Being Indigenous in Karachi

اردو میں پڑھنے کیلئے کلک کریں

Bahria Town and Expropriation of Sindhi & Baloch Goths  

The indigenous people of Karachi, mainly Sindhi & Baloch communities, living in rural villages called goths, are fighting for their land which is being forcibly occupied by the capitalists organised behind the real estate tycoon Malik Riaz. The expropriation* of these originally agricultural and pastoral communities from their land was initiated by the British colonial empire in the nineteenth century by enforcing colonial property relationships that encourage enclosure and private property on communal land. This historical process, the expropriation of indigenous Sindhi & Baloch Goths, is now reaching its conclusion with Bahria Town’s forceful removal of all barrier (both physical and social) to achieve complete annihilation of the agricultural communities of rural Karachi, to create new landscapes for the further growth of the capital that they have accumulated in the parallel economy – the shadow economy of tax evasion, bribery and kickbacks. Black money must find ways to enter the formal economy to continue its expansion.   

Being Indigenous in Karachi

Sindhi & Baloch agricultural communities claim of being indigenous in Karachi. They maintain that their history in the area dates back prior to the walled settlement that latter turned into an important colonial port city, and later went to become the first capital of Pakistan. The city of Karachi developed from within the walls of the fortified settlement of Hindu merchants built in 1729, which after the British occupation in 1839, started growing into a center of colonial trade through its natural harbor and attracted migrants from across the region. Within a decade of colonial rule, the town grew out of its walls and new working-class suburbs started to grow between the old city and the Lyari river that formed the western boundry of the town. The in-migration brought about by the increasing colonial trade through the port resulted in a surge in the population, estimated around 14000 at the time of British occupation, to 57,000 by 1856 and over 100,000 by 1890 earning Karachi the status of a city.    

Much before this population surge and the transformation of the fortified town into a colonial port city, these Sindhi & Baloch tribes have had populated the fertile riverbeds and the rain fed landscape of Malir valley besides the fishing villages along the natural harbor. The tribes were later joined by communities from Trans-Makkuran in the eighteenth and nineteenth century; with time they become a part of the natural economy of the region. The early tribal settlements and the in-migrants before British invasion collectively form the indigenous population of Karachi, most scholars agree.  

Many of the Sindhi-Baloch goths facing expropriation in the hands of Bahria Town find their lineage to these pre-colonial inhabitants of Karachi who could not be detached from the land during the colonial development of the city. These early agricultural and pastoral communities, for whom the land on which they were living was an inalienable mean of subsistence, can be designated as indigenous in relations to the other communities who settled in Karachi during its development into a colonial port city and were mainly affiliated with the port economy instead of work related to agriculture and livestock raising.   

Colonial Legacy of Expropriation

Baloch communities who settled along the Lyari river in late eighteenth century became the first to be expropriated, that is to lose their relationship with land as the means of subsistence, during the urban sprawling of colonial Karachi. These Baloch goths that later turned into working-class suburbs became the center of urbanization. By the time of partition, the rural economy of Lyari had diminished considerably and soon vanished in the face of the intensive in-migration during 1950s. Unlike the indigenous goths of Lyari, the impact of the urbanization and the post-partition economic structures, were initially minimal on the rural villages of Malir. Although, the temptation to part ways with land have been present since the early days of the partition among ‘Waderas’ – clan heads who dominated the social structure of the village and were legally entitled to sell the communal land – mainly due to their changing status from village heads to independent landowners and petty capitalists with increasing shares in the post-colonial political economy of Karachi.   

Wadera is the top rank feudal title in the structure of dominance at village level among the Sindhi & Baloch agricultural communities. In pre-colonial days, Wadera of a community belonging to larger tribal structure, has been either appointed directly by the tribal chief as his representative at village level or nominated by the villagers and endorsed by the chief as head of village community that formed a branch of the mother tribe. The independent Sindhi & Baloch communities who emerged during the eighteenth and nineteenth century, having no affiliation with any larger tribal hierarchy, organised themselves in non-tribal communal structures in the goths were normally led by a prominent personality endorsed by fellow villagers.  

