You Said


  • Naeem Mirza: Chief Operating Officer of Aurat Foundation Naeem Mirza demanded a thorough investigation of Rehman’s murder and stressed that those who had deprived the nation of a dedicated friend of the poor and an exemplary citizen of the country must not be allowed to escape punishment.
  • Rehana Hashmi: Taking to ‘The News’, human rights activist, Rehana Hashmi, said that justice delayed is justice denied. “Supreme Court should have taken suo moto notice of Perween’s murder. It was not killing of one person but it was an attack on the leader of human rights defenders. She was the hope of poor and destitute in Pakistan especially for Karachi as she challenged powerful mafia of Karachi by bringing their corruption to limelight.” Rehman’s sister, Aquila Ismail, said that their family has complete faith in courts. “An effective investigation of the case under a high profile judicial commission can be greatly helpful in building up the confidence of the citizens in writ of the state,” she added.
  • Pervaiz Qureshi: She was great, courageous woman, God born her for serving the humanity, Since she was chosen for noble purposes and God called her so early because I believe she going to have place in Paradise and she got the honor of SHAHEED. God bless her forever, Aameen.
  • Sohail Tayeb, Words fail me to express the anger I feel whenever I think how someone could take away the life of a person who was selflessly working to better the life of others. Such people must be brought to task at all cost.  We do not have answers to everything but surely the Almighty has His own reasons. Great selfless people like Perween always have internal satisfaction in  whatever they do. They believe in the goodness of humanity. They never worry about their own selves. Perween will remain with all of us as a beacon of   light for all of us to follow.
  • Najma Siddique, known to Aquila Ismail, wrote to her and said, Dear Aquila, We are Ashamed.  Of the fact that Parween was assassinated. Of the fact that you and your family had already suffered much more over the past few decades. Of the fact that you and your mother are suffering even more, now. Of the fact that we let go a true friend of the poor, a treasure of the country and the people, our colleague and a leading light in the struggle. Of the fact that in our current day and age, this did not make a difference to those in power or those responsible to protect and serve the citizens of this country.  At the same time, we are Proud. Of the fact that we got to know a fantastic human being, an amazing worker/leader in the tradition of the ‘friend, philosopher, guide’; a person who lived for the people that she had opted to serve; a person who will live forever in the memory of those touched by her life; a person from whom all of us should learn. We are Grateful. To you, your mother, other family, and friends of Parween, who shared her with us in the development community, and with the people she served.  May you and your mother have the strength to bear this loss. Parween Rahman, rest in peace.
  • Zofeen T. Ebrahim,  A blogger, Parveen Rehman’s death has left me heartbroken: An impish smile, one that reached her eyes and made them twinkle; the way she’d intertwine her arm with yours, like school girls do; her intelligent conversations; her wry humour that was always interspersed with chortles of laughter – there was a sort of joie de vivre about Parveen Rehman that suggested a new lightness of being. She exuded warmth and a gentleness that is hard to find these days. So why was her life snuffed out in that terrible manner? Was it because she was a messiah for the poor or was it due to her attempts to make people understand what development meant in poor settlements? Did they hate her for finding joy in simple things?“I am an optimist,” The maximum I can remain depressed for is ten minutes!” she told me in an interview I was conducting back in 2009, for a book “Women Managing Water” published in India for which was collecting inspiring stories of women from around South Asia.  And then she added, Maybe it has to do with what happened to us in East Pakistan.  