ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Everyday State in Lyari

The township of Lyari in Karachi has been proffered as a space in the heart of metropolitan Pakistan that exists outside of the de facto writ of the state. Its geographical boundaries purportedly mark the limits of law, a space where “the state does not any longer have the monopoly over violence” (Zaidi 2014: 53). Lyari’s Agra Taj Colony lies at its north-western boundary. If you were to trespass this boundary from Mauripur Road, you would notice that the walls are adorned with pictures of dead Katchhi Rabita Committee (KRC) “martyrs”, and emergency contact information for the paramilitary Rangers force and Chhipa ambulance. But as one ventures deeper into the locality, Ranger and ambulance contacts stop adorning the walls. Only the dead, angry Katchhi faces remain. One goes even deeper, due south-east, and these posters change. There are chalkings and posters on the walls calling for the release of so-and-so, or for the revenge for so-and-so’s death at the hands of the police. These are names associated with the “Baloch gangs”. One also sees larger posters of gang boss Uzair in full Baloch attire, sometimes sharing banner space with ministers and army chiefs.

So where does the writ of the state begin, and where does it end? Does the power of the state go only as deep as the point where the paramilitary Rangers mark their presence on the walls? What of the times when they paint Lyari’s walls with a more organic hue of red? And when the gangs perpetrate coercion, from where do they derive their power? Just from their guns? Why do gangs need to emphatically claim martyrdom on the walls of Lyari? If the ambit of state power ends at the edges of Lyari, then what kinds of claims are being made through the pictures of army chiefs and government ministers? Are the gangs “state” or “society”? What does it mean when editors of a Baluch nationalist newspaper get gunned down in Lyari, and a prominent gang boss reaffirms on live television that the Baloch of Lyari work within the national framework and are not separatists? These questions suggest that the task of studying the “state” as a formation distinct from society as such is inherently ridden with problems that are difficult, if not quite impossible, to overcome. When the formations of “state” and society are apprehended, as distinct entities, at a localised, micro-political scale, such as in the case of Lyari, the maintenance of such a disaggregation obfuscates the dynamic negotiations with power enacted daily within people’s lived experiences.

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