My house is a 10-minute walk from where the riots broke out in Rawalpindi’s Raja Bazaar on November 15. Standing on the roof of a friend’s house that was much closer, I saw shops and buildings being set ablaze by a mob while the police and civil administration officials looked on. I saw a fire truck being stopped from entering the area. I saw people stuck in the burning buildings calling for help.
Reporters were made hostage, forced to photograph the dead bodies, and urged to run them on television and interview them live.
I walked back home at 1am. The Banni and Kartarpura areas are known for delicious food. Eateries here remain open until 3 in the morning. That night they were all closed. Streetlights had been turned off, but I could see people standing in groups, whispering to each other. When I reached home, I found out the government had imposed a curfew in the city.
Ninety percent of the people who live in my neighborhood run businesses in the area where the riots broke out. Four of them had shops in Madina Market, which was burnt down. Everyone wanted to open their shops the next morning.
I woke up to announcements being made on a loudspeaker telling the residents to stay indoors and cooperate. My younger cousins wanted to go out and see what a curfew looked like. I had a media card and could take them along.
At Banni Chowk, a soldier of Pakistan Army greeted us. He did not allow me to go to the site and take pictures. An elderly man and his wife were waiting on a motorbike. They were visiting their relatives when the violence began, and could not go home. A family wanted to go to Satellite Town for a funeral. They too were sent back. So this is what a curfew looks like, I thought.
Things were okay up until noon. People stood around and gossiped. Then it was lunch time. Nobody in Kartarpura stocks food at home. You can walk out of your house any time of the day and buy whatever you want.
I needed tomatoes to cook my food, and had to barter some potatoes with the woman who lived next door. I cooked beans and white rice.
At 3pm I found out that a local shopkeeper was trading secretly from behind the shutter. He sold me a pack of cigarettes for Rs 150, instead of the usual Rs 95. I have known him all my life, but he refused to recognize me. Eggs were Rs 140 a dozen, instead of Rs 85. A one-liter carton of milk was for Rs 200. People bought in panic, and he had run out of stock by 6pm, when the curfew was temporarily lifted and shops were allowed to reopen.
[quote]People stormed the shops and bought anything that was edible[/quote]
People stormed the shops and bought anything that was edible. The stores ran out of food in less than half an hour. I saw a customer at a milk shop asking the shopkeeper to add water so that more people could buy some. He did, and then sold it for Rs 200 a liter. At 6:30, the army was patrolling the area to make sure the shops were closed again.
At around 7pm, I heard voices outside. People came out of their houses and gathered in a madrassa. My cousins and I followed them. We were told that one of the students of the seminary had been killed in the previous day’s riots. His schoolmates were very angry, and so were many of the residents.
[quote]Six teams were formed and there were three cricket matches on the main road[/quote]
By the next morning, people had rationed the food they had and did not have anything to do. They decided to play cricket. Six teams were formed and there were three matches on the main road. Nothing else happened that day. We did see some madrassa students trying to get to Liaqat Bagh – a 20-minute walk – for the funeral of three people who had died in the violence.
At around 7, soldiers began to patrol the streets and sent everyone home. A news channel had run a ticker saying talks between the government and the protesting clerics had failed. It was about dinner time and people had run out of food again. Some had started to complain about the behavior of the shopkeepers. A generous man who ran a grocery store in Cantt decided to open the warehouse in his basement and began to sell eggs, milk, water and oil for cheap. Local elders persuaded a naan shop owner to sell the bread for Rs 5 apiece. One man began to give out free Haleem to the needy.
Later that night, it was announced that the curfew has ended. We went to bed happy, thinking that the turmoil was over.
But the next morning, when I was getting ready for work, my uncle who runs a store in Raja Bazaar told me shops had to close once again because there was a protest. Some protesters had long hair, thick beards and huge turbans. They were clearly outsiders. They chanted slogans and demanded compensation for the shopkeepers and justice for the people who died. Then, using a fire truck as a stage, they took oath from everyone that they would avenge the killings. The police looked on.
[quote]”Shoot me if you want,” one young fellow shouted[/quote]
The military arrived soon and dispersed the crowd. It was not easy. “Shoot me if you want,” one young fellow shouted. When the soldier cocked his rifle, he spread his arms.
When I reached home and turned on the TV, there were visuals of Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ahmed announcing that the government will try former president Pervez Musharraf for high treason. He said nothing about Rawalpindi. n