Staying Safe in Karachi
-Faris Khan, PhD Student in Anthropology
Growing up I was only exposed to certain affluent
neighborhoods that were far removed from the city’s poorer and relatively
unsafe settlements. Not surprisingly then, family and friends were concerned
about my wellbeing when I returned to Karachi in January 2011 to conduct
fieldwork amongst khawaja siras (loosely defined as transgender people), most
of whom reside in colonies and katchi abadis (squatter settlements) that are
Karachi is the site of intense ethnic violence and terrorist
activities, and it is not uncommon for political parties to have turf wars and
spontaneous shoot outs. Many of these conflicts are concentrated within
colonies, which tend to be dominated by one or more political faction.
For fieldwork, I was advised by relatives to adopt the
common person’s look, specifically for security reasons. While some suggested a
dull-colored shalwar kameez made of inexpensive material, others thought
sporting a two-three day old stubble would be a good idea. Amidst fears of
kidnappings, especially of US citizens, I was told to take different routes
when going to the colonies that I visited regularly.
Further, I was advised to keep a low profile about my
citizenship. Days after the arrest of Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor charged
for killing two men in Lahore, my research assistant, Nadia, asked if I was
also secretly working for the US Government like Davis. She said that I looked
Amreekan to her since I am pretty gora chitta (light skinned). I laughed
nervously and quickly changed the topic.
I did not hesitate to take heed of the advice that I
received from loved ones since Karachi is undoubtedly a volatile city. Even
though I had a fruitful research experience, it was tinged with a lingering
sense of fear each time I left home to do fieldwork.