Ceaseless detention: The Plight of Prisoners in India and Pakistan

By: Haris Khan, S.M. Seraj Ali, Rushda Anwer, Nazia Parween 

New Delhi / Karachi / Badin / Udaipur

Hundreds reside together in a tight confinement, resting on thin mats on a stone floor. The hooks jutting out of the discolored walls serve as makeshift closets for the inmates. The residents peer through the gaps between the bars, waiting out their incarcerations. This is a typical barrack at the District Jail of Malir located in southern port city of Karachi.

“When there is no electricity, the barrack becomes a furnace, with smell and suffocation to an extent that one can’t even breathe properly,” says Ijaz Joseph, a prisoner at the facility.

Roughly 800 kilometers away, in a city known for its opulent royal residences and artificial lakes, a similar scene is witnessed. The Central Jail of Udaipur, Rajasthan, houses a total of 1,200 prisoners, surpassing it’s capacity by 300. Within the barracks, the summer heat singes through, baking the room into a damp space as the plaster on the walls rip off while the clothes left to dry on the ropes by the windows, block much of the light. Peering at the inadequate wobbling fans on the ceiling, Alok Kumar carefully navigates his way to his mattress. “If there are any more prisoners, they’ll be no space left for us,” he says, hanging his shirt on the hook by window.

Two of the many other jails of Pakistan and India, these establishments outnumber the guards by so many, and their authorized capacities by large numbers. Complimentary  to the overpopulation at Udaipur, the district jail in Malir was built to accommodate 1,800 prisoners but a total of 5,093 occupy 48 crammed barracks.

The overcrowded prisons are a shared concern for both the countries. Over the past 14 years, the two arch-rivals have recorded a common rise in incarceration rates. The World Prison Brief Data estimates that from 2000 to 2014, Pakistan’s incarcerated population sprung from 78,938 to 83,718, while India’s numbers went from 273,049 to 419,623.

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Unhygienic conditions combined with large populations has resulted in the prevalence of diseases within the prison facilities. This year alone, at least 181 HIV cases have been reported in prisons of Balochistan province in Pakistan, according to Syed Tahir Shahbaz, Federal Ombudsman for jail reforms.

Similarly, In India, 1.7% of male and 9.5% of female inmates were found HIV positive, according to a report  by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in 2018.

“We inherited the prisons from the British Raj, the focus here lies on the punishment alone,” says Deputy Superintendent of Police, Arshad Shah, commissioned at District Jail Malir— that resembles the ruins of an old mid-sized fortress. He contends that the district-wise construction of jails could help in addressing the issue of overcrowding which ultimately helps in rehabilitating prisoners with the better living environment.

State of Rehabilitation in Indo-Pak 


The concept of rehabilitation that helps an inmate in reintegrating into society, is often overlooked. In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners also known as the Mandela Rules. It described the standard measures of rehabilitating prisoners and signifies that any measures of imprisonment can only be fulfilled if attempts are made to reintegrate prisoners into society upon release.         

Although countries like Brazil and Norway have adopted measures in line with this belief, a contrasting scenario is offered in India and Pakistan. Both countries provide social rehabilitation as an auxiliary feature of incarceration rather than a necessary one.

There are only two regular doctors for more than 5,000 inmates in district jail Malir.  Five more doctors have been taken from the health ministry who visit when required. The psychiatrist also visits on a weekly basis. However, no psychologist is available for corrective counseling of prisoners.

“We must also consider the political aspect of it,” says, Dr. Rochin Chandra, Director at the Center for Criminology and Public Policy based in Rajasthan, India. He blames political parties for overcrowded prisons in India. “To lower crime they design policies and advocate for longer prison terms,” he adds.

Rehabilitation methods adopted in the two countries remain limited to providing prisoners with technical and vocational training. Carpentry, electric and motor mechanic work along with computer classes, in some cases, are the most viable work options available.

Certain prisons have, however, designed centers and courses for the education of the prisoners. The Punjab Prisons under the Government of Punjab (Pakistan) provides literacy to inmates in 32 jails under its supervision.  Formal and informal education along with books can be acquired by prisoners. Allowed to appear in exams, a total of 2,284 prisoners have been granted educational remissions till date.

Programs of this nature are also conducted within the Tihar Prison of New Delhi, where a total of 4,344 prisoners are enrolled for various courses within the prison. The expenditure of the course along with required study material of pens, papers and books are borne by the government.

In addition to these attempts, certain organizations are involved particularly in providing rehabilitation through spiritual methods. Religious sermons are delivered to the inmates and the most dominant religion in each country is able to work more intricately with the prisoners.

Nabeel Zuberi, a sociologist in Karachi, places the burden on the ‘setup’ in which Pakistan and India are placed. “Jails should be redefined and instead of isolating inmates, work on their social attachment should be done,” says Zuberi. He contends that the societal structure in both countries stigmatizes prisoners on their release and any expectation of society rehabilitating the prisoners is a mistake.

