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Chhutta: migrant’s tale

Chhutta: 'Probably they don't consider us Pakistani, [but] during the election campaign they always come to take votes from us'

Chhutta is in his 80s. His family migrated to Sanghar city when their lands became unproductive due to lack of rain. They now depend on casual labour, which brings in very little income. He would like to go back to rearing and trading livestock, but without a loan it is impossible.

Like others, he feels let down by politicians: “Politics is for wealthy people; poor people have no politics.” Although he is illiterate, for many years he held a position of considerable trust and status, distributing the charitable donations expected of all Muslims who can afford them.

He believes in arranged marriages and that women should only work in the home or in the company of their men. Although he is against secular education or independent jobs for women, he recognises that a woman councillor who helped his family has broken some of those barriers.

We… migrated from Baluchistan. There also we were living in hunger and poverty. At that time we thought about the nearby city Sanghar, where we could seek some labour working on thela (carts with platforms) or with donkey carts…

In Baluchistan, our elders had their barani lands, which depended on rain water for cultivation. [But] the rain was scarce in that area and lands were lying barren [so] we migrated here… [But] there is no difference in our life; it’s the same as it was before. We are damn busy earning our livelihood with much difficulty. Neither have we saved any money nor bought any land nor built a bungalow… We are still living in huts…

We do manual labour with our children and sons and earn 100 rupees daily… None of the people in this area possesses any land or any other property… Nobody has ever helped us, neither has anybody extended any loan to us, nor has the government ever supported us and nor the elders of this goth (village)…

We all do physical labour to earn our livelihood. There are more than 100 houses here. We cut wood, or work on a thela, carry grain from one place to another, pick cotton or cut the wheat crop and earn money to feed our children… [But] we only manage to feed them… From where can we arrange expenses like buying books and paying school fees?

“They want to displace us”

I have five sons. All of them are married and…they also do physical labour… none of us is literate. We do not educate any of our family, because we do not have money. Only those who have money and have something to eat can educate their children …

The elders of the town are not providing us with water. They want to displace us from here. These people include the Karnali (local wealthy politicians, people who were originally from Punjab and settled in Sindh) and the Rais (‘sir’; title used in Sindh for landlords) …they have no concern for poor people like us…

Our young children cover a distance of one mile and then bring back water on their heads…I have pleaded repeatedly that “You are also Muslims, please provide us with water.” The [authorities] agreed but did not provide it to us as yet… Probably they are doing it due to their political affiliation or they might be discriminatory towards us.

Probably they don’t consider us Pakistani, [but] during the election campaign they always come to take votes from us and say: “We are here and we will do this and we will do that.” After the election season is over, then nobody listens to us – they do not even recognise us…

Whenever we go to their house, they say that the Rais “is sleeping”… [and] the Karnali does not listen to anybody. We have submitted at least 10 applications for loans, these loans got approved but they swindled us and did not give us a single penny. These people are of no help to the poor…

Loan applications thwarted

[Poverty] can only be alleviated if the poor people are given money ranging from 50,000 rupees to 1 lakh or 1.5 lakh rupees, so that they can do some business, or can open a shop or do any other work. They can also work with livestock… and can sell them with a good profit margin at the time of Eid ul Azha (festival to mark the end of annual pilgrimage to Mecca). On such occasions, a goat worth 1 lakh rupees can be sold for 2 lakh… 100 per cent profit!

We asked the Nazims (elected local government official) and also submitted an application [for a loan] in this connection, explaining our position as their poor neighbours and countrymen, who need their urgent attention to solve our problems. But Karnali Sahib just says “Yes”, while I swear upon God that he even misplaced our application. Only God knows whether they took all the money themselves…

Land pressure and illiteracy

The main reason for poverty is that earlier there used to be one son or two sons, but when these sons were got married then they have 14 children each… We only want [our children] to get an education, because all of them are illiterate… We are not even able to read a piece of newspaper or write a letter…

Our only entertainment is [when] we come back home in the evening and spend time with our children… The poor and TV are two different things…We do not even have food to eat – how we can watch TV? Being illiterate how we can read newspapers?

