Karim Bux: 'The government does not pay any attention to our area…'
Karim Bux is 35, and has lived since birth near Manchar Lake. One of his eight brothers has gone to Saudi Arabia as a labourer, and his remittance seems crucial to the family’s survival. Karim Bux also worked abroad – in Afghanistan as a fisherman – but it was only a short-term solution.
His family used to farm, but with expansion of the lake their fields became water-logged and contaminated; they received no compensation. Now Karim Bux has a small shop and, although business is poor, it provides some income.
Karim Bux complains about the lack of government support: “Sometimes we think that Pakistan does not consider us Pakistani.” He is in no doubt that poverty has brought his family “increased mental tension and illnesses”.
I have studied till seventh grade. I received my primary education from a school at Manchar Dam and then went to Bhobak School… [I had to stop] because we were poor. In 1976, flooding affected Manchar Lake, and the whole area was marred by water-logging. No jobs were left….
[But] if the males of the house had gone off to get an education, nobody would have been left to earn. Now there are three to four family members earning, but at that time they were all very young. How could we run the household in such a situation?
Dependence on remittance
I earn 70 to 80 rupees. Yes, we face difficulty but other brothers also contribute. They work on the land or do some labouring work… One of my brothers is in Saudi Arabia; he went there two years ago. He works as a labourer.
We took out a loan and also sold our livestock to generate funds to send him to Saudi Arabia so that he can earn for us, because we were passing through a very bad phase of our life at that time. He sends the money but there is a lot of unemployment in this area, so that the money falls short of our expenses… When we fall ill then he also sends money for our medical treatment…
[In my father’s time] we had livestock including sheep, cows, goats and camels. We used to have 10 to 15 cattle at a time. They used to go to Manchar where the grass was in abundance. We never had to give fodder to our cattle, because the ground was full of grass. The cattle would go to graze in the morning and would come back themselves in the evening. We do not have cattle now, but the ground is completely barren – so the cattle would not leave the house anyway.
I used to be a tenant [farmer]. But now I do some trade. However, I still do cultivation… We do not have land of our own and the land we do cultivate does not yield [much] because it’s been affected by water-logging.
Penalised for buying on credit
If tenant farmers have their own ploughs or tractors, then they charge a quarter share of the crop for [using] this machine, while the rest would be divided between the tenant and the zamindar (landowner). The expenses on the crops are also shared equally. There are a lot of agricultural expenses now but the yield is relatively low, so there is no profit in agriculture. But since we have been living here for many generations, we cannot leave this place.
There are some seths (businessmen) who trust us and we buy seeds from them. They are from different places. We take everything on credit including fertiliser, which is sold very expensively to us. There is a difference of almost 100 rupees in price, and they charge 200 rupees extra when we buy it on credit…
Whatever we spend on the land cannot be earned back from the crops… Firstly, the water is contaminated; secondly, the land is water-logged. If clean water from the river was released into [the lake] then it will be good for us because it will give good yields. But now the yield is not good because we use the contaminated water from Manchar.
The only solution, if the government has the will, is to divert the RBOD (Right Bank Outflow Drainage scheme) somewhere else so that its contaminating effluents are not added to Manchar Lake. This will lower the water level of Manchar, and the level of Sindh River will be raised a little, and thus the [cleaner] river water will flow into the lake. Thus the area will get fresh river water for cultivation.
The impact of the dam
[My father] used to farm in Manchar. At that time [flood waters were controlled] and the lands were irrigated properly. The rest of the land that was owned by the government would remain inundated, and so fish would breed.
This is why we used to spend good times in the past, because…when the time for Rabi (spring harvest) came, they used to lower the water level. At that time we only used to sow seeds; we neither needed fertiliser nor had to make any other expenditure, but our yield was double the present harvest.
Yes, we had much loss due to the dam. We were happy earlier…When the water level in Manchar Lake rose to 12 feet, then we were at a loss and entered a very bad phase of our life because all our employment opportunities dwindled. First, the higher water level in the lake…created water-logging on the land.
