(Names and places are real like poverty. In one US$ you get approximately 100 rupees).
Tufail and Razia got married some 30 years ago. At that time they lived in Kasur. They both belonged to poor families and when I asked about it they were not hesitant in telling me that they didn’t have any fancy dreams about a happy life. It was a sin to think of a comfortable life. That is how poor Pakistanis live in villages (mostly) and in big cities.
Like their village dwellers they were also not educated (there are usually no schools in villages and if there are some, they charge large amounts of money which the villagers can’t afford then there are schools in public sector which don’t charge much but they don’t teach either) the only education they got was from the molvi (prayer leader) of the nearby mosque who taught them how to read Arabic alphabets and some verses of Quran. Within one year they had a son. Tufail’s father was a laborer (called kammi in Pakistan which means a worker of low existence). These kammis are not paid a salary but are given wheat and other edibles as approved by the big landlords who employ these people to keep them entertained and work in their household. The zamindar or big landlord is like a god to these people and they spend their lives according to whatever they think is ‘good’ for them. Worse case scenario of slavery in 21st century.
After Shoki was born, Tufail was taken seriously ill. His father spent all his belongings and got him admitted in the ‘big’ hospital in the city (the district head quarter hospital with basic health facilities but no medicines or even decent lab tests as a rule). He had ‘sugar’ (Diabetes mellitus) and the entire village ‘knew’ there is no cure for it. Razia had a sister in law who was working as household maid in nearby Lahore (provincial capital of Punjab). Razia was pregnant again and in next three years they had two more kids. Both daughters.
Tufail himself was not a craftsman or skilled laborer and too weak to work as a farm hand. There was nothing to eat and the joint family system couldn’t support them. Razia’s sister in law told her to come to Lahore and she did that. They landed in a upper middle class neighborhood and Razia was hired as a maid for Rs. 500.00 per month. Insulin for her husband took 400.00 per month and three kids were growing up fast. She was given a one room ‘quarter’ in the house where she worked. For electricity and gas Rs. 100.00 were deducted by her employers. Her three kids were now placed in nearby houses as servants. They were from 5 to 7 years old and could only help the ‘begum sahib’ (landlady) to the extent that her babies were kept busy. Physical beating was a rule whenever a toy or a kitchen utensil was broken by these kids and they also started to help in washing and laundry. Total monthly income of the family was now 900.00 rupees. For an estimated price of essential commodities this table can help you visualize how much this 900.00 is:
Flour (the staple food which is used to make bread three times a day): Rupees 300.00 per 10 kg (20 pounds, the family needs 40 kg or 80 pounds of flour per month).
Rice: 100.00 Rs / Kg (2 pounds). Monthly use: 10 kg or 20 pounds (Rs. 1000).
Eggs: Rs. 10 each (they don’t eat eggs. Breakfast is leftover bread and tea.
Milk: 2 pounds (1 kg ) daily @ Rs. 50.00 per kg.
Meat: Poultry: 200.00 / kg or 2 pounds
Beef: 250.00 / kg or 2 pounds (result: They don’t eat meat).
Edible oil: 150.00 Rs. / 2 pounds.
Utility bills are not included as for 100.00 Rs. the ‘quarter’ owners don’t want anything more from the family.
When they get sick, they have to buy the medicine which is very costly. Medical attention can be had for Rs. 20.00 from a government hospital but they have to commute and spend an entire day and that costs money. So they prefer to stay ill or go to the nearby pharmacy which sells all the drugs and prescribes for their illness by someone who has passed grade 10 education. They cannot think of having vacations and can’t afford TV or schools. The eldest son was sent to a handicraft center where he earns Rs. 600.00 per month. He got married 3 years ago and now has 2 sons. The younger daughters were married off similarly when they reached 14 or 15. After getting married the girls found husbands who didn’t make more than a few thousand rupees and thus they are also working as maids in various houses to make the ends meet. There is another, youngest boy who goes to a government school where there is nominal fee of Rs. 50.00 per month but he has to buy all the books and stationary from his own pocket which is again a burden on family income. There is no social security to help them (and there are thousands of such rural families working in the posh houses of big cities). Their boys who remain uneducated, tend to either fall to drugs or crime or more recently resort to violence in the form of terrorist groups. But before becoming big they constitute small mafias which extract protection money from the local vendors and carry illegal weapons with them. Police have no mercy for these lesser people. Whenever there is a theft or burglary, their men are always the first suspects and beaten mercilessly in the process as there is no body to talk to the local police station in-charge who operates on ‘power and sifarish’ (approach & reference of a powerful man).
This story continues like this in millions of households across Pakistan and it does not have an end as the misery keeps on growing while the people in power corridors are themselves busy in making money and buying palaces in England and Dubai. Law has lost its place from this land and it has become a painful gulf between the very rich and very poor. Lack of a literate middle class which is vanishing rapidly is even more painful to observe.