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article imageMurdered Pakistani activist hailed as martyr for the poor

By Greta McClain     Mar 14, 2013 in World
Karachi - A renowned Pakistani social activist is being called a martyr by many after she was gunned down Wednesday while driving through Orangi Town, a suburb in the northwestern part of Karachi.
Parveen Rehman, 56, was born in Dhaka, Pakistan in 1957. After attending university at the Karachi’s Dawood College of Engineering and Technology, Rehman joined a private architect’s firm in 1981. She was designing a hotel when she realized being an architect was not what she wanted to do. Rehman wanted to do something that truly served and benefited others, so, one day she walked out of her office without even picking up her paycheck. She told NPR:
“I said that since I don’t need such a lot of money to do designing and waste my time in this when I know that who is this serving.”
Rehman began working for the Orangi Pilot Project, a research center founded by Akhtar Hameed Kha that aids in the development of programs such as low cost housing, sanitation and clean water systems in impoverished communities in and around Karachi. She later became the director of research for the organization.
As she returned to her home Wednesday, four gunman on motorcycles rode up to her car and began shooting, striking her at least four times. According to Pakistan’s Daily Times, she was taken to Abbasi Shaheed Hospital where doctors pronounced her dead.
The motive for the “execution style” murder is unknown at this time. Colleagues say they are unaware of any personal enemies she may have, but believe she may have upset some “influential people” when she began looking into illegal occupation of land in and around the areas of Orangi, Qasba and Gadap. She was also mapping out illegal water hydrants around the city.
Arif Pervez, a friend of Rehman, said Rehman had been receiving death threats related to her investigation into “land grabbing”, saying:
“She had been receiving threats on her life for a long time. We had discussed this several times but every time I advised her to take care of herself, she smiled, waved her hand and said what will they do, I have to work a lot and that too in the middle of the people.”
Ansar Burney, a human rights activist, told the Express Tribune ”anti-social elements” had targeted Rehman, saying:
“She was a brave woman and never bowed before such elements. I think she had threats but she didn’t care because she was committed to her mission.”
Burney continued by saying:
“Several innocent people are being targeted in the city daily but political forces don’t take appropriate action. It is merciless. We all have to take firm stance now. We should not wait for any revolution now.”
The independent watchdog group, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, issued a statement condemning the ”brutal assassination” of Rehman “in the strongest possible terms”, stating:
“The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has called upon all Pakistani citizens who care for freedom, justice and human rights to stand up against their enemies that are out to destroy their symbols of hope.”
Calling Rehman a “courageous defenders of the cause of the poor and the disadvantaged this country”, the statement goes on to say:
“For 30 years she worked against all odds and hazards, ignoring the threats to her life as she traveled daily through Karachi’s killing fields to extend [assistance] to vulnerable groups.”
Following news of her death, a crowd gathered outside the Hospital. Azmat Ali, one of those who came to the hospital to mourn Rehman’s death, told Zimbio:
“She was a great help for us. She was just like an elder sister to whom we would go whenever a problem struck us.”
In 2008, Rehman told NPR’s Steve Inskeep that working with government officials was difficult at first, but eventually she was able to develop a relationship that in which projects could be competed while keeping officials happy. She told Inskeep:
“I feel sometimes, not with men and women, with any group, if you come just upfront and try to be – how do I say – the person taking credit for everything, that’s where things start going wrong, yeah? Once you rise up horizontally, you take everybody with you. But if you want to rise vertically, you will rise, but then nobody will be there for you.”
Rehman had plenty of people with her on Thursday. Hundreds attended her funeral, including colleagues, students, social activists and citizens in communities she had helped. Following the funeral, students from the Visual Studies Department, University of Karachi (KU) held a protest at the Karachi Press Club to honor Rehman’s memory. Holding signs that read ”We know our system is corrupt, but one day we will fix it,” students chanted:
“We will continue to demand for justice, for as long as it takes.”
According to an AFP report, police officials have located one of the men they suspect was involved in the murder. Javed Odho, an official with the police department said:
“Police raided a house in western Manghopir neighborhood (of Karachi) on Thursday where Qari Bilal started gunfire. The police returned fire and killed him on the spot.
He was a local commander of the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban organisation and was a suspect in the killing of Parveen Rehman a day earlier.”
The search for others involved in Rehman’s murder continues.
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