LIFE IN PAKISTAN
Rebecca Conway of Reuters wrote: “Pakistanis are beset by problems — violence, crippling power cuts, poverty and dilapidated hospitals are but a few The government, seen as inept and corrupt, offers little relief. Many people think their suffering is inflicted by evil spirits intent on destroying marriage prospects, businesses and health, and that only Sufi saints can help. [Source: Rebecca Conway, Reuters, December 20, 2011]
Substantial disparities exist in living conditions between urban areas and the countryside where over two-thirds of Pakistan's people live. According to “Governments of the World”: In Pakistan “perhaps the most significant cleavage is between urban and rural citizens. The quality of life in Pakistan is heavily correlated with the urban-rural divide: On every important dimension, urban citizens are better off than their rural counterparts. Urban residents are more likely to be literate, their children are more likely to be enrolled in school, and they are more likely to have access to safe drinking water and reliable electricity. [Source: Governments of the World: A Global Guide to Citizens' Rights and Responsibilities, Thomson Gale, 2006]
“The majority of Pakistan's middle class lives in urban areas, whereas a disproportionate number of its poor live in the countryside. This urban-rural difference presents a major challenge to the government in formulating and implementing development policies. For example, although overall literacy in Pakistan is 44 percent, this figure masks a disparity of approximately 26 percent between urban and rural residents. Similarly, the overall poverty rate is 33 percent, but a 10 percent difference exists between urban and rural poverty rates.”
High Food Prices Roil Pakistan
Percentage of income spent on food in Pakistan: 44.5 percent [Source: Washington State University ( wsu.edu/researcher/WSMaug ; Vox vox.com ]
In February 2008, Pakistani Sheikh Rashid Ahmed blamed his party’s loss in parliamentary poll not on sectarian violence, terrorism or the war in Afghanistan but "because people were angry over the fact atta [flour] was not available, that food prices were high, and due to this they felt insecure." [Source: Simon Robinson, Time, February 27, 2008]
Simon Robinson wrote in Time: “Pakistanis have been grumbling about rising inflation for more than a year now, but in the past few months the sticker shock has grown much worse. Wheat prices have jumped by more than 20 percent since November, driven up by rising global prices as well as local hoarding ahead of the election and wheat smuggling into neighboring Afghanistan. The price of the gas that many Pakistanis use to cook with has also skyrocketed. January's inflation rate was nearly 12 percent, the highest in almost three years.
“Basic foodstuffs are now so expensive and scarce that people have begun queuing for hours at government stores, where it is cheaper because of subsidies. When those same people lined up to cast their ballot last week, many of them apparently voted against Musharraf's ruling party. "It played a very important role," says Saeed Chaudhry, an economics lecturer at the National University of Modern Languages. "Hungry people are not happy people."
Dealing with High Food Prices in Pakistan
Sidra Mushtaq, wrote on worldbank.org: “In the last three or four years, there has been a sharp rise in food prices in Gujrat, Pakistan, where I live — especially for commonly needed products such as wheat, sugar, vegetables, fruits, and grains. My neighbors and friends say their incomes can’t keep up with food and oil prices, so they are reducing their daily food intake. Before this food price spike, they ate three times a day, now it’s twice. [Source: Sidra Mushtaq, .worldbank.org, March 1, 2012]
“Meat is more expensive than milk and bread. Many people say that now they are not in a position to afford meat twice in a week. People are buying cheaper food rather than expensive nutritious items. One of my friends said she loved to eat salads, but now it's rare to enjoy a salad. Some poor people are now in extreme trouble, and they can’t pay the school fees of their children.
“Even better-off people are cutting back. One of my friends said that before food was so expensive, she considered herself to be part of the middle income class, and now she is in the lower-income category. Most of her income is used to purchase groceries. My uncle has diabetes, but has stopped his visits to the doctor. He doesn’t have money for medicine. His money is either spent on food, rent or transportation.
“My own family no longer goes to restaurants for lunch or dinner as we once did. We don’t have enough money for recreational activities. We are reducing our expenditures on luxuries, such as jewelry, electronics, dining, traveling, and clothes. Personally, I buy less fruit despite its nutritional value because it is expensive. Now, I grow food in my backyard. This season I grew garlic, coriander, spinach and radishes.
“I’m not growing enough food to provide a full meal for a family of seven. There are other grocery items, such as vegetables, I have to purchase from the market. But since vegetables are expensive, I am planning to grow some of my own soon. Other neighbors are also growing their own food. It helps them become self-sufficient, and to protect themselves against the surge in food prices. Sometimes, if there is extra crop, they share it with their relatives and neighbors.