Another organization Society for Advancement of Health, Education and the Environment (SAHEE) is working on the prison rehabilitation in Central Jail, Karachi. “We deliver the Criminon 4-step Program as a rehab method,” said Saleem Aziz Khan, founder and chairman of SAHEE. According to Khan, almost 1,500 prisoners have completely or partially done the program.

Juvenile Delinquents

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FORTIFIED: The main gate of Central Prison for Women and Youthful Offender Industrial School located in Karachi: PHOTO: Haris Khan Student of Centre for Excellence in Journalism at IBA

Not only in adult prisons but also in juvenile, there is a dearth of psychological assistance in the form of psychologists, juvenile detention therapists or youth correctional counselors at present in Prisons, as mentioned by Zulfiqar Ali, Assistant Sub-inspector at Youthful Offenders School, Karachi.

According to a 2013 report by  AGHS Child Rights Unit, a human rights and legal aid organization in Pakistan, the number of young boys sentenced to life imprisonment in Pakistan’s most populous state, Punjab, soared to 45%.

Abdullah Ahmed, 16-year-old and youngest of six in his family, has served nine out of the 30-month prison term at the school. “I used to work on a ladies stall in Quaidabad area,” recalls Ahmed. He further said that wanted to buy a motorcycle but hasn’t got any money from home so he tried to rob a mobile shop and was caught consequently.” Sitting in the garden surrounding the school building fortified by towering walls, Ahmed yearns for freedom every passing hour of the day.  

The Youthful Offenders School, located at the Central Prison of Karachi, is home to over 100 such stories.

In contrast to the Youthful Offenders School located in Karachi, the Ramnagar’s Observation Home located in Uttarakhand, India, presents a horrific experience of one of the former juvenile inmate. “All of us were struck by the batons. Some were hit on the head and some on the arms and other limbs. I received a blow on my head by hitting the wall in panic,” claims Mohan, a former juvenile offender. Abuse is common and goes unchecked in the facility.

Sitting with his feet perched on the bench, a travel bag in his lap, Mohan has come far from his past. Twiddling a screwdriver in his small wrinkled hands, he looks at the passing crowd, hoping to get a customer in need of getting their bag repaired. Over the two years of his freedom from the Juvenile home, Mohan has been trying to grow a beard but success has been slow. His oiled hair hints of a sun burnt past.
“I liked to travel. But I could never afford any tickets,” he recalls.

Arrested at the Banaras Railway Station for boarding the train without tickets, he was sent to the Government Observation Home for a period of nine months. “The days went by uselessly and I didn’t feel good inside,” he says, recalling the crying of children every night.

In the mornings, Mohan and his fellow inmates would study English and Hindi along with the basic usage of a computer, after a reasonably nourishing a breakfast. “Most reminiscent of my time there is my teacher telling me to leave and never do anything to come back here,” he remembers.

Ramnagar’s Observation Home was unwelcoming in many ways. Drugs and alcohol would easily be smuggled into the facility, he alleges. The general population of the home and the ‘seniors’ were visibly segregated. “These ‘seniors’ are elder in age and also in the crime, they commit such as murder and rape. They are kept separately and the officials keep an eye on them,” he says.

“I would change so much if I had the power to,” he says recalling the decaying walls and the harsh treatment of the officials. Wondering if an earthquake would crumble the place, he returns to his work. “It was in shambles.” he concludes.

According to him, the difference in crimes is evident even in the way the inmates are brought in to the home. Cases of a murder would warrant a beating by the officers in the police station. But once the ‘challan’ or receipt is given for the observation home, no harm can come to the juvenile offender inside, unless they were to indulge in scuffles.

Explaining the rehabilitation process practiced in India, former policeman and correctional expert, Amod Kanth elaborated that under the Juvenile Justice Care and Protection Act, communal support such as education, skill development, and financial support is provided to young inmates. “I hold very positive views on this and reformation is quite possible,” he says.

Situation of Women in Prisons

While efforts are being made to improve the prison conditions for young offenders, female  prisoners face harrowing situations in Indo-Pak Jails.

According to the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative NGO, the female prisoner population has gone up by 61% in India in the last fifteen years. In July 2018, 1,955 female prisoners were reported to be kept in custody at Pakistan Jails and out of these 1,225 were juveniles. The more shocking fact is that in Pakistan, there are male juvenile jails but no female juvenile jails. Female juveniles are kept with adult prisoners in jails.

“I don’t have the money for my bail that is why I can’t get out,” says Varshali Ram, a prisoner at Tihar Jail.  

Fuzail Ayubi, a Supreme Court Lawyer explained  that children of female prisoners are allowed to stay inside jails with their mothers up to 6 years of age. While there is a facility of baby units at certain prisons, there are not enough for all.

India houses a total of 1,401 jails of which only 18 are exclusively for women. The number of female prisoners according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data of 2015, stands at 17,834.

The lack of prisons with regards to the population of the prisoners has led to the creation of women enclosures in general prisons.  