In her own words, I was in class nine, in 1971, when Pakistan lost its eastern half (present Bangladesh). I was spoilt and pampered, being the youngest among four siblings and was like any teenager, obsessed with music, friends and partying.”Transported back in time, she said, life then for her was a never-ending joyride till the day the Mukti Bahini came to Mirpur, in Dhaka, where they lived and she finally saw men becoming animals.Every night, she said, soldiers would pick a few women from among them.I remember my mother telling me and my sister that if somebody dragged us out, we should kill ourselves.Strangely, her harrowing experience back in 1971 did not turn her into a bitter person. She told me in an interview to Dawn in 2000,All issues, in my opinion deal with society as a whole and women cannot be separated; you have to see the situation in its totality.When she talked about the 18 years she spent with Dr Akhtar Hameed Khan, it brought a glow on her face.“He taught me a way of life,” she said.  I am lucky to have worked with the best. At the OPP (Orangi Pilot Project) you learn as you grow. It teaches you that you can have a good life even in simplicity.She described the OPP in various ways during the course of the interview – as “a way of life”; an “attitude”, a “catalyst”, a “great people’s work”, an “urban phenomenon”, a “movement”, but not a project.The one piece of advice from Khan sahib that stayed with her always was,“First acknowledge what you lack, try and see who has those skills and then stick to them like a leech and pick their brains!”She believed it was important for men and women to work together as that way women learn to be assertive and men become gentler, she’d say.My mind is still too numbed and my heart seems in physical pain; I cannot think beyond the fact that it’s the biggest loss for our country. I felt something akin to the way I felt when Benazir Bhutto was shot and killed.I keep wondering what she felt when the bullets hit her. She was slightly built and didn’t stand a chance, so it’s ironic that she once said,“Physical strength really does not matter; it’s all about what you have up here” and she’d pointed to her temple.Back in 2000, just a year after Khan sahib had passed away I had asked her if she felt his absence and she’d said,There is no vacuum, neither is there the pain of his departure. He lived a full life. I enjoyed being with him, now his thoughts are there to guide me.I’m not sure I can say the same for Parveen’s hasty departure, but then I’m not so magnanimous, I had not learnt enough from her. Images and her words are all that remain.
  • The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), while condemning the killing of Orangi Pilot Project director, urged the people to stand up against those who are destroying the “symbols of hope.” “Her assassination was a cruel blow to the country’s civil society and a great loss to the nation.” “A courageous defender of the cause of the poor and the disadvantaged in 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.”
  • International Institute for Environment and DevelopmentIIED researchers who have long worked with Perween have described her today as: “A very, very remarkable person and a wonderful friend, colleague and teacher.” (Dr David Satterthwaite), and: “A brilliant, beautiful and principled person” (Dr Gordon McGranahan).
  • NPR’s Steve Inskeep, Perween Rehman said to  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.”
  • Ansar Burney, renowned human rights activist, Ansar Burney, said that anti-social elements had targeted her. “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.”  He said that no one can stop people like Rehman.
  • Shehri, “She was an extra ordinary woman. She was a gentle woman. Why one will kill her? I don’t understand,” commented Shehri’s Roland D’Souza.
  • Karamat Ali, the executive director of Pakistan Institute of Labour Education Research (PILER), who worked with her for several years said, “The most horrible think had happened. We have lost an exceptional human being. She was a completely dedicated human being.”
  • Kevin Sullivan,  a journalilst, of BBC, Really, lives such as their demonstrate the meaning of “heroism”. Hopefully we can all take a moment to think about Rehman and the amazing people like her working in the field, in the offices, and in government to work toward real change.
  • Rafia Zakaria, member of board of directors, Amnesty International USA (AIUSA),said, Parveen Rehman chose to work, quietly, diligently, doing the work that no one else wished to do, was brave enough to do.  In a city where millions, easily, unthinkingly turn their heads, Parveen Rehman did not do so.  She had refused to abandon the slum that she had worked so hard to save.  The woman who died last week had shown exactly how it could be done.  Parveen Rehman had proven that a city with too many problems, too many poor, too little planning and too much political strife can still have hope.  She showed that hope among the helpless was not a bad idea.