“People can’t live without food. It’s essential. In times of high food prices, we should eat as simple and nutritious foods as possible. Places that throw away and waste food should be banned, and the consumption of luxurious food items should be discouraged. How are others coping with high food prices? Do you have innovative solutions?”
Sugar Shortage Causes Big Uproar in Pakistan
In 2009, Pakistan suffered a huge sugar shortage — even though it produces lots of the stuff. Growers said the shortage was the result of a drought; consumers blamed it on politics and greed. Sugar prices surged ahead of Ramadan when Pakistanis traditionally eat more sweet dishes to break their daily fast at dusk. Authorities say there was no shortage of sugar in the country and blamed hoarders for creating an “artificial crisis.” But things got so bad, Pakistan’s prime minister ordered his cook to stop making sweet dishes as part of a drive to bring down the price of sugar. [Source: Reuters, September 10, 2009]
Reporting from Kanjwani, Pamela Constable wrote in Washington Post: “From the busy and bucolic scene in this Punjab province village, it is hard to tell that Pakistan is in the throes of a national sugar crisis. Fields of tall green cane line the roads, and flatbed trucks piled with ripe stalks head for a modern mill that steadily crushes tons of cane into refined white crystals. [Source: Pamela Constable, Washington Post, November 28, 2009]
“But 200 miles north, in the crowded and chaotic city of Rawalpindi, the frustration of people waiting in long lines for emergency sugar rations often erupts into tirades against the government, the hoarders, the black marketeers and especially the wealthy families that dominate Pakistan's lucrative sugar industry. "Without sugar, my children will be crying when I get home. It is all because of strong people, the big owners and traders who have a lot of influence," said Syed Inayat, 40, a trash collector who was waiting for his sugar ration outside a government store one recent morning.
“Half a century ago, a sugar shortage helped bring down Pakistan's military regime. For the past four months, a similar shortage has led to skyrocketing prices and empty market shelves, sending consumers and officials into a panic. The protracted drama has been marked by riots and protests, arrests and raids, accusations of price-fixing and hoarding, rationed distribution in cities and direct intervention by the Supreme Court.
Pakistan is a nation of unabashed sugarholics, who heap the crystals in their breakfast tea and devour cakes at every special occasion. Sugar may be far less important to the national diet than wheat or cooking oil, but it looms much larger in the national psyche. And although Pakistan's judiciary is often viewed as a handmaiden of the ruling rural elites, the courts have stepped into the fray on behalf of consumers. The Supreme Court, headed by crusading Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, has upheld a September ruling by a Punjab court capping the retail price of sugar at about 25 cents a pound.
Struggling During Pakistan’s Sugar Shortage
Reporting from Gujar Khan, Alex Rodriguez wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “The women stood belly to back in a line that curled from underneath a canopy and into the withering sunshine, elbowing and shoving to keep their place. They waited for more than three hours until finally a huddle of men began unloading from a van what the gathering desperately wanted: sugar. [Source: Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times, September 23, 2009|]
Some would pay 40 rupees, about 48 cents, for just over 2 pounds of sugar and walk away beaming. Others would arrive too late and resign themselves to returning the next day. "I come here every day but can't get any sugar," said Perveen Akhtar, 60, shouting above the market din in this northern Punjab city. "I've been waiting here for three hours. Why is this happening? Ask the people in high places."
“Pakistanis like their tea sweet and often, and without sugar their daily routine just isn't the same. But prices have soared as sugar mills allegedly hoard supplies, leading to chaotic lines at distribution points and another headache for the government. For a country wrapped up in an existential battle against extremists, the sugar crisis has attained unusual prominence. The issue dominates front pages and leads off newscasts. The timing factors heavily into the play; the shortages hit during the holy month of Ramadan, which ended over the weekend, when people savor a sweet cup of tea after their daily fast. It is also a time when Pakistanis, most of whom are poor, save whatever money they can to buy gifts and entertain, making special desserts, during Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan.
“The people lined up in Gujar Khan were just as pessimistic. Though the Lahore High Court has stepped into the fray and fixed the retail price of sugar at 40 rupees per kilogram, or 2.2 pounds, sugar remains scarce. "I've been coming here every day for the past month, and only once did I get sugar," said Sabir Hussain, 75, who had stood in a separate line for men for 3 1/2 hours. "I have six daughters and 16 grandchildren in my house. Our family is huge . . . I just hope we get sugar today."
