Give me your poor and young: Ismat Shahjahan to fight for Islamabad’s water, katchi abadis, workers

June 8, 2018

Ismat Shahjahan is also depending on the young and progressive voters. Photo: Courtesy AWP

Awami Workers Party leader Ismat Raza Shahjahan filed her nomination papers with the Election Commission on Thursday. Her vision is to ensure katchi abadis or informal settlements get official land titles and to get water for Islamabad.

“Our support base is largely in the katchi abadis,” she says. Shahjahan’s party has long been working on the issue. “Their women go to the rich houses to work as domestic help,” she says. “Their children, especially girls, care for the children of the rich.” The party wants to legislate to provide them protection.

Photo: Courtesy AWP

“I want these women to be recognised under the purview of the labour law,” says Shahjahan. “Their girls suffer a lot of sexual abuse at these big houses and it goes unreported.”

According to Shahjahan, most of the people living in the katchi abadis are Pashtuns and Christians. “The Pashtuns came here due to the operations,” she says. “The Christians came after their houses were burnt. Islamabad was a bit modern so they felt safe to settle here.”

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In the last local government election, AWP won three out of the eight seats in Islamabad’s informal settlements. “There are 42 katchi abadis and we are working on getting them regularised.” Once they are regularised, their residents can get connections for water, electricity and gas.

Shahjahan is also depending on the young and progressive voters. “Young people have critical minds,” she says. “They see no future in voting for the existing parties.”

The party promises free education for all. “We want a scientific, secular, democratic and modern education system,” she says. “We support unions. And we are against the hostel curfews on women.”

Shahjahan says the party feels strongly about harassment on campus. “A women-friendly environment is a must for progressive politics.”

The laws and entire political structure are rigged in the favour of patriarchy, she says. “We are the only socialist party that raises the gender question.”

According to her, Pakistan needs an alternative progressive narrative as all the mainstream parties maintain the status quo. “Islamabad is the political and electoral centre stage, which is why Ammar Rashid and I are contesting from here,” says Shahjahan. “We want to build a critical narrative that questions neo-liberalism and privatization. We are for land reforms and constitutional amendments.”

Shahjahan says the political system of Pakistan is rigged in the favour of the rich. “There’s no level-playing field because these parties hold so much land,” she says. “We advocate a proportional representation system, in which votes are given on the basis of party manifesto instead of candidates.”

Climate change is also a concern that the party upholds. “Ecological concerns are real and we are very concerned,” says Shahjahan.

“Challenges are there because we aren’t glamorous in spending like the other parties,” she says. “But the young, the progressives, the feminists, the environmentalists and the students will all vote for us.”