Grab, grab, grab…..This is what the world is all about 😦
The prophet (saw) said something like: if a person grabs hold of a piece of land belonging to someone else, that piece of land will be made into a tauq (yoke) and put around the grabber’s neck, and he will have to go around with it.
There was a time when people had a sense of what is theirs, and what is not, and they were careful not to touch what did not belong to them, but alas, no more. Now people want to grab, grab, grab…..
This is a little story of how me, one weak and frail person, fought not just the high and mighty in the land but almost everyone else to restore some land rights to the common man. True story, of course.
I was reasonably happy.I had a government job, which paid me enough for a respectable living. Although the atmosphere at work was more of persecution, I had determined that this was the best place for me. I lived in rented accommodation with 4000 square feet covered area on a 500 sq. yard plot. The house was much larger than my needs, in an elite locality, where most people were educated officers. The area was clean; at the front there was no construction, so there was greenery around me. From the verandah on my house’s first floor the hills were visible, and they were hardly 2.5 km away. Any problems with utilities like electric or gas supply breakdowns, telephones, etc, were immediately attended to. My wife and I did not earn enough to live lavishly, not even enough to visit my mother on a yearly basis, but my life was comfortable. I had a new small car, bought on installments. I was married, and we had two kids. While my wife also worked, my mother-in-law also lived with us, and took care of the kids during the day until my wife returned home.
When there was load-shedding of electricity, I made an alternative 12-volt system for my kids, so while the rest of Pakistan suffered mosquito bites and heat, my children slept peacefully through electricity blackouts.
Then one day, after eight years of living in that rented accommodation, my landlord asked me to vacate the house.
“But why?” I asked, “you told me I can live in this house for the rest of my life”.
“You believed me!” the landlord exclaimed in disbelief.
What could I say? I speak the truth, and I mean what I say, and I expect others to be the same. Here was someone telling me he did not mean what he had said!
“But why, what have we done to incur your displeasure?” I asked again.
“Oh, you are a perfect tenant. I wouldn’t normally want you to leave but the market rent for this house is now double what you pay, and I know you are already paying more than you can afford. You cannot afford the rent”, came the reply.
He was right.
“Give me time”, I asked; and as he was a gentleman, he agreed.
So my wife and I went house hunting. I had been spoilt. I have always lived in clean localities, with large open spaces but with all municipal facilities. So I looked for similar accommodation in residential sectors that were newly being built, where the rents were likely to be lower.
Those experiences are also worth relating, but maybe some other time, insha’Allah. What I learnt was that these houses were also out of reach for me.
One day while worried about where to go, I passed by the chief of my organisation, and he asked what was wrong with me. So I explained that I was about to be evicted, and the rents had now gone too high in the localities where people like me would prefer to live.
“Why don’t you get a house of your own? You can get a loan from us. Bring me an application, and I will sanction your loan”, he said.
That was very kind of him, I thought. I immediately went to my office, wrote an application for a house-building loan, took it to the chief for sanctioning, and got it signed. That evening, my landlord came to ask about when was I going to vacate the house. I told him excitedly that a loan had been sanctioned to me, and I will buy a house and move. He didn’t respond with any happiness or excitement. Instead he asked, “how much money has been sanctioned to you?”
I told him the amount.
He shook his head; “You won’t be able to buy a reasonably sized plot even in the new sectors with this money, let alone a house.”
And then he told me to go check the market for plots/houses on sale. I did that for the next few days, and my heart sank.
My wife looked at me one evening, and said, “ask your father-in-law for a loan”.
That was a thought. Before my marriage, I had it conveyed to my father-in-law that from our side there was no demand for dowry. This was unusual, as generally in the settled areas of the Indo-Pak subcontinent, the bride’s side gives a lot of dowry to the bride, and that can include a car, a house, cash etc. which is of course made use of by the bridegroom.
Totally unIslamic, but a custom from the Hindus, and I had broken that custom so that my marriage would be more Islamic.
I was still hesitant, so my wife said, “Shall I ask?” I told my wife to go ahead.
She did and came back with the requirement that I submit a feasibility study and repayment schedules.
F-in-L had been the Finance Director of a large industrial cum commercial empire, and so I understood his requirement. All through his life he had dealt with feasibility studies and payment schedules! So I prepared and submitted the feasibility with a schedule of repayments. The loan was promptly sanctioned, 🙂 and the money transferred to my wife’s account.