We do ask others as to what has been written in the newspaper, what is the situation in the country [laughing], how many leaders were arrested and how many have been released? When Pakistan was at war with India, at that time we had one band radio with us and we used to listen to the news from BBC. But now we have stopped listening to the radio news, because a lot of falsification prevails in the country now…

Corruption and harassment

This is a fact – that if a poor person asks a newspaper to print a news item then they will demand 200 rupees to print it…Once I asked someone [to print] that my land has been inundated by dam water. I bought this land by spending this much money. Now they neither gave me other land in compensation nor money. The officers and clerks had asked me to give them a half share of [the land]; only then they will give to me.

[It was] in the Mukhi Dam, at Hiran Saray village. I had six blocks of land there, and I had also paid the installments, but later on they stopped taking installments from me. I gave 50,000 rupees for the house, but they were powerful people while we were poor, so they did not even give back the money which we gave for our houses.

We are not left with any land – the whole of it has been inundated by the dam and we were not even given compensation. I have all the documents of this land with me. I just pray to Allah that such a government comes to power in the country to which I can show my documents and submit our pleas for justice. But here nobody pays heed.

Earlier, the DDO (Deputy District Officer) was very a nice person, but he was transferred… A new officer has replaced him but he is of no help to us… The Mukhtiarkar (government official)…has sold thousands of acres of land and has not given anything to the poor. [He] dismantled our houses dozens of time and put us in jail many times…

“Politics is for wealthy people”

Politics is for wealthy people; poor people have no politics. When the Rais comes here in their cars and Pajeros (expensive jeeps) then they promise to build roads in this area, establish a school and hospital. However, when this period is over then they even do not greet us or ask about our wellbeing…

If we have any honour left then we will not give them the vote. However, if we have no shame, then we will vote for them. Otherwise, we will stay at home on polling day. If we do not get any labouring work that day then we will sleep at home and will not vote for them, because we have no hopes of them.

Such highhanded behaviour is being meted out to poor people… if we go to the hospital then we also need 2 rupees to register our name but even then they give us expired (out of date) medicines. When they wrap these medicines up in paper then these turn into powder. This makes people more ill…

Honest representatives are rare

Initially, we were happy that this military government will never be unjust with the poor people… But we did not know that it was a story of a hawk and a dove…You know what I mean. We thought this government would be better but it was worse than the hawk. Poor people like us have no benefit from anybody. There is nobody who can work for us….

Actually politicians should be good. We have a politician in our area. Benazir Bhutto sent a truck full of flour and clothes for the people of the area, [and he] kept this truck with him. Whenever somebody went and asked about [distributing] the goods then he would say: “The goods sent by Sister Benazir are already finished.” On this I remarked: “At least your mission was accomplished.”

We vote for a person who works for us with honesty. We have been living here for the past 20 years, but there are only two people – one is this lady councillor, and the other Zahid Shah – who stood side by side with the poor through thick and thin. Others, including the Nizamanis (a caste) or Karnali (local wealthy politicians)… We never went to them because…it is useless to say anything to a person who is of no help to anybody…

“Nobody gives a job to an illiterate person”

We used to drink the milk of buffaloes, goats and camels. Camel milk is very energising. We owned those camels… we were very prosperous [in my youth]. We used to get 1 rupee for one day’s labour work, and still we had everything…

Poverty exists because of rising expense, which has now escalated. I am wearing this suit from the second-hand bazaar, because we cannot afford to buy shop clothes… Now neither we have land nor anything else and we only depend on casual labour… Now we do not have anything, what can we do about our hunger and illness? Above all, nobody gives a job to an illiterate person…

This is our desire: that such an officer or government comes in power which provides some loans to the poor to do their own business, to trade grain or livestock… In this way, he will become prosperous in two to three years. They can earn a profit of 1 lakh rupees in one year on the capital of 1 lakh… I have the experience that if I buy a goat for 1500 rupees then we can sell it for 8000 to 9000 rupees at the time of Eid.

A position of trust

I was selected chairman of the Zakat and Ushr Committee (appointed to distribute the charitable donations given by all Muslims who can afford them) and once a person asked me to sign something, and I told him that “I can only give my thumb imprint because I am illiterate. I will not have any objection if you remove me from this post, but it is a fact that I am illiterate.” I remained chairman of the Zakat and Ushr Committee for five years…

If they ever needed my signature on a cheque then I used to put my thumb imprint on it and they used to draw the money from the bank with the same cheque… the bank manager would praise me by saying in smiling tone: “Look at the honesty of this old man, he has not changed the original list of seven Zakat recipients [to include his friends or family]… while others have increased the list to 14 to 15 people.”

