A large part of Malir has been dug up to supply gravel for construction sites across the city
Goth Usman Khaskheli appears to be sitting on a hilltop but this small village on Karachi’s periphery was actually on the same level as its surrounding areas until a few years ago.
The villagers are new to the feeling of living on a hilltop, the surrounding areas over 20 feet below them. Until a few years ago, their village was situated on the plains of Malir. The earth is not plain anymore, unlike the lives of the villagers which have not changed since decades. They live in constant fear, though. Of the earth-diggers and the monster trucks that go racing along the narrow roads of Malir, emptying out Malir’s land and dumping it at construction sites across the city.
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Residents call it the ‘killer’ of Malir’s fertile land and its children — an apt pseudonym for the trucks that strike fear among the indigenous population. Accidents have become routine in the area, as the speeding dumpers casually bump aside any obstacles, human or machine, that come in their way. The residents claim the illegal transport of sand and the government’s support to the transporters has doubled the chances of such accidents.
On October 2, two girls and a man were killed after being struck by a dumper truck. The 14-year-old girls, Fatima Jokhio and Jan Bibi Jokhio, were students of the Government Girls Secondary School, located in Memon Goth — around three kilometres from their village. The third victim, 45-year-old Ali Muhammad Khashkheli, was a social worker who used to repair roads, filling potholes to ensure smooth traffic. Ironically, it was the latter’s passion for society that claimed his life. His death went as unnoticed as his lifelong efforts.
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The students were on the way home when the dumper struck their rickshaw, causing it to overturn, killing them instantly. The dumper’s driver managed to escape. Hundreds of villagers rushed to the accident site and took the victims to the hospital.
“The dumper hit our rickshaw from the front,” recalled an injured student of class seven, Sajid Hussain. “There was a huge explosion and the next time I opened my eyes, I found myself in the hospital.”
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Azharuddin, 15, was also in the same rickshaw. “They mostly overtake and cross us at alarming speeds,” he said. This time, he said, there were two rickshaws and the dumper hit the second one as the first managed to get off the road just in time.
“I am not sure my son will go to school again,” said Hussain’s terrified father, Abdul Aziz. “I can’t bear to lose my child. The whole family is in shock after this accident,” he said.
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“First they [sand merchants] ruined our lands and now they are killing our children,” said Fatima’s uncle, Mir Zaman Jokhio, amid tears of anguish. “We are helpless in the face of these people who want to destroy us,” he reflected sadly.
Soon after the accident, the villagers decided not to allow any dumper to cross from their area. “It is enough,” said Hussain Sagar Khaskheli, a villager. “Do they wish to kill us and occupy our lands?” he questioned in anger.
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With a population of over 15,000, the village has, what is claimed to be, a dispensary. The decrepit, two-room structure only has the word ‘dispensary’, painted in Sindhi on its outer wall that gives it away. Inside, most of the rooms are locked and it has almost never served its purpose ever since it was established. The villagers always take the sick to the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre.
Incensed by the latest casualties, the villagers surrounded the police station on October 5, demanding the police to register an FIR against the dumper driver. Though they managed to get an FIR registered, the police have failed to trace the suspects even after two weeks.
“The police were not even ready to register the FIR,” said Mir Zaman. “No one dares take action against this mafia,” he said, waving his hands in the air exasperatedly.
For their part, the police claim to have traced the culprit. “We have traced the house of the dumper’s owner,” said senior investigation officer, Khadim Lashari. “We’ll arrest the driver soon,” he claimed.
Meanwhile, some villagers told The Express Tribune that the dumper owner, with the support of the area’s influential people, had tried to coerce the families into withdrawing the case and negotiate a truce.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 21st, 2015.