr-file-photo-opp-670x-3501Najma Sadeque, who is the postmaster of my favourite email circulation list that reaches thousands of people, had circulated 70 messages expressing shock and sorrow within a few hours of the brutal killing. The number of people who visited Parween’s modest home in Karachi’s Gulistan-i-Jauhar area was unbelievable — some had travelled all the way from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to pay homage and then made their return journey home.

This is a manifestation of the huge number of lives she touched and that provides the answer to the question that is being asked about the motive behind her killing. She had forged a bond with the people she worked with and this would have been reason enough for unscrupulous vested interests, which abound in this unfortunate land of ours, to eliminate her.

Though hers was not a confrontational style, Parween was not by any means a weak woman. Her fragile exterior belied her inner strength, the quality that the powerful fear most. She would never compromise on her principles and drew her strength from the people she inspired by creating a consensus to take their mission forward.

She persistently described the present system as corrupt and “we will change it” was her constant refrain. Men with feet of clay felt threatened by such determination and her unlimited capacity to take people along with her.

Her enemies who are also the enemies of society understood this more than many of her well-wishers. Having learnt her primer in development work from the legendary Akhtar Hameed Khan, she proved to be an excellent pupil who understood his philosophy and disseminated it through the Orangi Pilot Project-Research and Training Institute’s work.

Unlike other NGOs working for the uplift of the poor, Parween’s work cannot be described as welfare work. It was more than that. She worked to help people help themselves. Even the sanitation and sewerage system which was launched by Dr Akhtar Hameed Khan was not gifted to them. They built it on a self-help basis with the OPP providing them technical support.

Self-help and self-reliance are the OPP’s guiding principles. It does not seek aid from foreign donors — Parween once refused an offer of several thousand dollars from the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation. She told me they didn’t have the absorptive capacity to use such huge sums and such liquidity would lead to corruption.

The OPP’s overheads charges are minimal and unlike many other organisations its funds are used judiciously and not squandered. If the OPP model were to be honestly followed poverty could be eradicated without any foreign assistance. Would those who have flourished because of the inflow of foreign aid ever tolerate such a strategy?

The other “dangerous” work that Parween did was research. In a country where a person unearths the corruption of the corrupt by meticulous investigation and research and goes on to document it on her website to expose the evil can prove to be more effective than big-mouthed media guys who just shout quoting “some sources” which are known to be dubious.

Take the case of the 2,173 goths (settlements) on the periphery of Karachi that are being “regularised” in the name of development. Parween documented how 1,673 goths had had their status changed since 2011 — to create loyal constituencies for different parties while driving the poor out of their homes.

But her biggest ‘crime’ for which the wicked of this earth feared her was her commitment to empower the goth inhabitants through advocacy, bringing together the goth activists in the Secure Housing Support Group and providing them technical assistance, mapping all the land and supporting them in building the infrastructure that would enable them to safeguard their titles to their land.

Parween was a brave woman and now we know she had a huge constituency which will carry her work forward. There is no doubt about it though the killings in Karachi have made the task she undertook more daunting than ever.

The last sms she sent me was on the morning of her death. She wrote: “Your article in Dawn today is super! So informative. Thanks n Cheers PR”. I had replied, “Wow you are back. Was calling and calling…” Now I can call forever and she will — very uncharacteristically — never respond.

Source: Dawn

15 thoughts on “Rest in peace little sister, Parveen Rehman

  1. Thank you for this deeply moving piece. Perween was an inspiration in every way. When we first started our work at the Ali Hasan Mangi Memorial Trust in Khairo Dero, she said: "Naween, putting up structures is the easiest part, changing mindsets is the real work." Five years later, I fully realize how very right she was. Perween's depth of insight, acute sensitivity to the feelings on the ground and impassioned approach were precious assets we all have lost. What always amazed me about her was her incredible ability to speak to everyone–absolutely everyone–with exactly the same approach and achieve the most effective communication. She was simply unable to give some people more or less "importance" in her manner and approach than others. Everyone got just the same. And how very much it was. Such a unique and beautiful characteristic. Dear friend and teacher, rest in peace, forever in our hearts and minds.