Afterwards, when the contaminated water from Chhadan (the Right Bank Outfall drain) was released…the whole lake turned poisonous. All the water sources were destroyed. Our cattle used to get their fodder from around Manchar; all that grass withered and all the crops were destroyed too. So not only was our agriculture destroyed, but our cattle died.
There was also a time when no drinking water was available here…Whenever we dug a well, it contained contaminated water. We were in great pain at that time. But now we are getting potable water…The World Bank provided 5 lakh rupees…, which helped the area to have a proper water supply…There is a well 3 to 4 miles from here. From there [drinking] water is brought into a tank in our village…
Even this water has changed. Initially it tasted better. In the second phase, it turned sour and now it has become more brackish and its taste has changed. But still [it] is far better than the water in Manchar which is totally brackish… [But] it has effects and people suffer from gastroenteritis, stomach ailments and fever. Livestock also fall ill due to this water…
We go to Bhobak and Bhan Saeedabad [for treatment]… If we don’t have money then we go to the government hospital. However, if we have some money then we prefer go to a private hospital, because in a government hospital medicines are not available. [The government hospital] charges 10 rupees; a private hospital charges 30-50 rupees and also gives injections. [We take women] to the private hospital, but there is no lady doctor there. The government hospital has a lady doctor but she comes rarely…
It is a fact [that many have died]. In our goth (village) there was some awareness among the people [about water-borne disease]…[they] buy Nimkol (oral rehydration salts) from their own pocket and take a little care. This is one of the reasons why we were saved from this havoc.
“The government does not pay any attention”
From a very early age I used to think about getting employment or doing some business and leading a good life. I was inclined towards doing something for the masses, or for the country, or taking these issues to higher authorities. I had this degree of awareness at that time – but I could not do all that because I could not study.
I always think about why our area is lagging behind other parts of the country? Why are our rights not extended to us? Why we are given this contaminated water? Sometimes we think that Pakistan does not consider us Pakistani.
The government does not pay any attention to our area… All people living here are human beings but why they are not giving us our rights? Our lands have been inundated by the dam since 1975. But why we were never given compensation for this land?
The only solution is to drain out water from Manchar, whether you release it into the river or into the sea or construct another outfall drain. As the new tributary is being made, the government should speed up this work and construct another tributary through which fresh water can be released into Manchar. When there is fresh water in Manchar it will make our country prosperous. Grass will grow and so will cattle.
This will also rehabilitate our land. The water comes from tributaries and the lakes in Baluchistan… This water has poison in it because all those areas are saline. Secondly, the pesticides and fertilisers they use also contain poison. This fertiliser gives power to the crops but it burns all the aquatic plants…all this agricultural waste is entering Manchar Lake through these tributaries…
The water level in the Indus River is quite high. If we release water from Manchar gradually then it will not have any effect on the river water. Experts came here who told us that…The government is also thinking on the same lines …Water can be drained out from Manchar Lake. [If they do not, then] the water level in Manchar will rise further and it will also be contaminated further. God forbid if the lake dam ever broke – it would bring great destruction to the area…
Migrating for work
The major problem is unemployment… Agricultural and business opportunities in the area have ceased to exist… All these problems have increased psychological troubles. If there were only five family members in the past, that number has now grown to 10. Their expenses have increased. This in turn has increased mental tension and illnesses…
I went to Karachi, Hyderabad and Quetta. I went to Quetta in 2001. People from our area went to hunt fish on a lake in Afghanistan. We went there due to the presence of our own village mates there. [But] it only has mountains, so we did not like it… Employment was available, but it was for a short period…[just] three months in winter. Then the heat escalated and since the water was also brackish, all the fish died.
A much higher cost of living
We cooked rice and meat [at our] wedding according to our economic status. At that time, we were poor but we spent 20 to 25 rupees thousand on the wedding… An estimated 400 people feasted at that time [but now this] will cost 60,000-70,000 rupees…
One of my brother’s wedding was done in a very simple manner because we had become poor…the meat for the guests was from our own cattle, while we bought rice and other things, which must have cost us at the most 5000 rupees… everything is very expensive now, including grain.