However, female population in Pakistan’s prisons is 1.8% per 100,000 as reported by World Prison Brief in 2018. The condition of many female prisons is better than that of males. At Women Section of Central Jail, Karachi, women inmates are provided beds for resting, with no signs of overcrowding in the barracks. Infants stay with the offending mothers and receive primary education at a school present in the premises of jail. “They are suffering because of me,” said Parveen, an offender who has recently given birth to child at Central Jail, Karachi.

Cradling her infant in her arms she walks across the hallway to comfort the baby. Even with a veil covering her face, the distress was visible. The dark circles around her eyes showed a lack of sleep. Handing over her baby to a fellow inmate, she massages her arm as she describes her ordeal of giving birth in a prison. “The medical block had only one doctor and the jail staff was assisting her. This was not even their work.” she says, while worrying about the baby.

The initial days post-pregnancy were very difficult. The medical block is similar to a government hospital with little or no ventilation. However, Parveen and her child were able to get past it. Today, she is one of the several other women who reside with their children in the prison.

According to a report submitted by the Federal Ombudsman before the Supreme Court in 2018, there are  1,955 women imprisoned in different jails of the country. In Sindh, at least 3,000 women prisoners are housed in 26 different jails convicted of kidnapping and ransom. Over 90 are convicted of murder charges.

Prison minorities in dire straits

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ENTER HERE: Main gate of District Jail Malir, Karachi where at-least 100 minority prisoners are held: PHOTO: Haris Khan / Centre for Excellence in Journalism at IBA

Even if there are laws intact for gender-based protection of prisoners, they scantily secure minority prisoners on ethnic levels in Indo-Pak jails. According to the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) of India, out of 2.82 lakh under trial inmates, over 55% are Muslims, Dalits, and tribals. Collectively, these three communities form a population of 39% with a share of 14.2%, 16.6% and 8.6% of the population respectively according to the 2011 census.

Even while there is a high number of Muslim convicts in jails, basic facilities to accommodate their religious or spiritual needs are missing. According to one former inmate, prison facilities do not offer a designated place for prayers.   

“There was a small temple but no mosque or specific place to offer prayers for Muslim inmates,” said Iqbal Ali, another former juvenile offender at Ramnagar’s Observation Home. Wearing his white kurta and pyjamas, Ali glistened in the morning sun. A fragrance followed his light steps across the road. “Now that I’m free, I can finally pray in a mosque or congregation,” he says.

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A view of District Prison Badin through bars which houses 369 prisoners out of which 10 are non-Muslims : PHOTO: Haris Khan / Centre for Excellence in Journalism at IBA

After his release, Ali started doing odd jobs for a garment store in his town of Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh. Lately, the store has given him the job of an apprentice salesman. Ali carries his skull cap with him everywhere, either in his hand or on his head.

“I wish they celebrated Eid there,” he says, unhappy that his fellow inmates would get a celebration for their festivals but not him.

Cases of atrocities against Muslim prisoners have soared in recent years. In April, Hindustan Times reported that Shabbir, an under-trial at the Tihar Prison of New Delhi, was assaulted by officials of the facility. Horrifyingly, a metal rod with the ‘Om’ symbol was heated and branded on Shabbir’s back.

“There is a certain bias that exists against these communities,” says Faheem Khan, a Delhi High Court Lawyer. He asserts that laws like UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) crack down on Muslim communities in particular.

“A number of people have been acquitted after years in prison with little or no compensation for the time lost,” he adds.

Ramesh Nathan, of the National Dalit Movement for Justice, accused that Dalits are being intimidated by filling of false lawsuits against them and this becomes the reason for the growing population of Dalits in Indian prisons. “Whenever a Dalit files a case under the atrocities act, he faces a false case under some other penal code provision by the culprits as a countermeasure in order to stop him,” he stated.

However, not much different from India, in Pakistan the minorities are a soft target across bars too. 

“We have a strong sense of fear in our hearts while staying in the prisons and whenever some ethnic confrontation happens outside we get very much frightened for our lives, said Ijaz Joseph, a Christian prisoner among 100 other minority prisoners at District Jail Malir.

According to the Country Report on Human Rights Practices by United States Department of State, published in 2013, minority prisoners generally are afforded poorer facilities than Muslims and often suffered violence at the hands of fellow inmates. 

“The situation is improving gradually as now we have access to jails where we can preach prisoners of our faith,” said Nazir, a Christian preacher. Nazir visits Malir Jail every Saturday to give lectures to Christian inmates in a Chapel built for Christian prisoners in Malir jail in 2016.

The chapel is built in front of the prison’s mosque. “Prisoners are allowed to visit their worship places whenever they want, said DSP Shah. “We don’t discriminate on the basis of religion and even in their religious festivals minorities are allowed to celebrate them according to their beliefs.”

While addressing to the Centre for Social Justice and the People’s Commission for Minorities’ Rights (PCMR) in Lahore, the minister for Human Rights and Minority Affairs, Ijaz Alam Augustine announced that a Bible-based syllabus for Christian prisoners will soon be adopted by the 35 prisons of Pakistan’s Punjab province.

