Karachi: Anjum Naseer, a resident of Bhittai Colony in Karachi, has always donated animal hides on Eid ul Azha, the Muslim festival of sacrifice, to a political party or a charity.
Many others make this donation to the mullah of the local mosque who comes claiming hides that sell for a handsome sum because he enjoys a religious clout among the community.
Increasingly though, jihadi and political groups have cottoned on to what the neighbourhood mullah always knew – hides come for free and are a lucrative source of income to fund activities.
This year, however, most neighborhoods from Khyber to Karachi have been missing the sight of men literally camping out on the streets through the three days of eid. Rarely seen in the public space upholding a public cause, men representing these groups crawl out of the woodwork, pitching tents in the streets, demanding people donate animal hides to their mission.
Nor did the neighborhood resound with blaring announcements from loudspeakers fastened to automobile tops, crawling through the street, pleading people to donate hides to this party or that.
“For the first time in Karachi’s history, a code of conduct imposed on hides’ collection during Eid ul Azha has made residents fearlessly donate hides to charity organizations that really deserve it,” says Naseer. He praised the law enforcement agencies that took action against those who forcibly collect hides from the people.
In Karachi, the paramilitary Rangers arrested 356 people on eid for violating the code of conduct, confiscating 18000 animal hides. A press release from Rangers said 36 of the people arrested were being interrogated for involvement in serious crimes.
Rangers named political, religious and banned jihadi organizations including Mutahidda Qaumi Movement, Jamaate Islami, Sunni Tehreek, Jamaatud Dawa, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat and Dawat-e-Islami for violating the code of conduct.
Karachi-based prominent charity organizations, such as Edhi Foundation, Chhipa Welfare Association and Saylani Welfare, echoed Naseer’s observation when they claimed they had collected substantially more animal hides during Eid ul Azha.
Anwar Kazmi, spokesperson for the Karachi’s biggest charity Edhi Foundation, said they had received 50 percent more hides on eid.
“We collected hides in a peaceful environment because of stringent measures taken against forced collection of hides,” Kazmi told News Lens. He added that political parties and banned Jihadi groups were unable to use the usual tactics of threat and intimidation to collecting animal hides.
The Sindh government’s home department had issued a code of conduct for the collection of animal hides on Eid ul Azha on September 17, nearly a week before the festival.
Only charity organizations and those who signed the code of conduct were allowed to collect animal hides. A ban was imposed on the use of loud-speakers, banners, posters and camping in streets to collect animal hides. According to the code of conduct, carrying arms, ammunitions and batons were also banned on the three days of eid.
Political analysts believe the key reason for issuing a code of conduct was to stop suspected groups from raising funds through selling hides that could be spent on terrorism in the city and other parts of the country.
The Karachi administration had allowed 239 organisations – including charity groups, registered religious seminaries (madrassas) and political parties – to collect animal hides during eid.
“The administration did not allow any charity or madrassa that allegedly has links with militant groups that could spend funds raised through selling animal hides on militancy in Pakistan’s tribal areas or Afghanistan,” said an official at the office of Commissioner Karachi, declining to be named because he was not authorized to speak to media. “A number of banned militant groups and their charity groups tried to collect hides, dodging the law enforcers by taking on new names. However, the authorities did not allow them to collect hides this year.”
Hide collection is a lucrative business worth millions of rupees. In Karachi alone, where over one million hides are collected every year according to the Pakistan Tanner’s Association, the association pays up to Rs 3 billion for them. The average price for a cow hide was Rs 3,600, according to PTA 2013 figures, and a goatskin could fetch as much as Rs 625.
Activists of political parties and religious groups, including proscribed militant groups, invest heavily in the in visibility campaigns aimed at securing the maximum number of hides. While the festival of sacrifice is a time of fulfilling a religious duty to sacrifice animal and feed the poor, it is also a period of palpable tension in a politically volatile city like Karachi where organisations with conflicting agendas – moderate or religious, secular or fundamentalist, political or militant – clash in their pursuit for big money.
“Violent clashes between the groups while collecting animal hides was a common practice, but this year the government successfully checked the clashes between political parties and banned militant groups,” said Abu Bakar Yousafzai, a Karachi-based researcher working on peace in the city.
Yousafzai said instead of selling the hides to a commercial tanner, most people prefer to donate it to help a charity or support a political party.
However, said Yousafzai, the code and its enforcement helped legitimate charitable organizations to collect hides in comparatively higher number to support their work. In the past, charity organizations like the Falah-e-Insaaniyat Foundation associated with the banned Jumaat-ut-Dawa have fared better at bagging hides than the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust, the charity led by cricketer turned politician, Imran Khan.
On the other hand, leaders of the political party Muhajir Qaumi Movement, said volunteers of its charity organization, the Khidmat-e-Khalaq Foundation, could not collect animal hides because of the hindrances created by the Rangers. Farooq Sattar, MQM’s central leader, said law enforcement agencies confiscated thousands of hides collected by his party volunteers in the city.
“Despite the fact that MQM signed the code of conduct and was given permission in written, law enforcement agencies arrested our workers who were collecting hides from different parts of the city,” Sattar told News Lens. “As in the past, people were voluntarily donating hides to the party. If workers of the MQM were involved in forced collection of hides, their details should be shared with us but we will not tolerate the arrest of innocent workers.”
He announced that MQM’s Khidmat-e-Khalaq Foundation will not collect hides from no.
“Rangers handed over confiscated hides to charity organizations, especially the Edhi Foundation,” said Kazmi, the foundation’s spokesperson.