Outdoor Barber in Pakistan
Reporting from Islamabad, Alex Rodriguez wrote in the Los Angeles Times: The barber's mirror hangs on tree limbs lashed together to make a vanity. His customers wait their turns sitting on cinder blocks. His floor is not black-and-white checkerboard linoleum, but a patch of dirt. A tarp suspended by branches keeps his clients from getting drenched during the monsoons. Call it a shave and a haircut, two bits — Pakistani style. In this country, the barber, the masseuse, the moneychanger and the shoemaker often ply their trades wherever their bare, calloused feet take them. That can be a boulevard median, a knoll overlooking a highway, a thicket of trees in a city park. [Source: Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times, October 12, 2010]
“Ali has been cutting hair in his little corner of the forest for about a year. Across the street, a camp of paramilitary troops was attacked by a suicide bomber four months before Ali arrived. The camp could get hit again, he says, and that bothers him. City officials came to his barber chair last year and suggested he move to a safer location. "They didn't force me to leave, but they said, 'Take care, watch your surroundings, and don't take unknown people as customers,' " Ali says. "Yes, there's always that fear of working in areas that could be a potential target for terrorism." But there's also the fear of not knowing where your next rupee will be coming from. So Ali stayed.
“Ali's father and grandfather were barbers. His two brothers are barbers — one has a shop and the other prefers the open spaces, as Ali does. Ali, 28, works from 9 a.m. until dusk, seven days a week for a pittance that's just enough to feed his family. I ask how he copes with the contrasts of Pakistani weather — late summer monsoon downpours that pound the city with sheets of rain, 110-degree heat that bakes the capital in midsummer. Ali shrugs. The only time he shuts down is if a squall is fierce enough to topple his set-up. "If the storm is very big, I close. Otherwise, no problems."
“Before I leave, I ask whether the city ever gives him guff for working outdoors like this. Technically, Ali and the other Pakistanis who conduct their businesses in open spaces, outside of commercial districts, are breaking the law, he says. But it's a law local authorities almost never enforce. "City authorities don't take action against people like me," he says, "because they figure we are poor people. They say, 'Let them do their business, and make a little money.' "
Getting a Haircut from an Outdoor Barber in Pakistan
Reporting from Islamabad, Alex Rodriguez wrote in the Los Angeles Times:For Nasir Ali, a grove of trees wedged between a playground and a tony neighborhood of balconied, marble-floor homes makes the perfect spot for his tattered vinyl barber chair. His customers aren't the Pakistani elite or khaki-clad Western diplomats who live in those homes, but their gardeners, guards, cooks and servants. They can afford Ali's price: 30 Pakistani rupees, about 35 cents. It fits my budget too, so I stride down a dirt path to Ali's alfresco salon, where armies of ants scurry through the clumps of black hair encircling the barber chair. "Collar length in the back, short on the sides, a bit longer on top," I tell him. "Rough cut?" "Okay," I say, "rough cut." Whatever that means. [Source: Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times, October 12, 2010]
“For the sake of speed, he keeps chitchat to a minimum and forsakes the "Please sir, move your head forward" coddling you get at a salon. Stiff finger jabs to the sides and back of the head get immediate results. When asked why he works so fast, Ali thrusts his comb toward a long row of laborers in dirty tunics waiting their turn. "That's why," he says. Nearly finished, Ali picks up a yellow-handled straight razor, puts in a new blade from an old car wax container and shaves the back of my neck.... Ali's done. There's no blow-dry, no gel, not even a hand mirror to check the back of my head. But that's all right. I hand him 30 rupees...I glance in the mirror and like what I see. But the true test comes at home, when my wife sizes up the new look. "Wow," she says with a grin. "You look just like a Pakistani!"
Cities and Urban Area in Pakistan
Urban population: 37.2 percent of total population (2020). About 68 percent of the population lived in rural areas in 1994, a decrease of 7 percent since 1970. In contrast, the number of people living in urban areas has risen substantially, resulting in an urban growth rate of 4.6 percent between 1980 and 1991. [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020 =]
Rate of urbanization: 2.53 percent annual rate of change (2015-20 est.). The second, rate of urbanization, describes the projected average rate of change of the size of the urban population over the given period of time. =
Major Cities (estimated population in 2020): Karachi: 16 million; Lahore: 12.6 million; Faisalbad: 3.5 million; Gujranwala: 2.229 million; Hyderabad: 1.73 million; Rawalpindi: 2.23 million; Islamabad (capital): 1.13 million. All these cities have twice the population or more they had in the 1990s. Estimated population in 1990: Karachi: 7 million; Lahore: 3.5 million; Faisalbad: 2.1 million; Hyderabad: 795,000: Rawalpindi, 928,000. Other Cities: Peshawar, Bahawalpur, Multan, Quetta, Sargodha, Sialkot and Sukkur. Islamabad and adjacent Rawalpindi comprise the national capital area with a combined population, including nearby towns, of roughly 4.7 million.
