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Going Under the Bridge: Queer Activism in a Gentrifying Karachi

Authors: Hafsa Arain*, Boston University
Topics: Asia, Sexuality
Keywords: South Asia, Pakistan, queer and LBGTQ+ activism, gentrification, Karachi
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Much has already been written about Pakistan’s upwardly mobile middle class, specifically through the lens of the growing globalized and digital economies. However, little attention has been paid to the complex ramifications of such globalizations on Pakistan’s marginalized populations. This paper addresses how two such marginalized populations, queer women and residents of kachi abaadis (temporary housing structures), form collaborative activist spaces within the rapidly gentrifying landscape of Karachi, Pakistan’s largest urban center. As Karachi continues to develop infrastructure in its lower class neighborhoods for the growing middle class population, the city has forcibly removed residents of kachi abaadis and appropriated public parks and gathering spaces in order to make way for exclusive communities. Through ethnographic data collected in Karachi in the summer of 2019, this paper looks at how queer women, nonbinary people, and trans men have collaborated across Karachi in order to advocate alongside kachi abaadi residents and expansion of use of public spaces. Using this example, this paper argues that the partnerships formed between queer women, nonbinary people, and trans men, representing the least visible queer groups, are uniquely able to disrupt class norms through gathering in public parks and for the purpose of protest, learning, and advocacy. In doing so, they help to map new connections that are intentionally counter to the planned class segregation within Karachi’s neighborhoods. In this sense, the symbolic act of “crossing bridges” that connect Karachi’s neighborhoods is undermined by protesting in the areas under the bridges, where most kachi abaadis are located.

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