The Sociology of Karachi – By Arif Hasan


  •  Karachi originally a small fisherman village settled by the Baloch tribes engaging in trading across the sea with Muscat and the Persian Gulf region. Later, the village started to grow as the commercial hub and a port for trade when the British recognized its importance as the trade post. So they captured the city and Sindh province in February 1843 under the command of Sir Charles Napier and the city was annexed as a district of the British Indian Empire.
  •  The Karachi of today has a population of estimated 23.7 million in 2014. It’s the commercial and financial capital of Pakistan. Karachi generates about 25% of the GDP and 65% of the national revenue.
  •  The city has a very large and diverse economy. It is home for some of the largest and most dynamic industrial complexes and business centres in the country. The city also offers the scope for expansion of tertiary sector and retail trade. Most of Pakistan’s public and private banks, insurance companies have their head offices in Karachi. Many of Pakistan’s independent television and radio channels such as Geo, ARY, Hum and AAJ TV, KTN, Sindh TV are headquartered in Karachi. The largest stock exchange of Pakistan is situated in Karachi. Jinnah International Airport situated in Karachi is the largest international airport in Pakistan.

The following article was written by renowned architect, sociologist and city planner Arif Hasan in the year 2011, in which he traces the sociology of Karachi to make sense of the roots of the culture of Karachi in recent times.


The Sociology Of Karachi by Arif Hasan

  • Pre-partition Karachi’s culture was that of a cosmopolitan colonial port. Like all such cities, its population was a mix of many migrant ethnicities. Like all port cities, Karachi had its bars and cabarets and places for entertainment for sailors of visiting ships. In addition, it had a thriving red light area which was visited both by the working and merchant classes.
  • As long as governance rested effectively with the colonial power, there were no ethnic or religious conflicts. 1920s and 30s saw the rise of nationalist movements and the weakening of colonial power.
  • Post partition cosmopolitan culture of Karachi continued to flourish. The city received poets, artists, journalists, writers, painters and performers from all over India who became a part of Karachi’s culture and enriched it.
  • By the year 1978 Karachi’s Saddar alone had 17 bars and billiard rooms, four music and dance schools, 18 bookshops, two clubs for sailors, five discotheques, 34 popular eating places, (four with Goan music bands), and the city as a whole had 119 cinemas and numerous cabarets, of which, six also had strip tease shows.
  • Film, music and theatre festivals were frequent and women were an acceptable part of workforce in the public life.
  • Karachi’s socio economic composition was being altered due to the migration resulting from the transformation of the economy to cash-based. Clan based governance was weakened to allow the rural population physical and socio-economic mobility.
  • With industrialisation and the development of a services sector in trade and commerce, a Mohajir middle class emerged.
  • The absence of democracy in the 60s’ deprived the city of a process of consensus building and as a result the left-right, centre-province, Urdu-Sindhi divide, increased.
  • During the conflict between the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) in 1977, the attacks were so serious that Karachi’s night life, bars and billiard rooms had to close down. The city was paralysed, and to appease the PNA, the Bhutto government declared Friday in place of Sunday as the weekly holiday, banned alcohol, closed down the discotheques, cabarets, and Karachi’s thriving race course. As a result, Karachi changed overnight.
  • Had the democratic process had continued, then through a process of negotiation and pragmatic give and take, a new culture could have evolved but the Zia ul Haq’s military coup of July 1977, made such compromises impossible.

Islamization’ by Zia Regime

  • The policies of the Zia government, aided by the Afghan War and backed by the West, have shaped the Karachi of today. The majority of his cabinet was composed of members of the religious parties who had led the anti-fahashi (vulgarity) and ayashi (corruption) movement against the Bhutto government. These parties were organised at the grass root level in many Karachi neighborhoods.
  • To “Islamize” society and introduce piety, zohar prayers were made compulsory in government institutions. Zakat and Ushr were made compulsory. Through the Zohar prayers and zakat enactment, Pakistanis working together came to recognise each other as Shia, Sunni, Ahmedi, Christian or Hindu. This set in motion a process of discrimination and fragmentation.
  • The Hadood Ordinance was also enacted and blasphemy laws were modified. These laws have become weapons for the persecution of women and minorities.
  • School and college curriculums were revised. Pakistan Studies and Islamiat courses were restructured and considered sufficient for an understanding of global issues. The new curriculum distorted sub-continent history and was insensitive to the cultural diversity of Pakistan.
  • Under the new media policy, classical music and dance was banned on radio and television and folk music was discouraged. Minimum distances between men and women on the screen were specified and the covering of the head was made compulsory for women compares and news-casters. Select writer and thinkers were banned from making public appearances.
  • A system of Nazim-e-Salaat was introduced. The nazim was an individual appointed by the local mosque. People who did not come were contacted politely in the evening and requested to attend prayers. As a result, the fiqh of different households was identified and the distances between neighbors of different religious systems, increased.
  • Due to the enactments of the Zia era, the religious establishment became the ‘moral police’ of the public. Schools of music and dance, which were common before the Zia era, closed down and theatre performances vanished. The Karachi red-light area came under attack and its performers relocated to posh neighborhoods to serve the elite. The film industry packed up, unable to survive the new censor code. Karachi’s 119 cinemas were reduced by 1989, to 22.
  • It became increasingly difficult for women to work in public spaces without following the prescribed moral dress code. The hijab, something voluntary before in Karachi, the skirt and dress gave way to the shalwarqameez.