Rapid urbanization has led cities to grow into mega-cities such as Karachi and Lahore. Cities in Pakistan include These include Karachi, Hyderabad and Sukkur in Sindh; Faisalabad, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Gujranwala, Sialkot and Multan in the Punjab; Mardan, Peshawar and D.I. Khan in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa; and Quetta, Gawadar, Zhob and Khuzdar in Balochistan. Small towns have also expanded to absorb the rural influx. [Source: Ministry of Culture, Pakistan pakistanculture.org ]
Urban Life in Pakistan
Like many third world cities, Karachi and other large cities in Pakistan are being swallowed up by an influx of migrants from the countryside. In many cases a man finds a job in the city and after he establishes himself there he is joined by his wife and children, then nephews and uncles and other extended family members, who in turn establish themselves and are joined by their families and extended families.
People than afford them have their own generators in case of local power failures. Pedestrians and motorist have to be careful of holes. Manhole covers are stolen and sold for scrap metal. Pakistani cities are always changing; you walk past a huge mansion and then turn a corner and see goats feeding on a pile of rubbish.
Migration to the cities by people in search for work has caused great overcrowding, which in turn has caused great stress on city infrastructure. According to “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”: “The rapid increase in urbanization, coupled with the rising population, has added to the housing shortage in urban areas. About 25 percent of the people in large cities live in katchi abadis (shantytowns). Under the 1986–90 program, the residents in the katchi abadis were to be given proprietary rights. In 1987, the National Housing Authority was created to coordinate the upgrading of the existing katchi abadis and prevent the growth of new ones. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007]
Some urban poor don’t have running water. A typical resident of a katchi abidi is a women and two daughters who work as housemaids in Karachi and earn about US$100 a month. Half that goes for rent; the rest goes for food and water Many spend all their money on expenses and don’t have much to send back to their villages. They are vulnerable to rises in basic foodstuffs.
Karachi: the Instant City
Akbar Ahmed wrote in the Washington Post: “My first memory is of a train journey from Delhi to Karachi in August 1947. I was 4 years old, and our family, along with hundreds of thousands of other Muslim refugees, was heading to the new country of Pakistan....For us, Karachi symbolized hope and optimism. Almost overnight, it seemed, the city grew from a small, sleepy coastal town of a few hundred thousand people to the sprawling metropolis of about 13 million that it is today... The actual population may well be much larger because many residents are reluctant to register with the administration or don’t give full details of their family, while others live there only temporarily. [Source: Akbar Ahmed, Washington Post, October 14, 2011. Ahmed is a professor of Islamic Studies at American University]
In his book ‘Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi’, Steve Inskeep “writes with dramatic flair. He introduces us to the city through a day in its life and, because this is Karachi, the day is a violent one: December 28, 2009, when Sunnis attacked a Shia procession. The sequence of events reads like a movie script. Tension builds as people plan for the religious procession. Yet we are aware that it will end badly. The devotees wear coffin sheets draped over their shoulders with “mourning or martyrdom” written on them. They are saying to the world, you would have to kill us in order to prevent us from joining this procession. It is known that Sunni groups want to stop the procession, and in the explosions that follow 30 people are killed and hundreds wounded. This of course immediately triggers retaliatory attacks, and Karachi is once again caught up in a cycle of violence.
“In this way we are introduced to the people who form the character of Karachi society. We meet, among many others, the saintly Abdul Sattar Edhi, who inspires Karachi with his humanitarian actions; Altaf Hussain, who dominates Karachi politics with his power base among the refugees from India; the young public intellectual Fatima Bhutto, who boldly challenges a politicial power structure that includes members of her own clan; and critics of the United States such as Islamic party activist Assadullah Bhutto, who while politely pouring Inskeep a cup of tea, claims that the United States is behind the terrorist acts in Pakistan.
“Karachi may no longer be the capital of Pakistan, but it remains the nation’s largest city and seaport, as well as its economic powerhouse. It is easy to forget its glory days. Inskeep relates the facinating story of how, in the late 1950s, the famous Greek architect Constantinos Doxiadis helped plan the city. But even Doxiadis’s vision and energy could not prevent the city from continuing to expand to the point of unmanagable chaos. Inskeep quotes the architect as saying that cities everywhere are becoming dystopias. Nor could Doxiadis have foreseen the nonstop flood of people arriving from elsewhere in Pakistan and the region.
“After the breakup of Pakistan in 1971 and the creation of Bangladesh, hundreds of thousands of people migrated to Karachi; and from the 1980s onward, Afghans poured into the city fleeing the war in Afghanistan as a result of the Soviet occupation and later the emergence of the Taliban. Karachi became an abode of every kind of South Asian ethnic group, and its ownership remains contested. Unlike the other great coastal cities of the subcontinent — Mumbai, Calcutta and Madras — in recent decades Karachi has been caught up in a downward spiral of violence that constantly threatens to tear it apart.