  2. A true martyr.AHK would be proud of her.She will inspire many to follow in her foot-steps.

  3. "Self-help and self-reliance" should be a principal of life of everyone. Adoption of this Principal would be a great tribute to Ms. Parveen.

    "such liquidity would lead to corruption" Simple words but great truth.

  4. you have moved me in eulogizing late Parween Rehman. Her death is a great loss for those who uphold the principles of moderation, toleration and humanism in this country which, unfortunately, has been kidnapped in the hands of extremists. Your thoughts shall certainly go a long way in sowing the seeds of moderation in this land. Keep the ball rolling.

  5. This is an excellent article, although has some wishful thinking (though I do hope it does materialize sooner rather than later). I am referring to "If the OPP model were to be honestly followed poverty could be eradicated without any foreign assistance". The problem, my dear Zubeida , is that the powers to be do not want to eradicate poverty, they do not want the masses to get educated It is easier to fool and rule people who do not have the capacity to think rationally and act accordingly. An empty stomach and an empty mind is an open invitation to subjugation. Historically, people were devoid of any opportunity to education and thus become civilized. Now this curse has been taken a step further, where the lucky few who have gotten education and are bent upon improving the lot of the common man, are being systematically eliminated. It is a real admiration on the part of those courageous individuals who, in spite of all the adverse circumstances, are willing to put their lives on line to do what they sincerely believe would improve the lot of the common man and the nation as a whole. Good luck to them and any amount of praise is too little for the work they are doing. May Allah save them from these barbarian and savage beasts who are out to destroy a good deed any one does.
    I wrote this comment some days back but from past experience did not hope it will be published. It has not been published yet. I read your articles quite frequently, though I should confess, not regularly, but I really enjoy them, though often they make me sad because of the true depiction of the deplorable conditions in Pakistan. The Pakistan that was, when I left almost forty five years ago, is alas, no more the same Pakistan. The worst part is that the prevailing hopelessness does not augur well the future. Hope I am wrong!


  6. thank you .. it takes some courage to open mail about Parween.. but this is a lovely gentle piece and the Parween I know.. I have been thinking it doesn't matter how you die but how you live…

  7. Thank you for this beautiful and heart wrenching tribute to an equally beautiful, humane and courageous person.
    What a loss for all of us. There was a very warm and at the same time sad evening dedicated to Parveen in Islamabad today.

  8. your article "little sister" was very moving and very disturbing. I dont have words. Beautifully written. My thoughts are with all those who mourn and who will never be able to recover what they have lost.

  9. That has to be one of the most touching obituaries I have read. Never having had the privilege of meeting Parween Rahman, I could feel the gentle exterior along with the strong will that she had. I had the opportunity of meeting her mentor, Akhtar Hameed Khan a number times. He was of course a household name in development circles in Bangladesh. In a certain way, I can thus understand what Parween must have been.
    My condolences as well as solidarity to all of you in Pakistan, from Bangladesh, as we are now going through tumultuous moments in our history, in our coming to terms with the genocide of 1971 and attempts by the perpetrators to silence the voices of the majority. Here we share similarities. I sincerely hope that both our peoples can come out of this dark phase in our respective countries, where dreams of the people continue to be trampled upon and those who dare to try to change are silenced.
    In solidarity
    Khushi Kabir
    Dhaka, Bangladesh

  10. thank you for sharing this wonderful tribute to a brave woman from a brave woman.

  11. what a painful and sad story, parveen seems to be the latest victim to senseless genocide going on in pakistan since a decade

    stories like parveen's have regretfully become everyone's story in pakistan

    one after another a tragedy strikes with greater intensity but the state and people seem to be suffering from collective amnesia or callousness……….or complicity?

  12. Zubeda aapa is such an elegant lady and how she write on that angel of karachi, Parveen Rehman, it seems that there are many who wanna karachi alive with their efforts,love to adore Aapa, who has given perveen aapa a great contribution, atleast we can say that we have that kind of positive people living here,who can show us what is on the other side of the coin

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