An engaging pre-lunch session on Karachi’s urban planning, public spaces and garbage management had the audience’s undivided attention on Saturday, the second day of the Adab Festival Pakistan.

The first question was put to provincial Labour and Information Minister Saeed Ghani. He said when it came to issues of the city most of the political parties and citizens were not willing to play their role. If a government put the whole of its revenue into collecting garbage, it won’t be successful unless the citizens were ready to keep their city clean.

He was of the view that the situation in Karachi wasn’t as bad before the 1980s. But after that the forces that wanted to control Pakistan realised that they couldn’t do so unless they controlled Karachi. Therefore, they supported those [in Karachi] who had guns in their hands. In recent years, however, he claimed that the situation had changed a bit.

Architect Arif Hasan said Karachi was systematically destroyed, some of it through centralisation, some through corruption. Strange laws were made. The biggest issue was that of the institutions. There’s a need for the institutions’ training to sustain them. There was a time when there used to be a metropolitan training institute. In the early 1980s it was turned into a martial law court. Then the Karachi Building Control Authority was changed to the Sindh Building Control Authority because of which the city was mistreated with respect to land use.

‘Sindh police were formed for colonial consolidation’

Mr Hasan asked whose city it was. “Where are the investments made?” The investments that were made were gobbled up by contractors through a system. So the city got divided and the current drive [to remove encroachments] was one way to get rid of the poor from the town. What happened around Empress Market damaged an annual economy worth Rs1.5 million, he said.

He stressed referring to District West that it’s not the duty of the citizens to provide water [for themselves]. You couldn’t blame citizens for it. If you wanted to fix the city “do not make big schemes. There’s an absence of understanding the city. I’m against nostalgia. It is nice to have memories, [but] you can’t take the city back to what it was.”

Architect Marvi Mazhar said the city was constantly changing. Management was one of the most important queries. With that came the notion of public spaces. “We have timings for public parks. It doesn’t happen anywhere in the world. In the rest of the world parks are thoroughfares. Here we have fences and gates. Gentrification is when you start controlling [people’s] movement.”

Severine Minot, who teaches at Habib University, said it should be made sure that the policies that did get implemented were in line with citizen’s voices because they were often disconnected from the people’s needs.

Urban planner Farhan Anwar said you couldn’t have a physical transformation without a social transformation.

Sindh police’s formation

Two eminent speakers described in detail the history of the Sindh police in a post-lunch session moderated by Omar Shahid Hamid on the subject.

Former inspector general of police Aftab Nabi said the history of the Sindh police was connected with the conquest of Sindh, which was connected with the Great Game when Russia advanced downwards and the British advanced upwards towards Balochistan, Afghanistan etc.

In that context somewhere around 1843 Charles Napier and Ellenborough, both ambitious, without any approval from the government decided that Sindh should be conquered by repeatedly provoking the Talpurs. The Sindh police [were formed] as a requirement, for the conqueror of Sindh, for colonial consolidation. The entire police virtually were designed towards that primary objective, colonial consolidation. At the Battle of Miani, Edward C. Marston saved the life of Napier. After conquest Major Brown was appointed Sindh police chief and Marston as chief of the Karachi police. Most of the time, Major Brown would be away from Karachi so Marston handled the rest of Sindh. From day one, the police were structured as militarised police. From 1843 to 1870, if not all, the bulk of the police force was serving army officers.

Mr Nabi said Napier’s directives to Marston and Brown were that they had to select men who were tall and aggressive and fully prepared to obey the commands they received. There were a few branches of the force and one of them was the irregular cavalry which was in rural areas.

After Napier went back to London, Mr Nabi said Sindh was attached to the Bombay Presidency. The first commissioner was Pringle, who didn’t last long. Then came Bartle Frere, who did a lot of work for Karachi. Policing, though, continued under Marston, who was extremely dedicated as far as the force was concerned. He was brilliant and dedicated to the colonial cause.

Around 1857 when an uprising took place in UP and some parts of Punjab there were some disturbances in Karachi, Hyderabad and Shikarpur. It wasn’t a revolt, though. Unfortunately, the soldiers who escaped were hunted down by Marston. Out of 20 he shot 19, the last man drowned in a canal.

Mr Nabi said between 1870 and 1895 the potency of the police diluted mainly because bulk of the officers who took part in the Battle of Miani had retired. Gradually, because of indirect governance, the waderas got more powerful and the police weaker.

Former curator of the Sindh Police Museum Saud Ahmed Mirza said the British, ever since they came to the subcontinent were obsessed with how to improve policing. With the advent of the 18th century at least two committees were formed by the British tasked to improve and reform the then police force. Before the raising of the force there were already three police forces in the subcontinent –– Sindh police were the fourth. The difference was that the Sindh police happened to be the first modern police force in India. By that account, even globally it’s among the first few modern police forces starting with the Paris police force followed by the Metropolitan force of the United Kingdom.

Mr Mirza said in 1833 there was a committee set up under the chairmanship of Lord Metcalfe on how to improve the image of the police, how to stop them from torturing people and how to make them efficient. Although they deliberated on many facets, there was a dissenting note written by Sir Fredrick Halliday who mentioned that the police at large in India were not efficient because they were not commanded by their own officers (because they were commanded by revenue officers). But the Metcalf committee didn’t take that into consideration. Thereafter the Sindh police were raised by Napier who modelled the new force on the Irish Constabulary but took a leaf out of Halliday’s note: if they had to make it [the force] effective, it should be supervised by its own officers.

How to be a good reader

The launch of Uzma Aslam Khan’s book The Miraculous True History of Nomi Ali elicited some interesting questions from the audience. One of which was how to be a good reader.

The writer said: “Maybe turn off the phone when you’re reading. Don’t answer the doorbell. Just stay in the story and let it take you where you’ve never gone before.”

Originally published in Dawn, February 2nd, 2020

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