Nazeer (Pakistan): "Nobody pays any attention to us"
Nazeer is 75, and father of eight. At Partition, his parents left all they owned in India and came to Pakistan, making their living as labourers. He taught himself to read and write a little, and managed to give his sons some basic schooling – several work as rickshaw drivers, an occupation he regards as a step up from labouring.
He is frustrated by what he sees as the indifference of those in power, and has little faith in politicians or the police. He also implies that the local press are reluctant to report on cases of corruption or inefficiency:”Probably they are under some kind of pressure from the top.”
Yet Nazeer himself maintains high standards of behaviour compared to others: in spite of their own struggle to survive, he cultivates some land for those worse off than him and gives them the food grown there.
The basic problem is that the higher authorities do not let anything reach the poor. For example, we bought these plots with our own money, but we are not provided with any water. The owner took the money for the plots, while we are left with nothing.
They should provide us with water, gas and electricity…[but] if we have ever raised our voice against these things, then the police put us in the lock-up and will not release us…
The law and order situation is such that we care for our security ourselves. We remain awake throughout the night to keep guard on our area… Sometimes thieves break into somebody’s house, or steal the goats… We cannot keep a cycle outside the house for even one hour – the moment our attention is diverted, it is taken away – within 15 minutes. They knocked down my wall almost 11 times, and buffalo and goats were also stolen…
“A poor man cannot do anything”
Now “might is right” is the rule. If you have power, you can sit here otherwise nobody will listen to you…We cannot do anything empty-handed (without money)… For example, if we go to the police station and raise our voice, even the policeman will not take any action after seeing the power of the [other] person.
He knows that if a person is strong then he will create problems for the policeman in the future, so he will listen to him, but will not pay any attention to poor people like us. A poor man cannot do anything. This is how the affairs of this area are being run…
Moving to the city for work
My son does the farming while I sit at home since I am ill…we have 5 acres of land elsewhere [but] there is no water available in that area and that’s why we came here. While there, we had fewer opportunities for casual labour…here the situation is relatively better… I have four sons who do casual labour. They do share-cropping on 2 acres of a wheat farm…
When I was healthy then I used to do labouring work and earn my livelihood… I also did cultivation as a tenant on another’s land. I had only 5 acres of land and now my sons have half an acre each – rather it is less than that. I have four sons and four daughters which makes four heirs, so they are not even getting 2 kanals (1 kanal = 480 yards) each…
No, I did not even learn a single word [at school]…But I can write letters and can also read… I talked to the boys and saw books and this is the way I learnt. I can write so well that it is better than any secondary school student…
The Taleem-i-Balighan (adult literacy centres) were opened here, where they used to teach the old people, but…we had to work the whole day and we did not have time to study. I had eight children who were very young at that time…
The elder son studied till grade 4, while the younger one did his matriculation, while the remaining two sons are illiterate. Now I have bought them vehicles on instalments; they drive a rickshaw and earn their livelihood.
Government support for education
We are educating the children in the hope that they will progress. If they get education then they will be employed somewhere… Although we are living in difficulty, at least their lives will be improved…
Now the government provides free books to the students and also gives some school expenses, so our children are studying. In [my] time, we did not get anything. Since an army general has become the President (President Musharraf) of the country, we are getting text books, pencils and pens. The boys are going to school happily…
[Girls] should be educated because it will improve their lives. Two of my grand-daughters are studying. My conscience does not allow [them to do a job], because it was never done in our time. But times have changed now and people are letting their daughters take jobs, some girls are working as teachers and some have become doctors and are working in the hospital, but we do not allow our girls to do a job…
The benefits of exchange marriages
My parents married my elder brother to a bride of their choice, while I was given in watta satta (exchange marriage). That means I gave my sister’s hand to a boy and married his sister in exchange…to take a girl in exchange for a girl from your own family – it is a tradition here. After all we have to give our daughter’s hand to someone…So we take a match for ourselves in exchange for her.
It is better… if their girls will be married into our family, then they will not create any troubles for our girl – if they do so, we will create problems for their girl also. In this way, there will be no fight between the two families.
However, if we give our daughter’s hand to a family [without an] exchange – if she comes back home, then the dowry that we gave her will also be lost and she will also remain with us for the rest of her life and we will have no benefit out of this…
There are unmarried girls… [usually daughters of] zamindars who possess lands… They have this greed that she will earn something for them, and she will work at the fields, cut the grass and manage cattle and perform household chores.
“Poverty is a government problem”
I have been doing labouring work since my childhood. The elders also used to do this work….
Actually our forefathers were poor… At the time of Partition, they migrated to Pakistan and left everything they possessed in India. They were given land and shelter here. They were given one block of 16 acres but when their claims were challenged, that property was taken back. Now we are earning our livelihood through casual labour.
Poverty is a government problem… We cannot do anything about it. A poor person remains poor. If the government approves 50,000 rupees for everybody, then they can alleviate poverty. People can start any business with that money and then return that amount. But if they do not get any money, then how can poverty be alleviated?
An unsupportive press
We do not even have a mosque. We are collecting funds for the mosque, so that we can rehabilitate it… We purchase water and also use brackish water from the borehole. Even that is not available now…we have a severe water shortage.
We have submitted registration forms for the plots of land that are lying there unoccupied. When all the plots have been sold, only then will they submit our registration forms [so it will be too late]!