  • Abdul Waheed Khan, the programme manager of OPP’s Charitable Trust,  “We have decided to continue her mission. We won’t let her die in our hearts. We’ll keep her mission alive.” She had no threats from the community because they call her their own mother
  • BBC News, The world has lost an admirable nonprofit leader. Parveen Rehman was the driving force behind the Orangi Pilot Project, a poverty relief nonprofit that was reportedly among Pakistan’s most effective nonprofit organizations. The BBC reports that one Karachi resident described Rehman as “a great help for us. She was just like an elder sister to whom we would go whenever a problem struck us.”
  • Nasir Mehmood, National Trade Union Federation’s Nasir Mehmood called Rehman “Karachi’s mother” and said that she “strived hard to improve the city’s water supply, education and sanitation. But she cared about other places too.
  • Dr. Masuma Hasan is the Chairman of the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs and the President of the Board of Governors of Aurat FoundationSlender, almost frail, with her hair down to her waist, her captivating smile and melodious voice, Parween Rahman was a legend in her lifetime. Sensitive, professionally meticulous and committed.  True to the OPP philosophy, she believed that she could never be effective as a development facilitator if there was a great difference between her financial status and that of the members of the community whom she sought to motivate. Therefore, after so many years of service, she drew a monthly salary of only Rs. 32,000/- and the “perks” given to her were a car and a driver, perhaps also the use of a cell phone.  She used to say, in her own quiet way, that some people live in palaces, others live on the streets. Our mission should be to raise the quality of life of those who live on the streets.
  • Sindh Agriculture Forestry Workers Coordinating Organisation (SAFWCO), president /founder of (SAFWCO) Sulman Abro, paid tribute and said that “Rehman’s killing is a serious attempt to demoralise the forces of peace and development in the country”. “Her assassination was a cruel blow to the country’s civil society and a great loss to the nation.” Hidden forces just want to sabotage the process of human development which NGOs have undertaken in the country,” said Qamar Hayat, the Executive Director of Sahara Foundation.
  • Ghazala Akbar, a journalist, I did not know Parveen Rahman personally. Why then should I agonise over her killing? She was not glamorous. She had no political affiliations. She did not appear on TV talk shows or  YouTube.  She didn’t Tweet and — horror upon horror she wasn’t even on Facebook! Why should I be bothered to write about a nobody who went around showing wretched people how to lay pipes for waste or water in their equally wretched localities? Or receive vocational training. Or have access to health facilities. Or advise them to register their handkerchief-size properties in the official records. Surely it is the job of the government and local municipalities to provide infrastructure and services? Exactly. They didn’t. Not where the poor and dispossessed live anyway. That’s why people like Ms. Rahman and other nobodies take it upon themselves to step in to help. If we can’t join them, at least we can applaud the efforts of those that do.  She was a good soul, a plucky and feisty woman who walked fearlessly where angels feared to tread. Her life was her work and her work was her lifeShe practiced what she preached, living simply, in a modest apartment, with her elderly mother.  On that fateful evening on the Banaras flyover she made one last call to her co-workers, advising them to take a different route to the one she was taking. Had she, perhaps, seen her assassins following her car? Colleagues say that was just typical. Putting other people’s welfare before her own.  Life had its up and downs for Parveen. In 1972, her family arrived in Karachi traumatised and shaken. They had been made destitute and homeless by the bloody war that divided Pakistan causing it to lose the eastern half. Her idyllic early years in East Bengal are poignantly recounted in the book ‘Of Martyrs and Marigolds’ by her sister, Aquila Ismail. Life gave her a second chance and she was saved perhaps for a higher calling. What an irony that she perished eventually at the hands of greedy, unscrupulous men in the land that gave her refuge! What the perpetrators don’t realize is that in shooting down Parveen they have only shot themselves in the foot. Her untimely death has left this poor country morally bereft and even more impoverished.