“The Karachi of my childhood has changed. Its beaches are destroyed, its old elegant houses have been converted into ugly high-rise apartment blocks, and its open spaces have been sold by corrupt government officials to developers. The city is mired in violence of every kind — ethnic, political and sectarian. Its administration is broken, and its politicians are seen as corrupt, but Karachi has a big, courageous and even generous heart. The vitality and resolve of its remarkable citizens remain undimmed.
Book: ‘Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi’ by Steve Inskeep (The Penguin Press, 2011)
Katchi Abadi (Slum) in Karachi
A kachi abadi is a slum or shanty town. Describing one near N.I.P.A. Chowrangi, Karachi, Syeda Arooma Zehra Naqvi of Habib University wrote It’s underneath the Bridge that further leads towards Aladdin Amusement Park, right apposite to Sindbad Amusement Park and adjacent to a high rise apartment building. [Source: Syeda Arooma Zehra Naqvi, Habib University]
“The kachi abadi is formed on another one of those many abandoned government plots found around Karachi which were originally meant for the construction of a mosque, park or public place but then were forgotten and now are occupied illegally by people who have nowhere else to go. Karachi is without a doubt the largest metropolitan city in Pakistan and with the rate of people coming to Karachi from rural areas in search for jobs, there is a constant rise in demand for affordable housing, hence there is a great increase in these kachi abadis and makeshift living lodges or jhuggis (slums) as they are called in the local language. The kachi abadi is spread over quite a large area with many small houses packed together.
“The ‘houses’ are separated from each other by more straw mats supported by a few beams here and there. A chaddar which is hung on a rope serves as a gate. There are no lanes or streets it’s just a bunch of small makeshift houses placed haphazardly, most of the houses are similar to Rukaiya’s, a single room where the family sleeps in at night and a small bathroom. Some houses lack a bathroom so they share it with their neighbors. The electricity that they have is due to the illegal power tapping called locally as Kundey lagana, to put it simply it’s just that they take electricity from power lines and do not pay for it.”
People Who Live in a Katchi Abadi in Karachi
Syeda Arooma Zehra Naqvi of Habib University wrote: My guide for the day is my maid Rukaiya and her husband Jameel. They are originally from a small village in South Punjab, they define themselves as Saraiki however they can understand and speak Urdu. Rukaiya came to Karachi around ten years ago for a better life for her children and stayed here since. She has lived in different places all over Karachi over the course of ten years, they’ve been evicted multiple times sometimes because they were illegal inhabitants and other times because they couldn’t afford the rent so the landowner threw them out. She’s been living in this kachi abadi for two years’ now, I’m desperately searching for a cheap place to rent Rukaiya tells me, this place isn’t safe for us there are heroinchis in this area she tells me. Underneath the bridge after nightfall it’s a place for all people of this sort to gather and waste their time playing on snooker tables and taking drugs. Rukaiya particularly tells me about this boy who got in this stuff and is a complete mess now. She doesn’t want the same stuff to happen to her own kids. [Source: Syeda Arooma Zehra Naqvi, Habib University]
“Rukaiya has 7 kids the oldest one is a 14-year-old daughter named Atiya. Atiya is getting married very soon to her cousin. Rukaiya remarks happily about her to-be Son in law, he’s a farmer in Punjab and quite well off, Atiya will settle happily into the village after her marriage she won’t even have to work. “I don’t want my kids to have a life like me, that’s why I’m struggling, to give them a good life.” She says while cradling her newborn, the seventh kid to the ever growing family. While we’re talking, her kids are playing around us, dressed in dirty hand me down clothes and barefooted. They are scrawny and skinny looking. Why do you have so many kids if you can’t feed them all properly? I ask her. If we have more kids, we’ll have more people to bring in money she tells me.
“Jameel nowadays works as a daytime security guard in a nearby colony. But the job is not permanent, he’s substituting for a friend. When that friend comes back from his gaon Jameel would have to search for a new job. With all this crisis at hand there is another very pressing issue that worries Jameel and Rukaiya. They have to make jahez for Atiya too. Jahez is very important in order to ensure that Atiya gets to live a good and respected lives with her in laws. Rukaiya and her husband, Jameel have been working on it for months and have gathered quite a lot of stuff. “I Just hope all this stays safe.” Rukaiya remarks worriedly and narrates an incident that occurred six months ago. Six months ago there was a fire which completely burned down some of the houses. In the fire a woman lost all the jahez she had collected for her daughter’s marriage, the daughter’s in laws after learning about this incident refused to marry. Rukaiya doesn’t want that sort of thing to happen to her daughter.
