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What it means to lose a home

People who had lived together for decades and established strong ties were forced to vacate their houses and take compensation money after the Orange Line was announced. Victims of displacement share their experiences

What it means to lose a home

“See these arrows?” Shakeel, a resident of Maharaja Building in Lahore, points out three yellow markings on the rooftop of the building that indicate the path the Orange Line will be taking.

The line will cut diagonally through the building — a red brick structure in Old Anarkali.

The Orange Line Metro Train was announced two years ago, when various localities in the Old Anarkali area — Maharaja Building, Kapurthala House, Bengali Building and the Postal Colony flats – were asked to sell their properties to the government to make way for the train. These buildings are close to Jain Mandir, within walking distance of each other.

After residents and civil society activists protested and took the issue to the Lahore High Court, they were granted a stay order because of the tomb of Mauj Darya which is a heritage site. Houses falling within 200 feet of the tomb are safe for the time being, while the rest of the residents sold their properties and moved away.

“First they tried to negotiate with us and stressed how beneficial it would be for the residents if they cut a deal. Then they started to build pressure and set up camps here and made files for all of the residents. They would tell us to take the ‘ten lac’ at least for now because it was better than nothing,” Shakeel recounts.

Each locality has its own story but money eventually did become the decisive factor.

“There were 464 houses in Kapurthala that were marked and most of these have been demolished already,” says Ali Rashid, a resident of Kapurthala whose house is currently protected because of a stay order on the tomb of Mauj Darya.

Rashid says in the beginning the people went out for protests and were adamant they would not sell their houses; but over time, for different reasons, they gave in and took the compensation money. He is one of the three people in the whole area who have refused to sell their houses.

It is clear when he narrates the events that he feels betrayed by members of his community. As he campaigned to ensure that not a single house was demolished and getting a stay from the Lahore High Court, people continued to vacate their houses. “So many of them left their houses after the stay order came through,” he says adding, “They just couldn’t imagine they could take a stand against the might of the government.”

Saifullah’s family had been living in Kapurthala House since the Partition. The share he got did not leave with him enough to buy himself a house anywhere and so he continues living in the house of a neighbour.

Syed Qasim Shah left the Kapurthala House in January this year and but returned during Ramzan to live in his broken-down home. The LDA people came and demolished the top floor of his house, despite the stay order by the Lahore High Court, but were stopped midway by Rashid and others from the community.

His grandfather moved to Kapurthala years ago and Shah grew up around the same people. “I just wanted to come and spend Ramzan and Eid here. I’m thinking I’ll come back and also celebrate Eidul Azha here,” he says.

Shah bought a house near Shalamar from the compensation money he received. In the new house they didn’t have an electricity or gas connection immediately and so asked the neighbours to help out till WAPDA set up their connection but they refused.

“It was a different life here. You could knock on someone’s door at 2am and they would come out to help you,” says Shah who eventually went back because his children had enrolled in schools there and had to start school and tuition.

Shamim Khalid and her family lived in the Postal Colony flats near Jain Mandir — part of which were demolished to make way for the train station. Her husband is a government employee so they were sure they would be given another place to live in but that didn’t happen. They were given Rs1 lac for the move and then asked to vacate the flats.

The family moved almost five kilometres away to Sanda, and later to Rasala bazaar (closer to Kapurthala House).

“We found a cheap place in Sanda but the atmosphere there was not good. I have two young daughters, people there used to drink publicly so it just wasn’t worth the money,” Khalid says.

The other place they found in Rasala Bazaar was not good enough and eventually they returned to Kapurthala, eventually ending up paying more rent than in both those places.

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Entrance to Maharaja Building, part of which will be demolished to make way for Orange Line. Photos by Rahat Dar

“We’ve been living here for a year and a half now but we’re paying more rent than we can afford and my children have had to leave their education to afford to live. We can’t keep our young daughters in a new place. We came back because we know that they will be safe here,” says Khalid.

There were 40 houses in the Postal Colony that have been demolished. “The residents are all scattered now. We don’t know where most of the people have gone but we used to live like a family. If someone was going out they would call at the other house and just ask them to look after the kids,” she says.

The conversation eventually boils down to money, there were different families living in the same house and when the government compensation was divided there was not enough to go around. “All children in the family wanted a part,” says Rashid.

Inevitably, this meant that some people were not left with the means to afford a new home and the money which at the beginning had seemed plenty was no longer enough. Saifullah’s story is of one such family.

His family had been living in Kapurthala House since the Partition. They sold their house in February 2016. He says the share he got did not leave with him enough to buy himself a house anywhere and so he continues living in the house of a neighbour in Kapurthala House.

Despite the pressures to sell their property, three residents — Shabana from Maharja Building and Ali Rashid and Umer Khan from Kapurthala House — have stuck to their guns. They have also learned from the stories of those who did move away.

“I will not sell it for any price. I’m here [in Maharaja Building] by Baba Ji’s [Mauj Darya]grace. One day, my sister took me to the shrine and that’s when my luck turned around. I share a wall with his shrine now. I bought this place for a hundred thousand rupees after saving money carefully,” Shabana asserts angrily.

Her lawyer, Saima A Khawaja says most people in the area don’t have ownership documents since most of their grandparents settled there after the Partition and were given the land by Z A Bhutto under the evacuee property and displaced persons laws. She says the government is also resettling people under the outdated resettlement laws from 1894.

“Those laws were made by the British when there was a lot of land available to give away. That is not the case anymore.”

Khawaja adds that even then the government is not doing its due; nor is it paying people according to the 1984 laws which take into account the loss of livelihood and compensation for the cost of physically moving from one place to another.

Nida Kirmani, a professor of Sociology at LUMS, says that urban cities like Lahore are constantly changing and so the breakup of communities is inevitable. Despite this, she says, urban planning should take into account the security that communities like these provide to people. “All measures should be taken to avoid increasing this social fragmentation that we are witnessing nowadays, which increases not only a sense of isolation but also of mistrust,” she says.

That rings true for places like Kapurthala House. People who have lived together for decades and established strong ties don’t know about each other’s lives anymore since moving away.

As Shabana puts it, “One train left India during the Partition where people were cut to death and then there is this train.”

Amel Ghani

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