By: SHAZIA HASAN
KARACHI: “What more can one say about this young architect, barely 25 years old, who comes out to work for the first time and realises that designing houses for the rich is not what she wants to do all her life? And so she joins hands with people who work for the betterment of the poor and gets so involved in this work that she only leaves it when leaving this world,” said Tasneem Siddiqui of Khuda ki Basti.
He was speaking at the fourth session of the Perween Rahman Lecture Series titled ‘Celebrating Perween Rahman, a symbol of resistance’ at the T2F here on Saturday evening, just five days short of the slain researcher and activist’s first death anniversary.
“Usually we work for the 20 per cent with resources but there are 80pc people who live on the margin with few resources in our society that no one thinks about. Perween, working on Dr Akhtar Hameed Khan’s philosophy of letting people help themselves, showed the people of Orangi the way. And then using that model she helped others, too, such as the victims of the 2005 earthquake, the 2010 floods and the 2011 rains. Even the government modeled its sanitation policy after her work in Orangi,” he said.
“The work at Orangi Pilot Project [OPP] is still going on as a routine but we have lost Perween’s innovative mind and her will to take on new initiatives. Not everyone has her discipline, commitment, ideas and bravery. We can get other qualified people but not everyone will have that spirit. She was irreplaceable.”
Senior journalist Zubeida Mustafa said Perween was a public figure who kept a very low profile. “She wouldn’t even come on TV and remained in the background while motivating and pushing others forward. She had this way of helping people gain confidence and feel proud of their achievements however small,” she said.
“As a journalist I didn’t need to double check any information I got from her. Her research was so authentic.
And her work superseded Orangi as she had done so much for other people, too, for instance her work in the flood-effected areas and starting schools where people who had some education provided basic education to others. It is the government’s job to provide education to the people. Perween’s schools set up in little verandahs in people’s homes, etc, may not have been great but they were something at least,” she said.
“She worked to bring about a change within society so that it can work towards its own betterment.”
Architect Arif Hasan said that the work for cities and countries could not be done without first developing an understanding of the societies. “You have to sit down with the people to know them better. When people are ready for change you don’t need big money to help them. Just make do with whatever resources you have in hand. And Perween did that. Human dignity was of prime importance to her. She didn’t call slums ‘slums’. She called them the informal sector. And the poor weren’t ‘poor’ but people from low-income homes,” he said. “It is thanks to her in-depth documentation that the Orangi Pilot Project is the biggest resource of information here,” he added.
Zohra Yusuf of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said Perween was more than a symbol of resistance against injustice. “When pushing to reopen her murder investigation, someone recently asked me why we are pursuing Perween’s case in particular as there have also been others who like her were killed here such as the late Hakim Mohammad Said, the head of the KESC, etc. But while each killing really shakes us, with Perween’s killing we hit a new low,” she said.
Perween’s older sister Aquila Ismail, who conducted the discussion, said she hoped the Supreme Court would intervene in her murder investigation. “Her killing was the greatest injustice done not just to her family but this country as well,” she said.
“Perween can be a symbol of resistance as she worked for all those deprived of their basic rights. We can all work within our own little spaces to resist injustices to move her work ahead.”