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Hodat: diversifying business

Hodat: 'Some of us bought goats; some opened shops; some bought sewing machines...'

Hodat is in her 30s and moved to Garkuno Miani village when she married some 18 years ago. Her community has dwindled in size and become increasingly impoverished as the fish stocks in Manchar Lake have declined. Her family can no longer make ends meet from fishing, and her father subsidises her everyday expenses.

Drinking water is available, but pleas to improve educational and sanitary facilities or deal with the pollution are met with “mere words – nobody does anything practical”. Hodat expresses deep frustration at her powerlessness, but seems determined to make the most of the skills and resources she does have.

Far from accepting fate, she has done her best to diversify. While the small catch now only justifies her sons going fishing, she and her daughter-in-law earn money from sewing, tailoring and embroidery, and together with her husband they run a small shop.

We are very poor and no one supports us…The water in this area is filthy and has no fish in it. We have nothing….

The children of the area fall sick due to the pollution… two of them drank a little water which aggravated their stomachs and both died the same day. They were our blood relatives… One of the girls was about five. They were cousins…

Although the water is poisonous, what can we do about it? The children have no choice but to play in this water…We forbade them to go to the lake or swim in the water but, you know, children are basically naughty and it is difficult to keep tabs on them.

Almost seven or eight years have passed since this water became…poisonous… People suffer from vomiting and diarrhea; every day we take four to six children to the city hospital for treatment…They suffer from stomach pain, we are treating them with different medicines, but they have had no relief so far… About 16 or 17 children have died.

The importance of land

I was born at Bhan Saeedabad which is quite far away but I came here after my marriage. We were four sisters and two brothers. My parents used to farm… we had our own land measuring about 50 kanals (480 yards). We could earn a good livelihood for ourselves through that land; we cannot make a good living here.

But…I cannot go back now, because I’m married… Except for me and my sister no other relative lives here now. My father, mother, auntie etc all live in Bhan Saeedabad [and their] livelihood is quite a bit better than ours, and they also support me and my sister.

However…only our family is prosperous [there], because my father has his own land. We do not possess any land [here]; only fishing is available… How can we manage our expenses through this limited source of income? There are no big fish in the lake; those we catch are very young. We barely get half our needs met by fishing; the remaining half is managed by Allah Almighty…

The cost of contamination

Since the lake water is contaminated the government has provided a potable water supply to our village… We use lake water for washing dishes and clothes, while the tank water is used only for drinking…

We told each and every team that visited our area about the contamination, but nobody paid any heed. [Before] we would make a good living for ourselves. Not only was the fish abundant but there were also other things like birds and the gandgi plant (grass) from which we used to make mats. But now the water is contaminated and we have nothing…

More boats than fish

We use boats without motors. Normally, one family possesses four to five boats. We get the nets made by our Ustaad (master net maker)… We have two boats: one is big and the other small… [but only] my sons go fishing these days…

I have two sons and one daughter and two daughters-in-law. When the fish was available we would [all] go fishing on two, three boats but now due to the lack of fish we go out on one boat only…When the water was clean then all the women of the area used to catch fish but now they remain at home…

Juggling craftwork and domestic responsibilities

We women do bharat (Sindhi embroidery), make rilli (traditional patchwork quilts) and chatai (mats)… [but] now gandgi (type of grass) doesn’t grow here. Earlier…we would make mats from its leaves and earn well for ourselves. My daughter-in-law does bharat work and I make rilli. God has been very kind to us and in this manner we manage our living…

I make just 100-200 rupees [from one rilli], while we can save 200 to 500 rupees from bharat work. But it is basically needlework and we can’t be always sure when it will be completed [especially as] my daughter-in-law has very young children… it takes a month to complete bharat work with these young kids…. we also have to perform the daily chores… I take 10 to 15 days to complete one. It also depends on the type of other work I am doing. If it is light work then [the bharat work] is done in less time…

We sell these things at Bhande (nearby town) or at a nearby village. Sometimes the people of the village give us chadar (loose robe), kameez or shalwar (loose trousers and tunic) to sew and my daughter-in-law makes dresses for them while charging for tailoring. She stitches them by hand and does bharat…

The people of this [other] village farm and get their bharat work and rillis done [here]. Since they farm their livelihood is better than ours… They use lake water for farming but as this water is contaminated so they also use brackish water [from bore holes]…

[The pollution] does affect their crops, but they use the brackish water and the lake water in a ratio of two to one. In this way, the contaminated water gets diluted…[but] nobody in this village has any land. We all do fishing only.