Open Prisons : A Window with Two Horizons

RESTRICTED FREEDOM: Family members of the prisoners stand next to their residence at the Open Air Camp: PHOTO: Rushda Anwer / JMI

Perhaps one of the most significant step towards rehabilitation, if only one in a few, the Open Air Camps provide a semblance of social rehabilitation in both countries.

“This is a second chance at life,” claims Kalu Lal standing outside the gates of the Open Air Camp in Udaipur, Rajasthan. “Now I can live with my family and earn a living,” he adds, as eager customers flock around his small tea stall outside the prison area.

Unlike his counterparts in Pakistan, Lal has the advantage of residing with his family in small quarters as provided as accommodation. Additionally, he can travel anywhere with that guarantee that he will return to the area by evening for the roll-call.

“A lot can be better here,” says Meenakshi, a daughter of a prisoner who has been in the open air camp for the past 5 years. 

Complimentary to Lal’s experience is the life of Abdul Samad at the Open Prison in Badin, Pakistan.

“I had a delightful experience there,” says Abdul Samad, now a former prisoner. Sitting at his home in Karachi, he recalls that he doesn’t even think of calling it a jail.

Samad who had spent the last 4 years of his imprisonment in open prison Badin, describes his experience at the facility as a blessed one. The prisoners used to cultivate crops on the land, make huts, do fishing, cook food in mud ovens and chop trees to make things for themselves. However, every evening, he would have to return to the confines of the main jail.

These camps despite of having a rehabilitative ambiance, however, are not away from problems.

In India, the daughter of a prisoner who resides in the camp with her family, claims the facilities are at a bare minimum. “The washrooms are dirty and barely usable,” she says as she carries a bucket of water to her family’s quarters. “Only one tap provides fresh water and we have to carry it back to our room every time we need it,” she says, out of breath in the summer heat. An air of abandonment surrounds the site of the prison, with a lack of greenery.

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Contrary to this, the open prison in Pakistan was a flourishing site of agriculture.  “I remember how soothing the peaceful farmland was. The lush green gardens were therapeutic for depressed minds like me,” explained Samad.  

However, the 2,000 acre of land has been vacated by authorities who cite a number of issues including various escape attempts made by inmates that caused trouble in neighborhood villages.

“At least 111 prisoners have escaped from the open prison in Badin,” says Usman Khaskheli, head constable of  Open Prison Badin.

Adding to this, politically motivated transfers of prisoners along with water shortage for cultivation fueled the closing of the prison in 2012.

For the residents of these camps, reintegrating with society becomes easier.
“I want to be an Administrative Officer,” says Meenakshi, as her father leaves for work from the open air camp, driving his auto-rickshaw. “He can work now and we can be together as a family again,” she adds, returning to help her sisters in their work.

“The people of the nearby villages used to visit with different food items for us,” said Samad. He believes that the interaction with the locals in Badin had helped him a lot in finding his lost self esteem again.


Informal schools: Warriors against illiteracy in India and Pakistan


CHASING ILLITERACY: The mobile school (bus) moves to various locations in Gurgaon: PHOTO Sarah Khan / AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, JMI.
By:  Madhuraj / Sarah Khan / Barbrah / Tehseen Abbas

New Delhi / Karachi / Jaipur / Multan : In a slum on the outer periphery of Gurgaon — far away from all the trappings of luxury, lives Pooja — a young bright-eyed girl who dreams of a better life.  Like many her age, Pooja is not privileged to receive education at a private school. The 15-year-old hails from a family of poor migrants, who have never witnessed the miracles of education.

Pooja is enrolled at a small makeshift school with a frail structure and temporary ceiling that shivers when strong winds blow.

“I want to become a teacher,”  she says in a brittle voice.  

Her face glows with joy every time she talks about her school. Pooja’s school  is no ordinary school. She receives education at a mobile school.

Across the Radcliffe line in Maripur, Karachi, approximately, 1,000 km away from Pooja, lives Roshail Atta Mahommad. The 17-year-old has an uncanny resemblance to Pooja’s situation. She too has defied all social and cultural odds for education. Roshail, like Pooja, wants to become a teacher and contribute to her community’s well being.

Even after seventy years of independence, millions of children in India and Pakistan are deprived of education. Both countries are confronting the perils of their failure to educate their, citizens, notably the poor.  Pooja and Roshail are among the deprived generation who were left out of the state-run education system in their respective countries.

The two may have been divided by border, but they are united by the failure of their governments to fulfill their basic fundamental right to education.

For decades governments in India have made tall symbolic promises about improving the state  of education in India. They’ve conceived policies and plans that have been nothing more than toothless paper tigers.  The Bharatiya Janta Party-led government in Delhi has slashed education spending by nearly 50% in the last 4 year. Such misplaced national priorities deprive many like Pooja of education — a promised universal birthright.

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EDUCATION ON WHEELS:  A busy day in class for Mobile school students in Gurgaon: PHOTO Sarah Khan / AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, JMI.

Echoes of similar hollow political promises are also responsible for the burgeoning education crisis in Pakistan.