Armed with this money, I went into the market to buy a house. There I discovered that I had to lower my expectations, and even then all the money I had been able to muster was somewhat short of the price, which was climbing literally every day. Then my neighbor, who was in the same boat as me, told me that with the same money we could buy a plot jointly, subdivide it, and build our houses on the subdivided plot.
The experiences of that will be related some other time, insha’Allah. Let us fast forward to the topic of this story.
This new sector where I built my house, was soon flooded with people with a lot of money. They were feudal lords, who do not pay taxes, instead collecting from the government, benefiting from every government scheme, and being at the forefront of all politics, democratic or otherwise. Or they were very highly placed bureaucrats, similarly benefiting from government schemes. The children of this elite have no respect for the law, and would fly their four-wheel drive Pajeros on the roads.
Normally, when you have housing schemes in the developed world, all facilities and amenities are in place before the owners are expected to take up residence. In the third world, generally facilities follow the residents. A sector for development is opened up, and there is a very poorly constructed narrow road. When the sector is nearly fully populated, and people press for facilities and if they are influential, those facilities are provided. Fortunately, in my sector, electricity and gas were available from the start and telephone followed shortly, and the roads were also paved properly, three years after I had moved in.
Even the President built a house in my area. He was the chief of a very large tribe.
At the side of the paved roads there is land which house owners are required to maintain, without restricting its public nature. However, I found that almost everyone had encroached upon this land, grabbing it upto the edge of the paved road, and erecting fences or even walls, thereby leaving the pedestrians no space to walk. This I saw happening all over the place, and could do nothing. Then one day the owner of the corner house being built at my street’s junction with the main road also put a fence around the land meant for pedestrians.
That was a serious traffic hazard. So I asked people if a vehicle breaks down where would the other vehicles go?
Or if there is need for a lot of vehicles to be parked in our street, where would these be parked?
Or if a pedestrian tries to save himself from a flying vehicle, how would he do it? In fact, while going for walks, three times I had nearly been run down by vehicles at that junction.
I discovered that there are laws and directions governing this land, and how the owners can make use of it to beautify the surroundings of their houses, without restricting the public’s right to use it.
I approached the offending gentleman, who simply refused to remove that encroachment, instead relating how he had been shortchanged by the system. If he had complaints against the system why was he punishing us, I asked. He did not consider this question worthy of reply.
I asked my neighbors on the street, and they agreed with my objection to that particular gentleman, but no more. They weren’t prepared to remove the encroachments they had themselves made, or make a representation against that particular encroachment, or even talk to the gentleman about the traffic hazard he had created.
I asked my colleagues and friends, and their responses were similar.
My family was upset with me for being so civics minded, and for making enemies in the neighbourhood. You are making it difficult for us to live here, my family told me. Why don’t you mind your own business, every one said?
But this was my business, I protested!
I went to the municipal authorities, and they agreed with me, yet expressed helplessness at this breach of the law. The high and mighty were doing it, and it would be wiser for me to join them, rather than make any protests. Many of their Directors were also doing the same.
One of my colleagues got angry with me: “First get the President to remove his encroachment, and then maybe I will listen to you”, he said. Great, I thought, everyone here thinks he is above even the President.
I wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper, and it was published. I mentioned this issue to the Executive Director of a think-tank, who told me I was wasting my time on small worries. I should be concentrating on changing the government. Apparently that is the issue this think tank specialised in. Change the government, and everything will be all right. They had struggled all their lives to make governments fall, and had succeeded umpteen times. Yet I could not see any improvement in the conditions of this nation. So, I did not agree with the approach of that think-tank. To the Executive Director, however, I was a friend who had helped him in the past, and he hoped to keep me interested in his own organisation, so he gave me some practical advice. He told me one letter wouldn’t do. There had to be many letters, and in many newspapers, for any notice to be taken.
When everyone else was opposed to any activism who would write letters in my support, I wondered?
Still I asked around for help, and got refusals. I then asked if I could use names and addresses, and fortunately, from those who weren’t owners themselves, but were resident tenants, that permission was granted. My friend in the think tank also provided me with a list of his supporters and sympathisers, whose permission to use their names for writing letters had already been obtained by his organisation.
So I wrote many letters from my relatives and friends to the newspapers, as much as twenty-five letters a day to five daily newspapers. Soon it looked as if the thinking population of this city was grossly upset with encroachments.