  • Manzoor Hussain Sarkar, said OPP is the World’s most successful community-driven sanitation programs & since its inception in 1980, it has helped 2 million people improve their sanitation by installing underground sewer pipes and indoor toilets across Pakistan. It’s a remarkable job and great contribution by this great lady , Parveen Rehman. Instead of supporting & encouraging this humanitarian venture she was shot . I don’t remember any humanitarian project on a such large scale. For her life time achievement she should be posthumously nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. I guess that may give some comforts to her associates and people involved in the OPP and boost such project in the future
  • Author Beena Sarwar, on Twitter, We’re a city, that doesn’t even spare those who want to help us
  • 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.”
  • Editor, The,  Parveen Rehman – your country is the poorer for your passing but it will only be the poor and your fellow-workers who will keep your memory alive.
  • Khan, a resident of Orangi, “I didn’t know Rehman but I knew of her work. I will not forget all the work the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) did for us back then,” recalls Khan, a resident of Orangi from 1992 to 2008. “It was the only organisation, which came to our help.”  Rehman, who preferred to stay behind the scenes, remained the driving force behind the OPP for years after joining them in 1983
  • Dr. Noman Ahmed, It was not just a murder but a tragedy,” said Dr Noman Ahmed of the NED University. “As a person, she was extremely humble and down to earth. The poor and oppressed have lost one of the most sincere professionals who cared for them and contributed all her energy for their betterment.”
  • Ghazi Salahuddin, a journalist, said that Rehman represented hope in the city. “She was committed to her work and was an exemplary figure for the people.”
  • Tahira Sadia, Karachi University Teacher, I new her for the last 40 years.  She had no enemy.
  • Tariq Rind, Unlike the other participants who knew Rehman personally or had worked with her, architect Tariq Rind had met her only for 10 minutes a few months before her murder. “I can’t explain her personality in words and I can’t even express my sorrow over her untimely departure.”   
  • Kamal Siddiqi, a journalist, Goodbye, Perween Rahman. We will miss you. Your only crime was that for three decades, you devoted yourself to the cause of the poor. You gave them a voice and hope. You helped families better their living conditionsencouraged women to stand on their feet and brought a community spirit into some of Karachi’s most deprived and neglected neighbourhoodsYou are my hero.   You were a brave woman, Perween Rahman. For three decades, you worked tirelessly against the odds. Maybe your family thinks it would have been best had you continued as a private architect. By now, you would have made millions. Instead, you now live in the hearts of millions. RIP Perween Rahman.You were an inspiration for others.When I worked at The News, we invited you to give a talk to the paper’s young journalists. On how they should not always expect the government to deliver and how they should take things into their hands to better their future. And most important, on how they should not give up on Pakistan. You knew this because you faced the trauma of separation, when as a teenager, you left Dhaka, your birthplace, and relocated to Karachi.You were soft-spoken but there was a determination in your voice. For thousands of people, who visited you at the Orangi Pilot Projectyou were their only hopeThey came to you to solve their problems, to give them encouragement, and show the way.
  • Andleeb Rizvi, a teacher at Karachi University and one of Rehman’s students, fondly remembered the lectures during which the OPP director spoke passionately about a life of philanthropy. “She used to say ‘do not call a katchi abadi a slum.’ She always showed unbounded love for the people residing in such areas.”
  • Nasir Mehmood of the National Trade Union Federation said, “She was Karachi’s mother. She strived hard to improve the city’s water supply, education and sanitation. But she cared about other places too.”
  • Khurram Ali, another one of Rehman’s students, was dejected. “It seems as if we don’t want to go on the way to progress. The killing of innocent people must be stopped. Enough is enough!”