These village heads became informal or ‘unofficial’ Waderas once private property was established over the communal land by the British empire through various colonial regulations that reshaped the property relations by enclosing the indigenous communities within the limits of the cultivated land; separating the non-cultivated grazing grounds, and bringing them in direct control of the colonial authorities; and entitling such figures to private ownership of the previously communally owned land considered to be part of the Goth. Non-cultivated land and the grazing grounds taken over by the colonial board of revenue was later given on lease to either the same tribes for their loyalty, or the in-migrating communities. The British during colonial rule used such land as bribe, the carrot in the proverbial ‘carrot and stick’ to control communities and strengthen the role of its loyalists. In the early twentieth century another colonial regulation paved the way for large private land ownership through ‘land consolidation’. Individuals who were leased small parcels of land at different sites were allowed to receive consolidated land at one place. The practice resulted in the creation of large estates and the growth of the landlord class.  

The Capitalists in the post-partition state – in Karachi’s case most of them being in-migrants who replaced the out-migrating Non-Muslim merchant class leaving behind a ready market for the newcomers – inherited the colonial property relations. The colonial legacy of land alienation was continued through privatisation of communal land and expropriation of the agricultural masses for the expansion of accumulation in an essentially non-capitalist space. Another wave of expropriation of the Sindhi-Baloch goths in rural Karachi began in 1960s with land reforms that resulted in large scale consolidation of property in the hands of the landlords coupled with the privatisation of the land held by the board of revenue to big industrialists and influential personalities, a process that continued sporadically until 2000 when under the new local government system, the land loot entered into a new phase setting ground for complete alteration of rural landscape.  

Bahria Town Karachi, A Phenomenon

General Perveez Musharaf’s dictatorship saw a new rise in arbitrary rule in Pakistan where the capitalists – commercial and politico-military elite, joined by ‘feudal lords’ of Sindh and ‘tribal chiefs’ of Balochistan who own big capitalist ventures besides their feudal-tribal titles – mainly relying on the parallel economy found new space for expansion of capital. Interestingly, this social group is frustrated with the growing role of the state functionaries who are at the same time rent seeking in their politico-economic behavior.  In other words, it seeks to ‘appropriate the appropriators’ by claiming a share of the profit being made both in the formal and informal economy. As a result, one often encounters state functionaries themselves as owners of massive capital. They have turned their offices positions into points of accumulation mainly through manipulation of the market. Of course, they have numerous advantages over those (market based) competitors who have to consult state functionaries in order to get past the bureaucratic barriers.  

This pattern of arbitrary rule, with a few intermittent breaks, only continued to create zones of exceptions for the capitalists: enabling them to bring-in their capital from parallel space to the formal economy and expand the accumulation beyond the limits of the market. Such zones of exception were created during early days of Musharaf rule when the new local government system enabled the district administration of Karachi to exercise land transfers in Sindhi-Baloch goths on massive scale. Takeover of the privatization process by the state functionaries being led by personnel who were at the same time also stake holders in the process, elevated the privatization of land beyond the limits of the market resulting in massive rent-seeking practices, shadowy transactions, and bogus claims that would be used to delegitimize the original claims of the indigenous people.  

Transformation of the role of state functionaries from regulators to market agents with personal business stakes helped ease the limits of the market. Further, they also lowered the barriers and boundaries between the regulated, taxed market and the unregulated parallel market which enabled the ever-growing phenomena of Bahria town, a city within a city, that is engulfing village after village with no end in sight. Using the might of the bourgeois accumulation of capital, Malik Riaz finds himself in the perfect position to do the necessary: he is able to resolve bureaucratic hurdles by putting proverbial ‘wheels to the files’, to get over the legal complications, he pays compensation, to build political consensus, by striking business deals with political and military leadership, and to improve his public image through highly compromised electronic media.  

The real-estate tycoon has combined all the essential components of a capitalist state and the bourgeoise interests into one place that would otherwise not been possible in the unnatural development of the political authority in the country. In this zone of exception, Bahria Town is continually expanding its direct domain by enlarging its physical boundaries, and its indirect domain by degrading the natural ecosystem, restricting the movement of indigenous people, disturbing the water and electricity supply to goths and finally, restricting the indigenous people into walled enclaves and using covert and overt force to compel them to relocate so that the housing project may expand to the entire rural landscape of Karachi.  

* Expropriation in Marx’s conception is specifically identified with “appropriation… without exchange,” i.e., appropriation minus the equality in all actual exchange relationships. Expropriation thus meant theft of the title to property. (Source: Monthly Review)


Note: This article is a collective effort by Balochistan Marxist Review team.  

1 thought on “Being Indigenous in Karachi

  1. Pingback: زمین اور بقاء کا سوال: نو آبادیاتی نظام کے خلاف مارکس کے خیالات – Balochistan Marxist Review

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