“Rukaiya also talks about some of her family issues and problems with me. She tells me about the problems her sister is facing in her married life due to a thing called as vatta satta. It’s basically a form of marriage common in their families. Rukaiya’s sister and brother were both married into the same families. Now her brother has divorced his wife and because of that his sister’s marital life is in jeopardy as her husband is threatening to divorce her (because his sister was divorced by her brother). As a result of these issues there is a whole family tussle going on. These things keep going on baji she tells me. But if these issues are so prevalent why do you people still do vatta satta? I ask her. She just replies with a shrug that it’s still the only way to ensure a good married life. They are doing what they can to survive and stay alive and teaching their kids the same as well. They haven’t yet found a way around all this.”
Residence of a Katchi Abadi in Karachi
Syeda Arooma Zehra Naqvi of Habib University wrote: “Rukaiya’s house consists of just a single small room made of mud and straw mats and a sheet of iron placed on top to serve as a roof, another very small room which is not more than 4 feet in length and breadth is right next to the relatively bigger room and that serves as a bathroom. The kitchen is outside which is basically just a wood stove on which she cooks and a few utensils placed around it. There is small area in one corner which she explains is the washing area, the plumbing and the water is a huge issue for the people living here but they have to cope with it for now. [Source: Syeda Arooma Zehra Naqvi, Habib University]
“The housing is very expensive in main areas of Karachi Jameel explains, even the rent is too much for us to give and the places where houses are cheap they’re too far away and a lot of money goes in to the transport. They can’t afford that. Most of the men living in this kachi abadi are temporary laborers and the woman mostly work as maids. Most of the people living here are Saraiki Rukaiya tells me. All the people living in this kachi abadi have similar socio-economic standings as Rukaiya. And all the people here come from more or less the same back ground and mindset as Rukaiya and Jameel. They don’t know how long will they be allowed to stay here, when will the KMC come and evict them again. Other than that the day to day life for the people here is a complete struggle.
“Jameel tells about how hard it is for them when it rains, he recalls to a few weeks back when the thunderstorms nearly flooded Karachi. It was devastating he says, everything came down because of the rain and the high speed winds. Their houses became filled with water, they didn’t had electricity for a full day, in a few cases the iron sheets serving as roofs also came down, they couldn’t sleep for the whole night, the kids were scared and they couldn’t do anything to help them, Jameel says with a look of helplessness on his face. In days like these it’s the hardest for them to live.”
Bustling Karachi Market Area
Describing one of Karachi’s main markets, Shizza Malik of Habib University wrote: “Bahadurabad market is bustling with human activity. Rickshaws trickle up and down the roads as cars huddle near the shops. Pavements are lined with plastic chairs and tables seated near various food outlets. It is cramped and humid, but once in a while a cool wind will blow, carrying scents of various masalas all distinctly local. Smoke will occasionally rise from the barbeque grills and tandoors, an advertisement more effective than any billboard. The streets spill with waste and people from every crevice of every corner. Small block-like frames lit by a single bulb stand independent of other structures selling cigarettes and chewing gum among other items. No one is without purpose; some are here to shop, some to sell and some to beg. [Source: Shizza Malik, Habib University]
“Upon delving deeper into the market, one finds different languages (predominantly, Sindhi) and accents in conversation. The main form of interaction would at first sight seem to be between the customer and the salesman, but this is not always the case. The exchange is mainly a formality for interaction; people buy what they wish but choose to stay longer to mingle amongst the crowd. On approaching a food truck that served dosa, a conversation ensues with the owner which gave me vital information that coincides with the history of this place. “This truck has been here for 15 years, and so have I. My eldest son works at the station now, while I just take care of the customers with my youngest.” Dosa is an ancient Tamil dish that came here with the Hyderabadi Muslim population after partition....I am one of three women in a male-majority area. Examining the street shows that the only space women have claimed for themselves is within cars and air-conditioned restaurants alongside their spouses and children.”
“Towards the main market near the famous Charminar Chowrangi, an agitation settles in. Cars are on the move here, honking away at passersby and rickshaws. The smell of fuel and burning rubber dominates the atmosphere. A constant however, is the humidity and excess of commotion. What cuts through it all however, is the monument that stands proud in the middle of the roundabout; a structure of brick and clay surrounded by shrubs of greenery, all intricately composed to captivate.
“Further delving into the streets, excitement thrives in every dead end. Small tuck shops are selling fried street food in narrow stalls next to cloth merchants and tailors. Here, a vibrant splash of color finds the eye; every shopkeeper is busy engaging with potential buyers, rolling out pins of bright. A surprising shift in dynamic occurs; women are the primary customers, shopping independent of male escorts, while the salesmen do their best to sell their product. But these women are not easily deceived; their knowledge in textile and rates is second to none, so every once in a while, a heated debate can be overheard without even trying. Here, inside the fuss and animation, women have claimed a place for themselves where they commute without hesitation.