To whom we can lodge complaints? We can only make request to the government. But our application remains there unattended. If we give it to the newspaper then they will not print it… However, I have a relative who has a hospital in Shehdadpure… If any incident or accident occurs here and I give that report to the doctor then he will give it to the newspaper immediately [and] it is printed the next morning.
[But] the people in Sanghar will not print it. Neither does anybody listen to us [laughing]. Probably they are under some kind of pressure from the top about this colony. I provided information about this area almost 11 times to the newspapers: that there is no gas, electricity poles, electricity, roads etc…
Money for votes
To hell with politics, we don’t even caste our vote…I am not happy casting my vote in favour of any of the candidates… Many such people came here and asked me: since you have 150 to 200 votes, we will give you this much money. But I refused to take that money.
I told them that you are giving me this money to sell my conscience, although I know that you people will not give anything to us… However, we will caste votes in favour of Islam. Being Muslims, nothing is dearer to us than Islam…
The vote should be given to a person who enjoys authority in the country, so that whenever we go to him, our work should be accomplished. We should be provided with roads in this area. If we are not provided with any facility then there is no point in selecting [anyone]…
Casting false votes
If we caste our vote in favour of some candidates, even then those candidates will not be successful. Our ID cards are with [other politicians] – if they caste a vote while using our ID cards then there is nobody to question them about this inside the polling booth.
It is the rule of “might is right”; they can do everything… Even our photographs are in the office. They can even put [ID] stamps on those pictures to serve their purpose. I will be sitting at home and my vote will be cast there [laughing].
The poor should be given facilities. For example, if we need our national identity [ID] cards then they should be provided to us automatically… [In practice, only] if we have some acquaintance in the office, then we get the card; otherwise they scold us.
We are sent back from the office for bringing different papers again and again in order to issue an ID card. Even if we provide all the required documents then they do not submit our forms. And if they submit the form, then they will only issue the card after three years. They sent me back four times…the clerk started scolding me…he would not submit it.
[Eventually] I was issued with the ID card — it took 32 to 34 days. By telling this story I mean to show that if we have some connection in a government office, then our work will be done; otherwise nobody pays attention to us.
Charity and share cropping
If I get 1 lakh rupees then I will distribute one part of it among the poor, because we love giving charity and God gives us money. I am cultivating four acres of land. Half an acre is kept in the name of God, I do not take a single penny out of this share. I cook degs (iron cauldron, 100 litre capacity) of food and feed the poor [from the half-acre] in the name of God.
I have taken the land as a tenant from Rais Khan (powerful local landowner) [and] grown wheat on the half-acre. I have cultivated it with sheer hard work… Out of the remaining land, I give the share to the zamindar (landlord) after deducting my own share and we all eat from that share… My share was 330 maunds (1 maund is 37.5 kg) of cotton and 60 maunds of wheat.
Out of this, after deducting the share of the labourers, only 30 maunds of wheat were spared for us. This will make up my flour needs for the whole year. Other expenses like tea, medical treatment of the children etc will be covered by the money I earn from labouring or other odd jobs…
“There is no respite”
I am speaking my heart out to you… If our sons earn 100 rupees then we give 5 rupees in charity to feed some poor. There are so many poor people in the surrounding [area]; we give food to them and also eat along with them. In this house [pointing to a neighbouring house] a woman is ill. Her husband has not received his amount from his fields… He mends punctures.
Their entire earnings are spent on the illness of the woman. Now the problem is the electricity bill. He has recently installed an electricity meter for which he will have to pay 300 rupees monthly. The children cannot live without the fan… there is no respite for human beings here…
Struggling against the odds
[My children study] at Pathora School…three blocks away from the village… We want to educate them here, but there is no teacher available, a school building is not being constructed and none of the people here is able to take up this responsibility. When somebody approves the contract for constructing the building, only then will the work start…
We are trying our level best [to get things done]… all the people of the mohallah (neighbourhood) are going to meetings which are conducted every week or fortnight and they ask for electricity, gas, water and all other facilities in the area.
All these things depend on the higher authorities like Councillors or Nazim (elected head of local council). What can we poor people do? We will raise a hue and cry in six months or a year, but it will make no difference…We are holding meetings every week and every fortnight while gathering all the people, but all in vain…
No help from leaders
[My main wish] came true when I had my sons. Now I only pray that may we get electricity, gas and roads…that peace prevails in our families and this area gets rid of theft and dacoity (banditry)…
The whole colony is unemployed… Many of them have…migrated to places where they find employment… Some are working as labourers in construction…some are in the police, some of them do trading, some are watchmen, while some are in army…
Every house in this colony has its own Sardar (head of community)…but we never have any dealing with him… If everything is done at the thana (police station) in [bribes of] 1000 to10,000 rupees, then why should we go to the sardar? Why don’t we ourselves go to the thana and get our work done [using bribery]?
The need for raised voices
I inhabited this colony [first]. There was only one house here which was mine. When I started living here, people came here and the colony was formed.
If the people in this colony would follow my instructions then I can hold the neck of the Nazim (head of council) and force him to provide electricity and roads here – [but] these people do not side with me and they will not listen to me.
This is where the whole thing comes to a halt. If I go alone and ask about these facilities then they will ask me as to why I have come alone, where are the other people of the colony? Have all of them died? …But people do not come out of their houses.
If we do not raise our voice for our basic needs then they will not provide them to us… The law says that until you demand something you will not get it.
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.