All this must have worried the municipal authorities. They eventually moved in the face of such a campaign. They first issued notices to house owners to do these themselves by a certain time. When there was no compliance, the authorities began to remove the encroachments from the city. Everyday I looked, and was happy with the results. Soon it would be my street’s turn. I waited with pleasure. Ramadan was coming, and the authorities were near my street, and then the work stopped.
I asked why, and they said they would renew their campaign after Ramadan.
Ramadan came and went, and I waited.
Eid-ud-duha came and went, and nothing happened.
I asked again, and was told yes, it would soon start. But how soon is soon? Eight months passed after Ramadan, and no activity.
I learnt that just the day before the encroachments were to be removed from my street, one of the employees of the authorities had been murdered in a commercial market while removing the encroachments, so the unions wouldn’t let the authorities begin their drive again, or the authorities wouldn’t do it themselves.
I was stuck with the encroachments on my street, and the rest of the city.
Then one day, in desperation, I wrote a letter to the Federal Ombudsman. I received a very courteous reply that my complaint had been registered, and had been allotted a complaint number, which I should use in future correspondence. Soon my complaint would be looked into.
After nearly a month, I received a letter again from the Ombudsman. Enclosed was a letter from the local municipal authorities. That letter explained that the authorities were alive to such violations, and had been taking steps. It pointed out how the authorities had started a campaign nearly a year ago, etc. etc. – basically singing laurels of the authorities.
It was a very standard sort of reply. I wrote back to the Ombudsman that the campaign had stopped in the middle, before it reached my street, whereas I was one of the earliest complainants, and I enclosed copies of newspapers cuttings with my letters on this subject.
The Ombudsman again sent my letter on to the authorities and intimated to me what he had done.
In due course, I received a letter again from the Ombudsman, with an enclosure, which was another letter from the municipal authority, detailing how civic that body was, and how alive it was to the needs of the residents, and it would be doing something about the issue.
I waited, and then asked for a time frame, and the letters flew back and forth through the good offices of the Ombudsman. This went on for another year, until I sat down and reviewed the entire correspondence, and got very angry.
So I wrote a very nice and courteous letter to the Ombudsman, asking him if he was supposed to act as a glorified post office, or was his function to see that the complaints of a citizen, if genuine, are attended to. Here, I pointed out, the authorities were taking us in a merry-go-round.
I think the sarcasm got him. Any way, the Ombudsman’s office called the municipal authorities and me to his court – he had the powers of a Federal Supreme Court Judge. I was a little apprehensive, because of the sarcastic language I had used. The authority sent an inexperienced deputy director to represent its case. The poor guy could offer no defense of his organisation’s procrastination, instead almost weeping at not having any authority himself. He propmptly got rebuked for his employers sins. He said he had no manpower to do the job. He was told by the Ombudsman to hire daily wage laborers and do the job. Or to hire a contractor and get it done to the complainant’s satisfaction. And to get it done within a fortnight, although it was hardly a day’s job. This extra time was being given to him as a grace, the Ombudsman added.
That gentleman whose fence was the straw that broke the camel’s back, noticed that I had reactivated my attempts to get the street cleared of encroachments. One day he came to my house and threatened me of dire consequences. I told him to go to the law, as what I was doing was trying to get his usurpation of public land redressed through the law. He said unmentionable things about the law, about the Ombudsman, etc. and threatened that he would abduct my family, mentioning that his tribe had just become famous for the notorious activities of some of its members in politics and bureaucracy. That was true, so I worried about it. I said the ayatul kursi, and asked Allah (swt) for help, putting my family in His care. Then I sought links in the law-enforcement department, and told them of this threat. I was told not to worry.
The gentleman received a visit from the said law-enforcing department. It must have been quite a visit :), for after that he became very subdued, and although he kept complaining about the removal of his encroachment, never issued any more threats, or even come to me.
The job was done, and reported to the Ombudsman who wrote to me to verify that it was satisfactory. I wrote back that it wasn’t, because the contractor had dumped the earth by another main road, which had become an eyesore. The authority received another rebuke, and that eyesore was also removed.
This is how a meek, frightened weak person had his city cleared of encroachments despite opposition from the President of the country down to his own family.
btw, the encroachments are coming back, and I don’t have the energy or strength for another campaign.
Anyone wants to renew or restart this campaign?
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