“When returning from the market, I decide to take a rickshaw towards Kokan Park, a place known for its communal activities. During the ride, several waste bins line the pavements, which remain unrelieved for what seemed like a couple of days. The noise of the rickshaw overrides all conscious effort to listen to the sounds of the area, while the thick smell of petroleum swallow all other aromas.
“Kokan Park is an anomaly in an area like Bahadurabad for many reasons, but mainly because of how clean it is. Even at an hour like 9 pm, it is easy to distinguish the lushness of the grass unpolluted by plastic or paper. A track runs along the park’s boundary where men and women can be observed walking and/or jogging – another reason as to why it seems alien. Here, no gender imbalance is seen as women and men both claim a single space for themselves, without exuding a sense of awkwardness by the presence of the opposite sex. Whereas some choose to sit on the benches lining the side of the park, others are seen enjoying sitting on the grass with their families and friends.”
Rural Life in Pakistan
Rural population: 62.8 percent (CIA World Factbook, 2020). According to the 1998 census, 67.5 percent of the population lived in rural areas. Only Sindh had roughly equal rural and urban populations (51.2 percent and 48.8 percent, respectively).
A typical Pakistani village consists of a pot-holed main road lined with open face shops, which in turn are surrounded by brick and cinderblock houses. One Karachi resident told National Geographic, "In the village where I am from, our elders are poor farmers. They think in terms of the village, and that's it."
Men traditionally do the planting and sowing. Women do the harvesting and gathering. Often, most of the electricity comes from portable generators. There are few jobs and girls get married at a very young age.
The Pashtuns (Pathans) are an ethnic group that live in western and southern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan and whose homeland is in the valleys of Hindu Kush. According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: “Pashtun belong to different clans and families with varying relationships to each other and differing social statuses. Pashtun migrated to different places during the 18th century due to their increasing population and lack of food, water, and grazing land for their animals. Many Pashtun of Afghanistan are not big landowners but make a living in agricultural fields despite having low incomes. Many groups of Pashtun along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan live nomadic lifestyles. [Source: revised by M. Kerr, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]
“Many Pashtuns suffer from a low standard of living, particularly due to the many years of conflict suffered by Afghanistan, beginning with the Soviet invasion in 1979. Many Pashtuns became refugees during these years of conflict and left for neighboring countries, particularly Pakistan where they were accepted by their co-ethnics. Since the removal of the Taliban from power in 2001, many of these Pashtun refugees are encouraged to return to Afghanistan but often find themselves in a worse living situation as the homes they left were destroyed or occupied. *\
On few that still follow the nomadic lifestyle, the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures” says: “Nomadic groups are primarily cattle herders who move with the seasons to follow pasture. They follow set routes and have traditional camping sites. Like the villages, camps are structured around the tents of the senior lineages. In the traditional style nomadic tents are woven from black goat's hair and supported by posts or arched poles and guy ropes. [Source: Akbar S. Ahmed with Paul Titus “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1996 |~|]
The Baloch, also know the Balochi, Baluch or Baluchi, are an ethnic group that live primarily in the sandy plains, deserts and barren mountains of southeast Iran, southwest Pakistan and southern Afghanistan. The Baloch have traditionally been forced by their harsh environment to be nomads. They need to escape the extremes of hot and cold and find water and grass for their flocks of sheep and goats has required them to be on the move. One of the primary traditional migration routes is between the Kalat highlands and the Kacchi plain in the east.
Most Baloch have traditionally lived a semi-nomadic existence: occupying permanent mountain and valley settlements most the summer and migrating to plains and coastal areas in search of pasture for their animals in the winter.
Goats are kept for their skins and hair. Their give Baloch camps their distinctive appearance. Sheep provide wool for the clothes and rugs and meat. Camels and donkeys are kept as beasts of burden, with the wealthiest tribesmen possessing horses, with horse racing being their passion,
Camels have traditionally been allowed to wander a bit while donkeys have been kept closer to home. An old Baloch saying goes: “If you see a donkey, you’ve found a camp, if you see a camel you’re lost.”
One desert plant the is exploited is a dwarf palm called pesh. It contains a heart that can be eaten and produces a fiber that the Baloch put to a number of different uses,
The Baltis are the inhabitants of Baltistan in the area of K2 mountain in far northern Pakistan. They are interesting in that are a Muslim people of Tibetan descent. Most Balti homes are heated by dung or wood fires. Many dwelling don't have a chimney to prevent the heat from a fire from escaping. Thus there is a lot of smoke. Years of exposure to smoke and fumes has to lead to high incidence of lung and eye diseases
The Baltis eat lots of roti (unleavened bread) and drink tea flavored with pepper. They keep goats and cattle for cheese and curd. Fuel comes from fire wood and animal dung. It is a common sight to see people walking around with huge bundles of firewood strapped to their backs.
