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Parveen Rehman Killed, Pakistan's Largest Slum Loses its Guardian Angel

Parveen Rehman, a leading social worker in Pakistan was shot dead by unidentified gunmen amid rising ethnic, sectarian and criminal violence in Karachi city. 56-year-old Parveen was killed right outside Orangi, on March 13, 2013, where she headed the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP), one of Pakistan's most successful non-profit organisations, which helps poor communities.

Orangi is considered Asia's largest slum and houses close to a million people in Karachi. A trained architect, Parveen also worked tirelessly to document land in the ever growing slum and in Karachi, to protect it from the city's notorious land mafia, who she had been receiving death threats from for years.

Parveen Rahman. Image from Twitter courtesy Alexpressed

“Parveen Rehman in her Orangi office. She changed the lives of half a million people. Orangi lost a mother figure.” Image from Twitter user @Alexpressed

On his blog Alexressed Diary of a concerned Pakistani, Ale Natiq writes:

Most people know her as the Director of the Orangi Pilot Project but she was more than a mere NGO Director. She and her organisation have left footprints across a wide area of Karachi and have influenced several thousand lives. It will not be unfair to say that she influenced the lives of half a million people or half the population of Orangi in one way or the other. Karachi’s slums and katchi abadis have lost a mother figure.

Among other milestones, the OPP is known for initiating one of the most successful community-driven sanitation programs in the world. Since its inception in 1980, it has helped 2 million people improve their sanitation by installing underground sewer pipes and indoor toilets across Pakistan.

Steve Inskeep, host of NPR's Morning Edition and Author of Instant City Life and Death in Karachi, which features an interview with Parveen, remembers on Twitter:

 @NPRInskeep: Outsiders would get a little tense just visiting Orangi, the vast gang-infested zone of Karachi where Rahman cheerfully worked each day.

Karachi Violence

The day Parveen was murdered, seven other people were killed in various incidents of violence in the city. There was a feeling of extreme loss and grief among Pakistan's Twitterati. Pakistan Director at Human Rights Watch Ali Dayan Hasan tweeted on March 14, 2013:

@AliDayan (Ali Dayan Hasan): Slowly but surely, everyone and everything good in our country is being targeted and killed.#ParveenRehman #Pakistan

Others including journalists Beena Sarwar, Mohammad Hanif and columnist Cyril Almeida echoed his sentiments:

@beenasarwar (beena sarwar): #ParveenRehman RT @mohammedhanif: this is the saddest thing. And we thought we have seen too much sadness. Can't even muster up anger

@cyalm (cyril almeida): A selfish thought tonight: am sick at the thought of the growing number of ppl in my phone book who have been cut down. Too much death.

@BhopalHouse (Faiza S Khan): I realise, I've known for some time, that no depths to which Pak won't sink. Grateful that I still feel heartbroken. Soon that too will end.

@AmSayeed (Amima Sayeed): the negative propaganda against NGOs has led to this: #ParveenRehman shot dead. It is the blind hatred that doesnt see contributions!!

Tribute to social worker Parveen Rehman killed by terrorist in Karachi, Image by Ayuib. Copyright Demoyix (14/3/2013)

Tribute to social worker Parveen Rehman killed by terrorist in Karachi, Image by Ayub. Copyright Demotix (14/3/2013)

Parveen's Fight against Karachi's Land Mafia

Before joining the OPP in 1982, Parveen worked as a architect. She continued to teach at various architecture schools over the years to create socially-responsible architects in the country. Parveen, had spent years documenting land in the fringes of the ever-expanding metropolis Karachi. According to her students and colleagues she had been receiving death threats from the mafia involved in grabbing precious land in the city:

Ms Rehman was an ardent compiler of the record of precious lands, which were on the fringes of the city in shape of villages but were speedily vanishing into its vastness because of ever-increasing demand by thousands of families who were shifting to Karachi every year from across the country. She said on record that around 1,500 goths (villages) had been merged into the city since 15 years. Land-grabbers subdivided them into plots and earned billions by their sale.

Journalist Fahad Desmukh tweeted his audio interview with Parveen Rehman in which she talks about threats from the land mafia in Karachi: 

@desmukh (Fahad Desmukh): Parveen Rehman: “We said all that you can do is kill us. What else can you do? We're not afraid of you” #LandMafia

SesapZai an artist from Pakistan writes in her blog:

It almost seems to me that people in Pakistan do not want to develop; development is a looming monster that becomes a huge threat as soon as someone tries to push it forward. And rather than supporting and encouraging such brave humanitarians — like Parveen Rehman — who’d dedicated as well as put their lives on the line, to help the poorest in the region live better lives, they are instead murdered. And with them, all hopes and dreams for a better, more economically sufficient future, wither away too.

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