Since the government has made everything expensive, costs have increased. Oil prices have also increased… In 1991, it used to be sold for 8.50 rupees while now it has risen to 45 to 46 rupees. At that time, the price of diesel was 3 to 4 rupees per litre and now it is sold for 31 rupees… When the oil prices escalate, automatically other things become expensive.
The medicine which we used to buy for 5 rupees now costs 50 rupees… If things are sold cheaply, then our life will get better. Even if we have no employment…we will get a lot of benefits.
Tension and anxiety
Usually in a village, people take three meals a day, but we take only two and most of the people here eat in the same manner… If a guest comes, then we serve fish. But since fish has become expensive, we do not eat it very often. One kg of fish is sold for 100 rupees, so it is beyond our reach. We buy [meat on Eid]…We try for all the family members to have new clothes at Eid (Muslim festival to celebrate the end of Ramadan) but still some are left [without].
Our childhood was better [than our childrens’]. This is a period of tension now, while we had no tension in our time. There were good crop yields… But people are living in a lot of trouble now and peace [of mind] is totally non-existent… the needs of life are not met.
In the past, if a person did not earn for five days, it would not have made any difference, but now… if [a man] remains jobless for five days, it will ruin his household…
News doesn’t relate to reality
We listen to BBC news bulletins most frequently, because it tells us about the international situation and what is happening in other countries. We think a lot [about the news] but what difference does it make? The only reason we listen is for news like “the government has announced a scheme for the development of this area” – which makes us really happy.
A lot of such news is broadcast, but never implemented. For example, news like they will construct a lake and will also provide us with sweet water… Sometimes a new president takes over and we pin our hopes on him for our development. [What happens?] Some works are accomplished while the rest remains as it is…
I read the newspapers very rarely… In this small goth (village) one person reads out the newspaper and at least 10 people listen to him. This is how people get to know about what is happening in the world.
Political relationships and broken promises
The People’s Party (PPP) has more influence here. An MPA (Member of Provincial Assembly) of the People’s Party has influence and people also like him. Some are also his opponents but both kinds of people are nice. Half of the people are associated with the Muslim League. The leaders of the Muslim League in the area include our sardars (head of tribe or community)….
If we speak in terms of caste and tribes, then the sardars have more influence on people. Buzdars are in a minority while Rodhnanis (our caste) are in majority. Mallah (fishermen) are also numerous and most of them are affiliated with the PPP because PPP get the fishermen to do many of their jobs and so they are inclined towards this party.
Often it happens that if a person has won from this area once, then he will not be able to win next time because the people’s work is not done, so their trust in him is shattered. Next year, they would say that since he has not done their work they will vote for someone else. Then the next candidate will complete his tenure and again next year he will not be able to win, so another person will contest the election because people’s problems have not been resolved.
If the government works properly, people get justice, development is done and people’s problems are solved…But the problem is that candidates – after winning the election – care less for people, and say “Our job is accomplished”…
Needs and rights
Our basic problem is water, which has destroyed our agriculture and killed our cattle… Secondly, some industry should be established here so that poor people could get some employment… There is no factory or mill…
Some of [my old school friends] are leading a miserable life. Two or three have become teachers while some of them are fishing. Some of them have become tenant farmers. Some of them have gone to Dubai or Saudi Arabia for labouring work. The last ones are happier than us.
Expense is a common issue, but if we get sweet water the people in the Taluqa [district of] Sehwan, Juhi and Dadu will become happy. One bag of wheat now costs 1000 rupees; if we grew our own crops again then our life would improve.
[Finally,] the government has not provided us with compensation as yet, as it has in other areas. This compensation is our right… the Chief Minister Sindh announced that the government will give us a 10% compensatory amount. But even that is not provided to us.
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.