Walid, 10, picks up an empty bullet shell and aims it at a cluster of similar casings that comprise his collection. As the bullet hits its intended target with a loud clink, Walid celebrates with a little dance and then passes another bullet to his friend. It’s his turn now.
Walid lives in Lyari. His collection of bullet shells took genesis during the nine days of police operations in April – days in which gunshots echoed through the streets, and bullets would regularly land inside houses. With no school to go to and ample spare time in hand, the local children soon devised a game to pass the time: playing marbles with bullets.
Just a few days into the operation, there was already a battalion of children each with his or her own personal collection of empty bullets. “I have three,” said an excited four-year-old. Others followed suit, showing off their bounty. But Walid was the clear winner: he had a shopper full of empty shells.
To this day, the success of the Lyari operation in April remains debatable. Hundreds of citizens suffered the end of gun barrels, and almost 50 bystanders, including a seven-year-old child who was crushed by an armoured personnel carrier (APC), lost their lives. Scores were injured.
Saif, an intermediate student, harkens back to the days of the operation. “We didn’t care much about the gunshots. It was the APCs that we were really scared of,” he said with laugh.
His friend chimes in, “We would run inside the house every time an APC came, and would reappear as soon as it left.”
The operation has now long since ended, and the children are back at school. Yet, an entire generation has grown up seeing some of the worst forms of violence; so much violence that bullets have become mere toys, and aerial firing the norm.
“Such experiences have two types of psychological affects on children – latent and manifest,” explains Ilahi Bux, a regional programme manager for the Strengthening Participatory Organisation.
“The younger ones, six years and below, were scared. Most would break into tears upon hearing a gunshot. Some are still too scared to step out. My six-year- old daughter, for example, is still scared to go on the roof.”
He believes that for the older children, those aged 10 and above, the effects will be more permanent. “For instance, the use of toy guns on roads has increased. They sometimes begin to idolise violence and think of it as a way of life.”