Changing expectations

[I believe] it will be to the benefit of our daughters that they acquire education. [If] they go to school and learn Quran, we will be really happy because it will not only make them good Muslims but also good human beings. At least they will be able to read a newspaper, write a letter to their relatives. It will also be much better for us.

Definitely we will allow them to do home-based job, or they can go with us to do any job. However, we will not allow our women to go alone for a job…[not even] if they die of hunger…

But nowadays, women have become teachers and officers. This sister [pointing to woman councillor] is the councillor for our area. All salute her that she solves all our problems. She is like our daughter. She is educated and helps us through thick and thin. Had she been illiterate she could not have helped us.

[But] we will never allow our women to do a job, if we do this then people will malign us and would brand us “shameless” that our women go for jobs. We even expel such [women] from our biraderi (family group)…

Women’s earnings

Yes, the women embroider, but they stitch their own clothes, and labour with us in crop harvesting and cotton picking. Since we are poor…whatever labour work they perform, even if it is domestic labour, they do it along with us.

These days we are free, because we have recently completed crop cutting and cotton picking… Some women make rallis (traditional patchwork quilts)… Men bear the expenses of the house…

[The woman] gives the money – [from] 50 to 400 rupees – that she earns after picking cotton to her men or spends it on her kids, but she does not give it to anyone else, not even to her parents. Or she will give this money to her husband for building the house. If a man earns he gives his earnings to his wife, and if a women earns she gives her money to the husband…

Dowry and inheritance

We do [give dowry]. We give it according to our economic status, since we are poor. Our forefathers used to give agricultural lands in dowry but now either I will give five goats or some people give a cow or a buffalo. If somebody has something then they will give dowry, otherwise how can he give anything to his daughter?

She [also] has the right to one-third of the total property. She has a smaller share than her brother because she goes to someone else’s house after marriage. Even then she has one-third share in the land or any other property of her parents.

Insecurity: fighting for the right to settle

We are still living outside the graveyard while [the Karnali, a more powerful group] have levelled the land inside the graveyard and built their bungalows there… But the waderas (feudal leaders) don’t support us…the Karnali want us to migrate from here. We say that…we are [settled] away from the actual graveyard. Those others who have levelled the graveyard land and constructed their houses on it – nobody says a word about them! Neither do they consider it a sin, nor have they any care for us…

Earlier, [the Karnali] filed a law suit against us to displace us… They came here and announced that if we did not vacate this land within two days then they will bulldoze our homes… We went to the waderas and lodged a complaint with them. We also talked to other people of the area besides the lady councillor Tahira…

Then we poor people all pooled in money – some gave 5 rupees; some 100 rupees – and we collected 8000 to 10,000 rupees and gave it to the session judge and filed a suit against them…We demanded that first of all the nearby bungalows are dismantled, only then we will go away from here…

[An official] endorsed our point of view and said that they will pull down the bungalows of these people. When the Karnali saw the situation going against them, they became lip-bound (tight-lipped) and they are still quiet on this issue…

This interview has been specially edited for the web and cut down by more than half. Some re-ordering has taken place: square brackets indicate ‘inserted’ text for clarification; round brackets are translations / interpretations; and dots indicate cuts in the text. The primary aim has been to remain true to the spirit of the interview, while losing questions, repetition, and confusing or overlapping sections.

Project

Chhutta: migrant’s tale is produced as part of the Living with poverty: Pakistan oral testimony project.

Testimonies

Allah Bux: older generation

Basran: desperate times

Chhutta: migrant’s tale

Fatima: vulnerable lives

Hodat: diversifying business

Karim Bux: lacking support

Khamiso: looking back

Kishore: living prudently

Mircho: losing dignity

Nasreen: just surviving

Nazeer: high standards

Salma: independent spirit

Key themes

Introduction to the project

Loans and debt

Survival strategies

The cost of poverty

Environmental decline

Gender

Political representation

Powerlessness

Insecurity and conflict

Education

Food security and health