Karachi is the driving engine of Pakistan. Karachi generates around 65% to 75% of the total revenue for Pakistan. Karachi is also a melting pot of different cultures. People from all over the country come to Karachi in search for a better life. Over the years, Karachi had its own share of problems. There have been some ugly ethnic clashes too. The clashes are mostly politically driven, as the general public has no enmity towards each other. They all coexist peacefully. The Karachi Fruit Boycott was a display of unity for me more than anything else.
You know when peasants had nothing to eat in France at some point in 1789, the queen innocently said “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche”—“Let them eat cake.” This made her a hated figure and fueled the revolution. The French society actively participated in the French Revolution when they had had enough.
You know, Pakistan is a Muslim country. In the eyes of foreign media, Pakistanis are almost radical Muslims. As someone living here, we know that is not the case. Let alone extremism, I sometimes wonder if we are even Muslims. Islam denounces commercial dishonesty. There is no scope for illegal profits in Islam. Yet, this is all I see in Karachi during Ramadan. Prices are exorbitant in Pakistan during Ramadan, to say the least. You see, prices are reduced in all Muslim countries during the Holy Month of Ramadan. In fact, even some stores in some Western countries reduce prices during Ramadan.
Every year in the run-up to Ramadan, you hear people anticipating rising prices. It is a given. We are so used to it that we do not even condemn it any longer. We know we will be ripped off in Ramadan. We know KESC will miraculously run out of electricity and prices of fruits and vegetables will go up. We do not even question such things anymore.
But, no one should be pushed to their limits. This Ramadan, prices of fruits went up by 300%. Bananas that normally sold for PKR 50 were now sold for PKR 180. Buying mangoes and peaches were out of the question. Fruits, which are a basic necessity of life, were made a luxury. There were so many fruits all over the city but so little in homes. People just couldn’t afford it. You know fruit chat (fruit salad) is something that is made in every home in Pakistan during Ramadan. This Ramadan, you had to spend a fortune to make fruit chat. Citizens of Karachi had enough. A WhatsApp message began circulating around which urged people to boycott fruits for three days, from 3rd June 2017 to 5th June 2017. Soon, the message was shared on social media platforms too. And soon after that, new channels began talking about it. The mayor of Karachi, Wasim Akhtar, also endorsed the Karachi Fruit Boycott. Karachi Commissioner Shoaib Ahmed Siddiqui also supported the boycott. So, when we ran out of fruit, I did not buy go out to buy any. I wanted this fruit boycott to work. I was a little skeptical about the success of the Karachi Fruit Boycott. I did not know if other citizens of Karachi will participate. I was in for a surprise. Not only did Karachi participated in the boycott, the campaign spread to other cities of Pakistan too.
There was minimal activity in the fruit market on Friday, the first day of the boycott. This led the fruit vendors to lower prices by 40% the next day! In fact, fruit vendors were shouting these new, lower rates out loud to attract customers. The same fruit vendors who made faces at the mere mention of bargain had their act together in just 1 day! The prices of Banana was reduced to 80 PKR. From 180 to 80 PKR in onde day! Asif Ahmad, the head of the Karachi Market Committee reported that there was 10% to 15% less activity in the fruit wholesale market. In the fruit market located on Super Highway, the price of mangoes crates reduced from Rs700 to Rs600, the price of muskmelon decreased from Rs500 to Rs100 and the price of a basket of bananas decreased from Rs3,600 to Rs3,000. The wholesale dealers did not buy any fruit from Empress Market Karachi. In Lahore and Islamabad, the situation didn’t change much, unfortunately. In Peshawar, people actively participated in the boycott.
Some people are concerned about the affects the Karachi Fruit Boycott will have on poor fruit vendors. They present an argument that if people can spend thousands on clothes, smartphones, and hotels, why do they shy away from paying high prices for fruit. This argument is flawed in every aspect. First of all, apart from a handful of the people belonging to the upper class, no one splurges money on clothes, bags, and hotels. I remember taking a rickshaw from Imtiaz Super Market. The rickshaw driver was asking double the amount I usually paid. When I told this to him, he said you just spent so much here, why not give some money to me too. Am I obliged to pay everyone in the city just because I chose to spend money somewhere else? This is a logic-defying argument. Fruits prices should be set on the basis of demand and supply, not on the whims of fruit vendors. Pakistan is an agricultural country. We have PLENTY of fruits and vegetables. There is no shortage. Why should we pay high prices in Ramadan just to fund Eid shopping of the fruit market supply chain? It is not just about fruits. Try to buy lemons when you go out. They are so highly priced. Lemons can be grown easily! Why have they increased the prices of lemons so much?
To be honest, I am not even bothered about the prices of fruits now. I am beyond delighted because of the show of unity by people. I am thrilled to see cooperation can achieve. The Karachi Fruit Boycott was a purely public initiative. It was not organized by any political party. It just makes me excited to think about all the wonderful things we can achieve together.