The two nuclear rivals  inherit innumerable common issues. Education is one of them. In many ways their approach to address the issue has been similar too. The two arch-rivals have identical  laws that ensure free and compulsory education but little has been done to implement them. The Right to Education Act, 2009 (RTE) in India recognizes free and compulsory education for children between the age of six and 14, under Article 21a of the Indian Constitution.

Similarly, in Pakistan Article 25-A of the Constitution, guarantees the right to free education to all children between the ages of five to sixteen. RTE was enrolled, in both countries, with the idea to improve the state of education, it has been haunted by procedural inefficiencies.

According to Academy of Educational Planning and Management (AEPAM) report, an estimated 22.8 million children are out of school between five and 16 in Pakistan and those who do go to school haven’t even achieved the basic learning levels.

The Heroes

When governments fail to deliver fundamental rights, people rise to help their communities. Sandeep Rajput in India and Gamwar Baloch in Pakistan are two heroes.

The mobile school, run by Rajput, 41, is a free education facility on four wheels. Rajput is known for chasing illiteracy in decrepit areas of Gurgaon in an old public bus. The decommissioned vehicle, once used by commuter, is now reconfigured to serve as a classroom on wheels. It is equipped with small tables and everything else a teacher might need to run a classroom. Rajput’s school on wheels — as it’s commonly known, is also recognized by the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS).

Rajput blames the government for failing to support free education.  “The school in this area was visited by a local commissioner once who made tall promises but we’re still waiting for him to deliver upon them.”

With limited resources, Rajput claims that the school is self sufficient and runs with the help of independent donors or funds provided by corporate organisations.

“So what if they can’t go to a school, we can ensure that a school reaches their door steps and that’s where our mobile school plays a crucial role,” Rajput says passionately.

Like Rajput, Pakistan too has a warrior, who fights the war against an unfair educational system. In 2013, Gamwar Baloch, 21, established a makeshift school named “Tikri Education Center”. The school provides free education to the deprived students in Maripur — a neighbourhood of Kiamari town in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi. Baloch helps those who have been neglected by the state and are at the very bottom of Pakistan’s social ladder.  

Infrastructure is weak at her school. There are no benches and there are no desks. All of her 300 students are seated on the floor during class hours. Roshail was one of those students who survived the challenges and made it through. She now teaches along with Baloch, who is supported by a staff of  three permanent teachers at the school.

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“I don’t want girls from my community to suffer or struggle for education,” says Roshail, who has joined Baloch’s small army of heroes fighting the war against illiteracy in Maripur.

Despite all the political promises of promoting equality, education has become a crucial marker of inequality in both India and Pakistan. In Rajasthan, education remains a distant dream for Pooja and many like her.

“I want to pursue so many things but that is not possible,” she says with a tinge of hopelessness in her voice.

The Struggle

In her hostel-cum-school building, Shivani has found a quiet corner, for herself, to study in a big shared room. She has her medical entrance examination approaching in 15 days. Her days are spent surrounded by  medical books piled on top of each other. She is not an ordinary girl and her struggle sets her apart from the two hundred thousand medical aspirants. The 19-year-old recollects her childhood with memories of her father abandoning her after her mother’s death, and a careless family structure. Her past hasn’t deterred her spirits.    

Shivani was enrolled in a makeshift school in Jaipur, Rajasthan, when she was four years old. After several years of teaching students in open spaces, parks, under makeshift tents, the school finally moved to a three-storey building in 2008 where she studies and resides along with many children who have been deprived of education by an unfair state-run system. The school is run by 66-year-old Vimla Kumawat whom the children fondly refer to, as “Dadi”. The school has been named – Sewa Bharati Bal Vidyalaya, after the organisation, Sewa Bharati, which is one of the major donors of the school.   

The stories of struggle by children of marginalized communities in India and Pakistan have an uncanny resemblance. Away from the deserts of Rajasthan, India, along the banks of Chenab river,  resides Mohammed Siddiq, who is the founder of Ujala foundation — a temporary school  for the underprivileged students in Multan. One such student is Iqra whose illiterate parents dreamt of educating their daughter. Owing to financial constraints, they couldn’t provide for her education. However, Siddiq’s makeshift school ensured that children like Iqra do not remain deprived of education.

Now she vows to help children who belong to the bottom of Multan’s multilayered society where Saddiq’s makeshift school is their only hope and individuals like her are saviors. 

Initiatives by local super heroes  like Vimla Kumawat and Mohammed Siddiq play a pivotal  role in the lives of children who are struggling to acquire good education — a fundamental and promised Constitutional right in Pakistan and India.

Shivani’s journey from a life of ignominy as a ragpicker to a medical aspirant studying in a premier coaching institute of the city, is a journey from the margins to the mainstream. However, the community in which she was born, Valmiki (Dalit), is still hesitant to allow  girls to study.

“If Shivani clears her medical entrance, it will be a beacon of hope for the children and motivate them to push their boundaries,” remarks Kumawat, her eyes carrying a hope for a better future.