Failed by teachers

[Our] teacher comes only once a week. You can well understand how much the children must be learning in only a day’s teaching! … My husband told him “Either you come regularly; or do not come at all and close this school. You take a salary from the government to educate our children but you are not paying attention to our children’s studies… it is better you do not come at all.”

The teacher…promised that he would come regularly from the next day, but he didn’t. We lodged many complaints but nobody pays heed…We [even] told a news reporter…But the teacher [still] comes only once a week…

We didn’t educate our girls… if [even] the boys…cannot study properly, how can the girls? If [the teacher] comes regularly then we will send our young girls to school. It will be good for them… I am illiterate… My sister and brother are literate… I was afraid of the teacher [laughing] – that he would beat me. So I used to run away from school [much laughter].

I was the eldest sister… My father insisted on [me] getting an education, but I refused to go…I ponder on this a lot now – that if I were educated, I would have been much better off and would have never come here. But nothing can be done about it now. Now I say that I will educate my granddaughters…

“At least listen to us…”

Many people and teams came into this area and we asked them to clean the lake, but nothing has been done so far. They came from far away, including teams from other countries and also from Pakistan. We told every team that this water is poisonous, please pay heed to our pleas…. at least listen to us. We are human beings as well… but no one listens to us…

There are councillors and Nazims (elected head of local council) of the area but even they don’t pay heed. They are all influential people and live in Bhobhak. Do you think we haven’t approached them? We have pleaded with them many times and requested them to do something…They assured us that they would try to drain out the contaminated water, but these are mere words – nobody does anything practical.

Loans that helped

We are all friends and relatives to each other here. There is no outsider in our village… However, sometimes women like you come here and talk to us…

[About a year ago] an old lady came here and distributed 5000 to 10,000 rupees among the village people to start their own businesses…She distributed about 100,000 rupees among the people, from which they could make a good living…Some of us bought goats; some opened shops; some bought sewing machines; some of them did other things. Now we pay monthly installments on the 1st of each month.

We are very thankful to her because at least she did something for our livelihoods. Those who have taken 10,000 rupees give 500 rupees per month while those who have taken 5000 rupees pay 250 rupees per month in installments.

Trading; tailoring

I didn’t take a loan, but other people took loans worth 100,000 rupees and they have paid back about 50,000 rupees… [Why didn’t I take one?] My husband is afraid of loans and never takes a loan. I have a sewing machine and a grocery shop of my own where tea, sugar, potato and onions are sold. It is my own shop and because of this shop my husband said that we would not take any loan. Allah will give us money, but we will not take any loan – and he didn’t….

I, my daughter-in-law and my husband run the shop…in a room of the house. I and my daughter-in-law do stitching [as well]… I charge 50 rupees. I stitch four to five shalwar kameez in a day. In this way we make a good livelihood for ourselves, but other people in this area do not earn well – and that’s why we want the contaminated water from the lake to be drained.

Only five to eight houses in this village are prosperous while others remain in trouble. Either the men do casual labour or sit at home. They either go to Bhobhak or Seeri for work or will go to someone’s house for masonry work… [My husband] neither does casual labour nor goes fishing. Only my sons go fishing, while my husband only goes to the city…to purchase vegetables and groceries for the shop.

No change of occupation or location

If the water in the lake is cleansed then fish will flourish in it, gandgi (type of grass) will also grow here, which we use for making mats and thus earn a good livelihood. But in this situation how we can earn our living?

[My daughter] is married…they used to live here but after the fish supply dwindled… they shifted… Earlier our village was so big… But all of the people have left due to the dwindling fish catch; only few of us [remain]… [Theirs] was a good decision, because they are well settled there… and they are earning well… We also went there but our life was the same…as it used to be here, so we came back…

My father gives me money for my daily expenses and also offers me to come to his village, but since my husband does fishing here and he does not know how to do cultivation, we cannot go there… [My father] asks us to come to his village and start farming but my husband doesn’t agree to this and says that since he does not know farming what is the use of going to that area? …So we will keep on living here and go fishing only.

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

Hodat: diversifying business 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