    Perween, once, I heard you called pyar. A play on two words, perhaps, love and friend: pyar. It was a perfect term of endearment for you. Your friends, those, who love you, those, who worked with you, those, whose lives are better because of you, those, for whom you are pyar—are devastated.

    I too am devastated and I too am shattered even though I am at the margins of the golden circle of friends and comrades: my teachers, my role models, that very special group of mainly architects and urban planners in Karachi. A very special small group with thousands upon thousands of concentric intertwining circles created in three decades of careful planning and organizing and teaching, thousands of students and practitioners who will collectively defeat the assassins’ conniving mean spirited brutality and act of murder.

    There will be much written about you and some of it is here, here, here, here, here and here.

    I remember in 1987 meeting Dr. Akhtar Hameed Khan in Orangi when I worked in Karachi. And after spending an hour with me he directed me to you. So I climbed the stairs up to your office on the rooftop of that slim three story house whose interior was painted a hospital blue and there up there as though it were a bird’s perch– I met you.

    Perween Rahman—a slender young woman, long hair down to her shoulder blades, boney, gaunt—dressed that day in a slate colored shalwar kameez, silver bangles jangling on her wrists keeping time with the rhythm of her voice—a dust colored landscape of an architect’s tools of trade spread out around her: maps, rolls of drawings, a large drafting table. I can never forget that moment–up there on the rooftop–the settlement of Orangi all around–the hills right there—clay colored. Welcoming, happy—graceful, passionately focused Perween Rahman with a tinkling voice… completely content and excited with her work—completely in her element, in her place, with her world spread out all around her, planner of all she surveyed, completely committed to what she was doing–changing the lives and living conditions of an entire locality—and later the entire city, and towns and localities around the country–then an experiment in self help, self finance and governance in the times of a military dictatorship afloat and awash in foreign aid.

    Perween it was clear then as it was in all of the last three decades, that you were having the time of your life! The first time I met you I could not help notice the sound of your voice as though your whole being and body were one instrument which sang because it was in its element, in the right place, bent to the purpose and meaning of what you loved. Your whole being hummed and sang and pulsated, breathing in the city spread around you, breathing it in and breathing out to it your commitment and love.

    From that rooftop, then, Perween pointed out the lay of the land—there over there the main line—there over there the lanes that connect to it—notice these gutters beginning to be put in over there—and over there the households with home based schools, and over there those who borrowed micro credit and sewed cloth bags on piece rates for factories, notice the trees in every courtyard. And that afternoon, trying to absorb it—as I followed the arch of her direction, I looked out over the edge of the rooftop and saw the settlements, as an overwhelming rilli spread, I saw chaos where she saw simplicity and a finely organized intricate ecosystem of relationships. I had a sense of her complete confidence and unconditional belonging there and my own distrust of myself and my place and when I got home I wrote the Prologue and Epilogue of my first novel Mass Transit.

    Perween understood that, all agency, was in people, in us. She understood this as an article of faith: that the collective cannot be destroyed. That it is made of love.

    Perween was an architect and an urban planner. A keen observer of natural processes in communities and the environment she practiced and shaped an approach which was based on the understanding that social behavior, attitudes, politics, power, emotions of love, hate, greed and murder are determined and effected by physical structures. And the other way around. She practiced conversation, a constant conversation, and understood its constant tension which required a careful cultivation of symmetry and an aesthetic of sympathy. She spoke the language of structures, of architecture, pipes, and gutters, beams and mortar, bricks and cement. She understood that civil works depended on the workings of civility and the meeting of interests of masons, dalals, land grabbers, land sellers, bricklayers and money lenders. She knew the legal and historical importance of mapping and documenting and the enabling activating power of this in the hands of the people.

    She had studied over three decades the cause and effects of a sudden fire or disaster in a locality where sanitation and water pipes of the city did not reach—a fire in an unregulated settlement and the land grab that would soon follow in its wake. How greed initiates violence and disasters. And she set about helping localities and settlements regulate themselves—lane by lane house by house, mason by mason, dalal by dalal. She understood and practiced the concept that the key ingredient of positive change was organization and the harnessing of skills and interests—into collective action. It was never about the injection of money—it was about shifting the conversation from resistance to a natural flow in the direction of organizing—–it was about shifting the conversation and actions from money to what really mattered.

    And the powerful centers of money that spoke in terms of “targeting” the poor, and other such brutalities, she politely refused their advances, inviting them instead to stay and learn from the Orangi Pilot Project approach of managing and implementing and creating at a fraction of the inflated costs they instigated.

    Perween, the architect reminded me of a potter who touches clay in motion, gently placing her finger along its rotating surface on the wheel, a gentle, still manner, changing the shape, defining it with the natural flow of its own movement. She watches the movement. She observes with one purpose, to observe, to first do no harm. And later she taps the vessel, finding the exact points where, if tapped it rings and sings.