For Shivani’s admission in a medical coaching program, Kumawat had waited two days at the reception of the coaching institute in the hope that she would get a fee waiver. The journey hasn’t entirely been easy for Kumawat. Coping with the lack of money, she has had a tough time managing the needs and expenses. 

“There have been days when I couldn’t even provide the students with notebooks but I’ve never given up,” says Kumawat with her usual politeness and unwavering resolve to fight the battle against an unfair education system in India.  

Siddiq faces a similar situation in Pakistan. He does not receive any support from any organization, “I believe that education of underprivileged children is the society’s responsibility,” says Siddiq.

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Vimla Kumawat’s school in Jaipur’s Mahesh Nagar has another branch on the outskirts of the pink city, in Baksawala. The area is inhabited by people from the Dalit community, who live in slums. Their homes are located along the main road and the nearest government school is one-and-half kilometers away.

“Parents are reluctant to send their children to government school because they have to cover this distance by foot” says Ashok, the upkeeper of Baksawala makeshift school. The school at Baksawala has no permanent structure. Children study under a tree or out in the open, fighting the high temperatures in Rajasthan.

Ashok runs the school with two more volunteers. They found an abandoned building for children to study. The children are crammed in tiny congested rooms with little space for movement. A small window and the classroom door act as the only source of natural light and air.

For the deficiencies in the education system,  K. B. Kothari, managing trustee of Pratham Education Foundation, a charitable trust that works towards the provision of quality education to the underprivileged children in India, puts the blames squarely on the political leadership in the country. 

“The major responsibility for this (failure) must be attributed to political leadership at all levels,” Kothari says. 

Nevertheless, both India and Pakistan have heroes like Kumawat and Siddiq. And then there are warriors like Shivani and Iqra.  They stand tall against all odds and against all failures. 

“I used to roam around garbage for rag-picking,” Shivani recalls without batting an eye. “I dream of becoming a doctor now,” she says with a glow on her face.




The murder of history: How India and Pakistan are erasing their shared past

By Ayushi Malik, Fateh Guram, Filza Rizwan, Shaily Agrawal and Shoaib Ali

It is around 12 noon, and the sun is beating down furiously on the golden sandstone walls of the Jaisalmer Fort. You make your way through the Ashrey Prol, the main gate of the Fort, and find yourself in a vast courtyard, with the gigantic walls of the Fort towering above you. Shopkeepers greet you with cries of discounted clothes, footwear, leather products, jewellery, fake Raybans, and even airline tickets. You walk up the stone pathway, and approach the Amar Sagar Prol, where you witness numerous men immersed in animated discussion, in the shade of the gate, protected from the sun. Once inside the main area of the fort, you stop and stare in wonder at the fortified city of Jaisalmer, where nearly 5,000 people reside. You walk in the narrow, cobbled streets of the Fort, and the residents of the fort greet you and invite you inside their homes, which look not a day younger than 8 centuries old. Apart from the heat, noise, and pollution, everything about the Fort seems perfect.

Amar Sagar Prol, Jaisalmer Fort, India. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the fort draws hundreds of thousands of tourists annually

Except, it isn’t.

As per the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the walls of the Fort, which was constructed in 1156 AD by Rawal Jaisal Singh, are under immense pressure due to increasing urbanisation and proliferation of hotels within the Fort. “The bastions of the fort are under tremendous pressure right now. This is because people have built their houses and restaurants in and around the bastions. As more and more restaurants come up, the seepage of water increases,” says Mukesh Kumar Meena, who is part of the Multi Task Force at the ASI’s office in Jaisalmer. The seepage is a major concern that threatens to destroy the walls of the only ‘living’ fort in the world. Meena also says that when the ASI tries to repair a particular bastion, the walls around it become weak due to the presence of numerous houses in close vicinity of the walls and the bastions.

Locals reveal that the Government of India laid down an effective pipeline system in the fort which would help arrest the degradation of the walls of the fort due to seepage of water. While this crises seems to have been averted for the time being, the structures inside the Fort are crumbling and nobody is willing to take responsibility for their maintenance

More than 400 kilometres away, Pakistan’s Pucca Qila, situated in Hyderabad, is facing asimilar problem, albeit on a much larger scale. As you enter Pucca Qila, the stench of sewage and garbage greets you. Dilapidated walls loom large over the horizon. The Qila – which literally translates to Fort – is inhabited by refugees who migrated from India during the partition of 1947. While the fort was meant to be a temporary residence for the refugees, state apathy and ignorance towards the plight of the refugees meant that the fort has been rendered into a derelict condition over the last 71 years.

In Pakistan, no construction can take place within a distance of 200 feet from a heritage monument. However, these rules are constantly flouted around the Pucca Qila, and mounds of garbage can be seen lying around the walls of the fort

Today, it is not uncommon to see stitching units, tuition centres, cobblers and people belonging to similar professions within the walls of the Pucca Qila. In areas where parts of the wall have caved in, people have set up small units and practice their profession there. “People have created kitchens and washrooms within the walls of the fort, and the abundant usage of water has weakened them, “says Dr Kaleemullah Lashari, a scholar of Applied Archaeology in Pakistan. “As a result, many portions of the wall collapse frequently, and many people die due to this, too,” he adds.  

The Pucca Qila of Hyderabad, Pakistan is under severe threat due to unchecked sewage water flowing next to its walls, causing them to weaken and collapse

Dr. Lashari, who is the former chief custodian of the Sindh province, also claims he was approached by the provincial government to oversee the construction of apartments for people living in the fort. They would be relocated, and the conservation of the fort would then be taken up effectively. However, Dr Lashari was transferred before it could take off, and the project has now come to a standstill.

Pucca Qila is also the site of an immense standoff between the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) – two of the largest political parties in Hyderabad- the second-largest city of the province after Karachi.

Muhammad Rashid Khilji of the MQM-P, who is also the Member of Provincial Assembly (MPA) from Hyderabad, accuses the PPP of being indifferent towards the plight of the people living in Pucca Qila. “The PPP government has never been concerned about the interests of people. It’s the duty of the government to provide houses to them but they have never focussed on this issue. The people are not financially well off, so they don’t have the resources to buy or construct a house,” said Khilji.

As the walls of the Pucca Qila suffer from continued degradation, the residents of the fort
rue the lack of alternative accommodation options

People living in the fort are also sceptical of any reforms being undertaken by the provincial government with respect to their proper relocation. A 46-year-old primary school teacher, Amir Hussain Siddiqui, residing in the fort, is critical of the government, and feels that visits by officials have not yielded any concrete results. The weak financial stature of the people living in the Fort has meant that they have had to build walls around their houses in the fort in order to ensure the safety of their children. “Government officials said they would build separate apartments with proper facilities for the residents, but then disappeared and nothing happened,” he says. “The people living here are so underprivileged, they hardly earn enough money to feed their families, how can they buy a house?”

As the walls of the Pucca Qila suffer from continued degradation, the residents of the fort
rue the lack of alternative accommodation options

This, coupled with the residents’ strong ties to the fort has made them reluctant to move out. Muhammad Tahir Khan, a resident of the fort says that they have a deep sense of affiliation with the heritage site. “Our great-grandfathers have lived in this fort, we ourselves grew up here, how can we abandon it?” he questions.

Across the border, in Jaisalmer, people living within the Jaisalmer Fort echo similar concerns. Manish Vyas, a 26-year-old shopkeeper, believes that the people living inside the Fort must not be evicted since the Fort is an integral part of their identity and culture. “My family has been living in this Fort even before India existed as a country. We have been inhabitants of the Fort for the last six centuries now. If the Government feels that the Fort is being harmed in any way, evicting people from their homes is no solution at all,” he says.

The law

In India, the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act (AMASRA) of 1958 (amended in 2010) prohibits construction of new buildings within a radius of 100 metres from an ancient, protected monument. This zone is called the Prohibited Area, beyond which lies the Regulated Area, which extends to another 200 metres.

Construction of new buildings in the Regulated Area can take place only after prior permission is taken from the ASI. In fact, even if an existing building requires repairs, prior permission for the activity is required from the ASI.

However, the situation on the ground paints a completely different picture. In Jaisalmer, for instance, scores of houses and shops have been constructed in the Prohibited Area. While the majority of these came up before the ASI came into existence, almost all shopkeepers around the Fort have been served notices by the ASI for not seeking permission before initiating repairs. Devi Kishan Khatri is one such shopkeeper who was served a notice by the ASI. “I began repairing the first floor of my house, and soon, a notice appeared at my doorstep explaining how my repair work was illegal since I had not taken prior permission from the ASI. I have filled the form now, and submitted it to the relevantofficials,” he says. According to Khatri, almost all shopkeepers have been served notices by the ASI. However, most of them don’t comply with the rules and regulations, and carry on with construction activities which are deemed illegal by the government.

The Gopa Chowk Police Station on the left lies at a distance of less than 100 metres from the wall of the Jaisalmer Fort, and thus lies within the Prohibited Area

“Another problem in Jaisalmer is that nearly 75 percent of the city falls within the 300 metre zone. It is not feasible to apply this law here, since it becomes extremely cumbersome for people like us,” explains Khatri. “We have no idea when we will be given permission to carry out construction activities,” he adds.

This much, the ASI’s Meena concedes. He, however, blames the delay on the shortage of personnel available with the ASI. “Due to the shortage of staffers in the department, our work suffers immense delays. Permissions, which are ideally supposed to be granted within 45 working days, sometimes take over 6 months to be processed,” he laments.

The ASI is also keen to ensure that the natural and authentic look of the Fort does not get altered. Consequently, those living inside the Fort, who wish to make repairs in their private property, must get prior permission from the ASI. The use of materials like cement is also forbidden, since it alters the original look of the Fort. However, a closer look at the walls of the houses inside the Fort reveal ample usage of materials like cement and bricks, blemishing the yellow sandstone facade.