Karachi’s Socio-Economic Divide – The other side of ‘Kala-pul’

  • Pakistan’s elite and upper middle classes. They could not approve of the changes that were taking place in the institutions where their children studied. Consequently, they stopped sending their children to public sector universities and colleges as a result of which these institutions ceased to be multi-class. They also stopped participating in public life and visiting museums, zoos and multi-class public spaces. They created their own world separate from the rest of Karachi. The removal of the elite from the public sphere resulted in a decline in standards of education and in the maintenance and growth of public sector real estate and recreational facilities.
  • Due to Zia’s religious populism new institutions were not created and the old ones were destroyed. Emerging social values were suppressed destroying its rich cultural and ethnic diversity, leading to its fragmentation and to suspicion and conflict between its different religious and ethnic groups.
  • Pressures of city life, new global technologies, international migration, cable television, and above all, the related social upward mobility and aspirations of the lower middle classes have transformed Karachi society and created a conflict between its aspirations and the values promoted by the Zia era.
  • With the breakup of the clan and the emergence of women working outside of the home is an economic necessity, marriage patterns have also changed. Most people marrying outside the family resulting in quarrels and disputes around family honour and traditional values. Much of these disputes are generated as a result of the conservative extended family and/or neighborhood peer pressure.
  • In 1960s and 1970s most of Karachi’s phenomenal post-independence population increase was accommodated by the creation of informal settlements. Previously holding blue-collar jobs, today these settlements are not exclusively working class. A sizeable number of the younger generation, both men and women, has acquired skills and education. The leadership is increasingly from the middle class, young and educated and has shed its feudal vocabulary.
  • Today, 68 percent of the students of the University of Karachi, 87 percent of all medical students, and 92 percent of all architecture and planning students are women. The number of women students in engineering and business management is rapidly increasing.
  • The changes above are expressed behaviour patterns of Karachiites in many ways. For one, women unlike before are visible today in public space. They are on the beaches, parks and “women-friendly” shopping places. The trend of having mixed gatherings at marriage ceremonies is increasing. The major reason for violence against women (and against men as well) in Pakistan today is the emergence of new freedoms and aspirations on the one hand and a breakup and increasing questioning of the old clan. The old order is fighting back. This is reflected in the enormous increase in application for court marriages. In 1992, only 12 to 15 applications were made per day. Today this figure varies between 200 and 250.


  1. How can we develop new societal values that can reflect the changing sociology and demography of the city and make the transition to a more humane society less painful?
  2. What can we do to bring about the necessary governance related changes to provide institutional and physical space required for the expression of progressive culture?


  • New societal values are needed to bridge this gap between tradition, aspiration and reality. These societal values can be promoted by the development of suitable curriculum for educational institutions.
  • For a tolerant, if not a liberal Karachi, its immense wealth of talent has to be given space to express itself.


(Hassan, Arif, “The Changing Sociology of Karachi: Causes, Trends and Repercussions” , 2011)

One thought on “The Sociology of Karachi – By Arif Hasan

  1. 30% plagiarised… and arif hasan’s website. Simply stating the source at the foot of the blog post does not enable you to lift entire paragraphs from it and make them appear as a part of your own writing. Proper citation and quotation marks are necessary. In most cases 1-2 lines (max) should be quoted from other sources and the rest should be paraphrased or written in your own words. If you find that you are mixing and matching texts from different sources into one paper it is an example of unoriginal thinking–plagiarism–an ethical minefield, which results in immediate failure.


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