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03/18/2013

Pakistan's largest city loses a local hero

Pakistan’s deadliest metropolis is mourning yet another victim – a local hero.

Aid worker Parveen Rehman was shot and killed last Wednesday by four gunmen while driving near Karachi’s western Orangi slum.

Rehman, 56, was the head of the Orangi Pilot Project, a widely praised charity that helped locals rise out of poverty by helping communities establish and maintain their own sanitation, health, housing and micro-finance systems.

Rehman had been documenting land use, which the BBC reports, may have angered some of Karachi’s crime syndicates.

“I knew her for the last 40 years – she had no enemy,” Tahira Sadia, a teacher of the Karachi University, told The Express Tribune newspaper. “Parveen was so simple, straightforward and dedicated to her work. She was full of life.”

According to the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, Rehman had documented how 1,500 local villages had been merged into Karachi over the past 15 years. Criminals had grabbed much of that land and earned billions of Pakistani rupees from land sales.

Pakistan is a dangerous country in which to speak out, both for journalists and for activists alike. In October, the Taliban shot Malala Yousafzai after she refused to accept the group’s restrictions on girls’ education.

Following her murder, each of Karachi’s main political parties called Rehman a hero. But a year ago, Rehman during an interview with local journalist Fahad Desmukh criticized all of the local political leaders, condemning them for protecting the land-grabbing criminals.

She recalled at the time, how a group of criminals had confronted her and her colleagues.

“We said, ‘all that you can do is kill us. What else can you do? We’re not afraid of you.”

Rick Westhead is a foreign affairs writer at the Star. He was based in India as the Star’s South Asia bureau chief from 2008 until 2011 and reports on international aid and development. Follow him on Twitter @rwesthead

 

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