Violence takes its toll on Lyari’s children – by Ammar Shahbazi

They see the violence as routine behaviour, which hinders the development of compassion and kindness in their hearts

A day after his elder brother Hammad was crushed under the wheels of an armoured personnel carrier (APC) near the Lyari Degree College, seven-year-old Habibullah was reciting verses from the Holy Quran in his two-room apartment. All of a sudden, he let out a loud shriek, and burst into tears.

His mother Sajida came running from the next room and hugged her son. “They used to go to the Madrassah together every day”, she says choking back her emotion. “They would come home and memorise the verses from the Quran after lunch,” she recalls. Since the tragedy, she says, Habibullah complains of nightmares and has become noticeably quieter.

The eight-day-long operation in Lyari has taken a vicious toll on the largest segment of the area’s population – children. According to estimates, Lyari has a population of 1.7 million people, one-third of whom are children under the age of 14. Apart from a number of children who have been killed or injured, the operation has also left behind deep mental scars.

At the height of the police operation on May 2, nine-year-old Hammad, a Hafiz-e-Quran, was returning home from his Madrassa with his brother Habibullah when an APC ran him over. He died on the spot. “He was there with him,” said Shahid, an uncle of the brothers, while referring to Habibullah standing beside him. They had stopped to watch a group of women protesters chanting slogans against the police when an APC appeared out of nowhere and started firing indiscriminately. “Everyone ran for cover, but little Hammad was too stunned to move and was knocked down.”

Shahid recalls that people saw the child getting crushed under the wheels of the APC, but could not do anything because the firing was too intense. As his uncle provided details of that fateful day, Habibullah was seen scanning the ground quietly, as if searching for something.

The children of Lyari were mostly confined to their small houses and apartments along with their parents during the operation. But from time to time, when there was a relative let-up in the ear-splitting sounds of gunfire, the parents could not stop them from going out as there was no electricity and the heat was unbearable.

Once out in the open, the children reportedly invented games to kill time. They ranged from collecting bullet shells to hide-and-seek to playing “gun fighting” with random sticks and throwing stones at each other. “I was not scared, but my little sister cried every time she heard a gunshot. Everybody was frightened except me,” said Fawad, who claimed to have collected “a lot of bullet-shells.”

“These eight days were by far the most violent I have ever witnessed in Lyari,” says Sabina Khatri, who has been running the Kiran School in the area for the past five years. The institute is a Montessori for the underprivileged children of the neighbourhood. Sabina says that the most dangerous part of living through such extreme violence is that after a certain point, death and destruction become acceptable to the children. “They see the violence as routine behaviour, which hinders the development of compassion and kindness in their hearts,” she says. The ultimate result is they become violent and usually turn towards crime, “as is the case in Lyari.”

The children of Lyari are courageous and gifted, all they need is the right environment, says Sabina, who prepares the children for prestigious schools in the city. She then adds with a bitter laugh: “If the people from this area lacked guts and determination, they could not have become such hard-boiled criminals.”

Courtesy : The News

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