    Perween carried forward the torch of collective action based on observed reality using the flow of natural forces for meaningful change, lane by lane, gutter by gutter, lateral pipes and mains one at a time. Organizing, training, documenting.

    Perween was not given to vague concepts and paragraphs of confusion of “doing good”—of “protecting the needy, the vulnerable”. She was the superlative member of a beloved group of likeminded torch bearers, mostly architects and urban planners and others.

    There are parts of the world where the wealth of a person is measured by the number of people who come to the funeral–the number of people who truly mourn the passing of a person measures their wealth. It cannot be bought, it cannot be paid for. It is not about money. It is a currency of kindness. The greater the kindnesses, the more, one matters, and the greater the mass.

    And the funeral for Perween would have reflected the mass she has created that she was always present for. Pity those, who were absent at her funeral.

    We remember a person in fragments. We rescue what’s stolen or shattered in fragments. Piece by piece we rescue. Thousands will do that for you and I want to do that too. We met last on February 16, 2013 as you came out of the book launch for your sister’s book Of Martyrs and Marigods. A hug, a kiss, a holding of hands. See you soon yar! Perween you live on.

    On the flight from Karachi to Lilongwe I had contemplated the theater that the clouds present and had wondered if this was what after all becomes of us—air and shimmering clouds. I must’ve land in Malawi, just at the time when your spirit must have taken flight in Karachi. I received the news of this a few hours later. And as the night progressed, I lay on the bathroom floor in the intervals from when I hugged the porcelain belly of the toilet bowl, watching the yellow bile I vomited make its way down into its depth, thinking only: This cannot be.

    “Buy”, the saying goes, in places where they leverage and arbitrage “When there is blood on the streets.” Perween, your blood, makes for a buyers paradise. You blood makes things more exciting, more interesting, more attractive, more irresistible as a sale. In a barrage of bullets; in a hail of bullets; it’s a barn sale of assets. In the parlance of places where profits are made and asset values are too attractive and interesting to be ignored, public sector asset prices are so low that it is a bonanza of easy pickings—of land, utilities, power and water, you name it. There’s a city with a blood splattered sign board across it, “Closing Sale! Everything Must Go at Rock Bottom Prices”.

    And you are dead. Murdered. Can this be? No. No. No. The bullets that killed you, killed Karachi too. You had taken on forces too ugly to sit back and let you. Land mafias don’t take kindly to the meticulous detailed documenting of their land grabbing. So you were murdered near a police station.

    Don’t get confused, I’ll be scolded, this is about extremism. Yes. Don’t get it wrong, I’ll be cautioned, this is about mafias, including land mafia. Yes. Don’t get confused, I’ll be informed, this is about too many weapons. Yes. Don’t get confused, I’ll be told, this is about money. Yes. Whatever it is about—Perween, what those brutes don’t know Perween, is that they cannot touch you. You are. You will be and you will grow. Your gentle, unembittered, uncynical, unsarcastic, laughing brilliant self, will be a way of being. Your laugh, your voice, your way of being, your work—your serious, systematic approach to planning will continue through thousands of practitioners who’ve learned from you. You achieved in your life time of fifty six years what most never could even begin to grasp in many, many more years.

    Yours is a life lived well. Yours is a life complete and fulfilled. A life full of love and friendship, a life of purpose and of living and working on the principle of first do no harm. Well done Perween! And you, Perween, are pyar. You create, you inspire, you build—you mobilize activate, you motivate, still, you go on. You regenerate.

    Perween you are epilogue, you are prologue. We must all die. The difference between you and most others is, that you will live. Perween, you will live on in memory, forever at the height of your achievements, forever brave, forever true.

    Perween, sister, daughter, aunt, teacher, colleague, friend and a mother to an entire city and movement you are indeed an architect and a planner. You knew the structure of where you would live. You knew the shape of your house: Our hearts.

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