The white-bearded, septuagenarian Rashid Ali heard someone knocking at the door of his house.
“Who is there?” he asked, in a low voice.
“Police,” pat came the reply.
Ali opened the door, confused. “Have we done anything wrong? What are you here for?”
Totally ignoring what he inquired about, the police officer and a couple of lady constables told him to stay calm. “No one shall be arrested if you cooperate with the LDA officials, as the patwaris mark your house for land acquisition,” the officer boomed.
Done with the marking, they scurried off.
The exercise was repeated at around 400 units in Kapurthala House, a late 19th-century in Old Anarkali.
“They chose the ‘best’ time for their visit; pun intended,” Ali tells TNS. “It was the 6th of Muharram and the male members of the families [of the Shia-dominated House] were out to a nearby Imambargah.”
An estimated 10,000 residents of Kapurthala House are likely to be uprooted, as the place has been marked for demolition in order to create space for the Orange Line Metro Train route. Interestingly, the train is supposed to be run underground. There is no immediate chance that the displaced shall find decent lodgings.
Raheela Shaukat, a private-school teacher who is based in Kapurthala, says: “We stand to lose our abode. The police visit us on a daily basis, pushing us to vacate the place. How can we leave our houses? This is where our forefathers migrated from Amritsar [in India] to.”
Shaukat says relocation is painful. “It becomes worse when you don’t know where you are going to end up.
“The government representatives come to us and try to haggle over the compensation. We were given no notice in writing.”
Sanjeeda Bibi, a widow, lives at the House with her one boy and seven daughters. She says, “I have not enough money to feed my children. Relocation will be a great burden on us. I can’t sleep for fear of becoming homeless.”
She says that some policemen came over to her place and asked her to vacate it in three days’ time or face consequences. “I told them I’d rather die.”
On the other hand, Dr Haider Ashraf, DIG Operations, Lahore says, “We see protests every day and negotiate with those up in arms. We are bound to act as per law if the government tells us to have the place vacated.”
When asked about a risk of clash, he said the police know how to impose law and order. He also confirms that the police facilitated the LDA staff to mark Kapurthala House for land acquisition, and rejects the allegation that residents of the place were threatened to vacate.
Relating the historical importance of Kapurthala House, social activist Maryam Hussain says, “It was initially known as Ventura Garden, named after the Maharaja of Lahore Ranjit Singh’s Italian general. It was used by him as a state guest house. Later, it was called Ahluwalia or Kapurthala House.”
There is also a State in Indian Punjab by the name Kapurthala, which was run by the Ahluwalia dynasty in the British times.
Hussain says that the Punjab government is violating national and international laws including the Antiquity Act, 1975 and yhe Punjab Special Premises (Preservation) Ordinance, 1985. “Despite Pakistan being a signatory to UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention (WHC), the government is not paying heed to the concerns expressed by UNESCO in a letter addressed to the Punjab chief minister.”
Hussain believes that the olden Baba Mauj Darya shrine, which is a part of Kapurthala House, also faces extinction. “Relocating people for Orange Line Metro Train and the demolition of sacred places are a complete violation of the people’s constitutional rights such as the right to shelter and the right of worship.”
She says the residents of the House are poor. “The people here do petty jobs; most of them are vendors, while some have shops in Kapurthala. Such people will lose their job as well as home.
TNS tried to contact Zaeem Qadri, spokesperson of the government of Punjab but his phones were constantly switched off. Even the messages sent to him were not responded to.
Meanwhile, a district government official confirms, on condition of anonymity, that “compensation will be given to the dislocated but the route shall not be changed.
“As the residents [of Kapurthala House] have no documents of ownership, they will not be provided any compensation for land. They will only get money for structure which would not be more than Rs300,000 per house.”
The official further says the CM could have offered the residents a place under the Ashiyana Housing Scheme as a goodwill gesture. “Legally, they do not qualify,” he says.