Baltis in the town of Askole often spend most of their day on the roofs of their houses performing chores like spinning wool and sifting grain, and socializing. Possession of property is handed down from father to son which dispenses with the paper work. [Source: Galen Rowell, National Geographic, October 1987 ♦]
Many of the mountain trails in Baltistan wind along sheer cliffs. To construct the trails where there is only cliff logs and timbers are wedged into cracks in the side of the cliff so that the logs stick out. Stones and dirt are then placed on the logs. As you can imagine these trails are quite treacherous. While journalist Galen Rowell was in Baltistan writing a story five Baltis fell to their death. Bridges spanning rivers are made of twisted together twine. [Source: Galen Rowell, National Geographic, October 1987 ♦]
Road building in Baltistan is slow and dangerous. On the main highway from Islamabad to Skardu hundreds of laborers have lost their life, most of them swept away by landslides. The dirt for the roads is moved with shovels and stone foundations are laid by hand. When the roads are completed it not unusual for them to collapse under the weight of a fully loaded truck.♦
The Kalash (Kalasha) is a tiny group of animists living in Pakistan near the Afghanistan border in the Birir, Bumburet and Rambur valleys off of the Chitral Valley in the North-West Frontier Province. The Kalash grow wheat and corn. They make a special bread with goat cheese and crushed walnuts. In the 1980s, they found it amusing that Americans bought their food in stores. [Source: Debra Denker, National Geographic, October 1981]
The Kalash love to drink wine and sing. Many of their songs have sexually explicit lyrics. The local Kalash wine is not strong and the bottles are corked with corncobs. It is thick and sweet and like ancient Greeks, the Kalash drink it diluted with water.
In the 1980s, few Kalash were educated in local Muslim schools. Those that were often had to commute 16 kilometers to school and put up with teachers telling them: "Stand up and read the lesson dirty Kalash." In recent years some schools for Kalash children to attend have been set up.
The Kalash dislike cutting trees which they believe are inhabited by spirits. Since many of their gods are thought to be invisible the are often depicted with drawings of a horse. The horse is the invisible god's mount.
Property of Modern Feudal Family
New Jatoi, a farming village about 200 kilometers northeast of Karachi, is named after the Jatoi family who have run the town and the around it since 1740, according to Jatoi. John Lancaster wrote in the Washington Post: “The Jatois initially drew their authority from provincial tribal rulers. In return for 120,000 acres of prime farmland, the family enforced the law and collected taxes over an area of roughly 200 square miles — a writ that was extended and strengthened under British rule. Since independence, the family's holdings have shrunk by three-fourths — a land reform initiative in 1958 took 45,000 acres — but its influence remains strong. It commands the allegiance of 400 to 500 lesser landlords as well as 1,200 armed "loyalists," according to Jatoi, whose status as eldest son entitles him to the exalted status of khan. Perhaps more important, the family runs its own political party and is represented in both the national and provincial legislatures. "Basically, we are born rulers in one way or another, so to retain power, this is the only way," said Jatoi, who spent two years at San Jacinto College in Texas and has a brother in the upper house of Parliament. . "I think we have had a positive role in rural society. We have got the roads made, the schools made, the hospitals made." [Source: John Lancaster, Washington Post, April 8, 2003]
“A day and a half in his company provided ample evidence that the trappings of feudalism remain very much intact. With a home in Karachi, where his wife and four children live, Jatoi spends alternate weeks at Jatoi House, a gracious, single-story brick home that his forebears built next to the family mosque in 1931. Touring the family lands, Jatoi stopped first at the home of an uncle, a big-game hunter who keeps his property stocked with deer, peacocks and crocodiles. Next door, another uncle is building a 20,000-square-foot mansion surrounded by a massive turreted wall intended as protection against dacoits, as bandits are known .
“After crossing the Indus, Jatoi piloted his Toyota through fields of bananas and wheat before arriving at dusk at his hunting lodge, where servants had prepared a lavish meal. Sitting on his terrace that night, Jatoi acknowledged, a touch wistfully, that the life he has known is probably unsustainable for the long term. His personal holdings are down to 2,000 acres, and — despite the prime minister's recent pledge — fear of land reform keeps him from buying more. "Probably my sons will have 500 acres," he said. "I think about what privilege I have had, the influence I have had with the people. Maybe my sons will not have that."”
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (tourism.gov.pk), Official Gateway to the Government of Pakistan (pakistan.gov.pk), The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.
Last updated February 2022