I have just read this tragic news item which reports that Parveen Rahman has been shot dead in Karachi. 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 influcned 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.
Steve Inskeep in his book Life And Death in Karachi writes about her relationship with Karachi:
Whenever I wondered what was happenining in the far reaches of Karachi – and the spring of 2010 was such a time – I met a woman who understood as well as anyone how the city was changing. She was the person to whom other experts deferred; if I started asking detailed questions about illegal housing they would say, You should talk with Parween Rahman….She had that priceless quality that marked so many people in Karachi: the worse the situation became, the more amused she seemed.
Her office, the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) was based inside the largest informal settlement of all, a section of northwest Karachi that is sometimes referred to as “Asia’s largest slum” but known locally as Orangi. Here she worked for one of the few organisations that seemed to have adapted to the realities of Karachi’s unauthorized neighborhoods, and even transcended them. She directed the Orangi Pilot Project – Research and Training Institute. The OPP is by far the most famous slum development organisation in Karachi and renowned and recognized the world over for its successful projects and dedicated team. Parveen Rahman knew the katchi abadis so well because the OPP-RTI helped people obtain services for their irregular homes.
She was threatened several times by land mafias, they even wanted to occupy her office. She continued to bravely work for the poor of the Karachi slums in a chaotic city. She changed the lives of several thousand poor of Orangi by setting up sanitation facility, water connections, severage setup, building or advising on house construction and dealing with issues related to land occupation. Her actual contribution lies in the fact that she educated the local communities to solve their issues for themselves even with little or no intervention of the Government. She as an expert provided technical advice (e.g. what angle of inclination is necessary for a sewerage pipe) and encouraged the locals to build it for themselves. This self sustained, DIY method with locals funding collectively for their projects changed the lives of thousands in a city fighting for resources and land.
She makes an appearance in this documentary “City by the Sea” at 12:36:
She can also be heard in this audio clip at 1:30 where Steve Inskeep interviews her on OPP:
Below is excerpt from Steve Inskeep’s book on Parveen Rahman: