The Lyari we all (don’t) know

Published: May 25, 2012
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In a few minutes you may be killed or drugged or if lucky, kidnapped. Your head will be ripped off and given to the children to play football with. PHOTO: M AZEEM/EXPRESS

If you see people with curly hair, pan gutka in their mouth, speaking their own Balochi version of Urdu, then you are definitely among Lyariites.

Being someone unfamiliar with this Pandora island of Karachi, one should be worried because it is here that you are among the most dangerous creatures to be found. In a few minutes you may be killed or drugged, or if lucky, kidnapped. Your head will be ripped off and given to the children to play football. Your hands and legs will be severed and sent to your parents and so on.

Unfortunately this is the misperception that a majority of us have about Lyari.

Once called the mother of Karachi, Lyari has been in the news for quite some time now. Mafias have remained active for long and there have been many operations in the past few years including the very recent one in which many people lost their lives.

While Mr Macho Man of the police department frequently stated the varying percentages of criminals that they have eliminated, nothing seemed evident on the surface. This is because the real issue with Lyari is that there is no percentage of criminals to eliminate, there is a problem to be solved!

Historically, the inhabitants of Lyari were among the first settlers of Karachi. The town has been famous for the talented footballers that it produced. With more than 100 football clubs and two stadiums, Lyari is often referred to as ‘Little Brazil’.

The love for the game is so deep that the level of violence falls in the town during the FIFA world cup.

Lyari brought to the screen players like Hussain Jan (acclaimed and awarded football player of Pakistan). But the problem starts when a star like Hussain Jan, who was always praised for his game, ends up washing cars for a living.

In the world of football where stars receive millions a year, Hussain Jan receives just Rs20 for every car that he washes. The problem that has to be addressed starts here.

Why should a young Lyariite play football when he can project his career with certainty as something like that of Hussain Jan? What stops him from joining the active gangs around him? What is the incentive to kick the ball?

This is where these young men pick up guns, pull the trigger and kick the ball back into their own goal.

Besides playing ball, Lyariites are famous for boxing.

With over 22 boxing clubs run by private owners and former boxers, Lyari is the boxing factory of Pakistan. The craze for punching the bag is so immense that athletes (usually daily wagers) never miss training sessions even after working the whole day.

It was Lyari that gave Pakistan its national boxing champion Jan Muhammad Baloch who represented Pakistan at many international forums and won many medals in green. Idealising the great American boxer Muhammad Ali, Baloch upon taking the gloves off, realised that the world is totally different for him than what it is for his ideal.

While Ali enjoys a respectful luxurious life, the once undefeated Jan Muhammad Baloch was totally knocked down by society. He served in a private bank at a time and was thrown out from there on grounds that he was “good for nothing”.

Imagine a gold medallist boxer being considered good for nothing.

Hussain continuously received similar blows. This is the problem that needs to be addressed. Why should a young man from Lyari train in a sport like boxing? Why should he not deal in drugs instead? Why should he punch the punching bag – why not people on the open roads?

This is where these young men, leave the ring, throw off their gloves and start throwing foul punches on the streets.

Lyari besides being active in sports has also been the hub for literature. Many literary works trace their roots back to Lyari. Names like Waja Khair Mohammad (a scholar who translated the Quran into the Balochi language) and Professor Saba Dashtyari (a respected Balochi language writer and intellectual whose literary works appeared in leading journals and magazines) have their roots in Lyari.

The problem starts when intellectuals like Dashtyari are killed in broad day light and the government fails miserably in providing justice.

This is the problem that needs to be addressed.

Why should Lyariites choose to write and not fire? Why should they choose the pen and not the gun?

This is where these men break the nib of the pen, leave the blue and choose the red.

While our politicians are busy fooling people, the situation in Lyari is reaching a breaking point. The solution to the problem is very simple.

The government has to leave its cheap short-term solutions and opt for some constructive long term ones.

There has to be an ‘institutional investment’ to secure the future of talented Lyariites. Young Lyraiites have to be assured that choosing the right way will lead them to good, otherwise ‘Little Brazil’ will soon be replaced with ‘Little Gaza’ and the ‘boxing factory’ will  soon be called the ‘drug factory’.

Follow Omair on Twitter @ORBaloch

Omair Rauf

Omair Rauf

The author is a student of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Pakistan and belongs to the Mastung District in Balochistan. He is currrently based in Karachi and tweets @ORBaloch

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.