While the ASI discourages people from tarnishing the original look of the Jaisalmer Fort by using cement, on the ground, it was found that people continue to use the material for repair and construction

While the rule of law is taken lightly in India’s Jaisalmer, 550 kilometres away, in Karachi, the provincial Government of Sindh dealt with encroachment at the Empress Market with an iron hand.

Empress Market, built between 1884-89, was one of the busiest markets of Karachi, with hundreds ofshops selling a wide variety of products like spices, meat, condiments and even birds and animals. However, in the month of November 2018, the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation(KMC), acting on the orders of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, raised nearly 1,100 shops in an anti-encroachment drive.

The drive drew flak from many conservationists, and shopkeepers also alleged that by destroying their shops, the KMC had impacted the heritage value of the place.

Yazdani Sethna has a shop at the Empress Market, which is 75 years old, and is under threat of being razed in the anti-encroachment drive. “We are very disturbed by this drive,” says Sethna. “They are making a garden here but they do not have the money and resources to take care of the garden. This market was our culture. The fish, vegetables, spices, meat and dry-fruits represented our culture which was much better than the garden. It was a source ofemployment for people. All of them are unemployed now,” he laments.

Javed Abbasi, a dry fruit seller at Empress Market rues the fact that he would not be able to pass on the legacy of his business to his kids, which was started by his great-grandfather

People like Sethna have also found support from experts like Kaleemullah Lashari, who are of the firm view that the anti-encroachment drive contributed towards a loss of tradition. “The market had more than 1,000shops and every shop had its own identity. People used to go there and buy stuff from all over the country,” he said.

However, Yasmeen Lari, the first female female architect of Pakistan and CEO of Heritage Foundation of Pakistan, begs to differ. Lari believes that the drive was the need of the hour and since urban spaces are for every citizen, it does not make sense that the Empress Market area had been hijacked by a few shopkeepers. “I am very pleased that the city court has taken action against encroachments at Empress Market. Unauthorised constructions should be removed because these are urban spaces and urban spaces are for citizens, not for the people who use the area due to corruption,” she said.

Empress Market, Karachi, after the anti-encroachment drive

For the last couple of decades, Lari’s foundation has been trying to raise awareness about the need to preserve heritage sites. She has partnered with the provincial government on occasion to organise façade cleaning activities, where she encourages the youth to come forward and share the responsibility of saving the historical sites. “We owe it to our future generations to preserve this heritage for them,” said Lari, at a recent such campaign in Karachi.

Such citizen-led initiatives, notwithstanding, not much is being done at the state level for the conservation of these heritage sites. In Karachi alone, the provincial government has notified 422 buildings as heritage sites. Not much has been done for their conservation beyond this notification. Across the border, the situation is all too similar.

Both countries are signatories to several international conventions as well as local laws in place for the protection and conservation of these heritage sites. Save the last 70-odd years, both countries share a common history, which is at risk of being lost if something is not done soon.

Binding neighbours, one yarn at a time

How trading cotton across the border can be a win-win situation for India and Pakistan

By Ira Puranik, Mahpara Kabir, Mohammad Malik, Priyashi Negi, Shaheen Abdulla

Sitting in his humble home in the quaint village of Kothe Chand Singh Wale in the outskirts of Bhatinda, in Indian Punjab, Avtar Singh is a picture of sorrow. Between him and his brother, Jasprit Singh — both wanting to abandon farming the produce —  it is not hard to fathom why they wish to cut ties with the cotton farming.

“Last year, we only had produced 15-16 maund (500-600 kgs). We have been suffering losses from the last six years. Many of us are planning on leaving cotton farming altogether, “ laments Avtar Singh.

As bleak as his hopes are from his produce, he believes there is a ray of hope if the fruits of his labour travel across the international border of India and Pakistan. While Avtar Singh’s cotton does not fetch him a good deal in India, he can certainly earn more if his cotton travels across the border. Across the border, it can benefit  an ailing textile industry that is in need of better, consistent cotton supply.

How cotton fares on either side of the border

Some 900 kilometers away from Bhatinda, Ali Pervez is looking for good quality and consistent supply of cotton for his textile mill in Karachi. Owner of Unibro Textiles, one of the largest textile industries in Pakistan, he has more than 1,000 employees on roll. “People can talk about nationalism, but we have to pay salaries to 1000 workers. The cotton we import from India is better in quality and cheaper as well,” he says. Pervez is just one of the many textile mill owners who rely on imported cotton to breathe life into the gradually declining domestic textile industry.

Improved seeds  and technological advantage gives indian cotton an upperhand in  raw cotton market.

The textiles industry is an extremely important contributor to the Pakistan’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which has been plagued by a shortage of domestic cotton for long. More than 100 Textile factories, mostly medium and small scale enterprises, were shut down in Pakistan affecting 500,000 jobs in 2015-16. According to the Economic Survey of Pakistan, the textile exports for FY 2016-17 showed a negative trend, with direct revenue loss  of about $ 3,602 million. Given the grim conditions, the Pakistan government allowed the duty-free import of cotton for five months in January 2019.

Yousam Khan lost his job and was unemployed for six years due to the decline of the textile industry in Pakistan, the revival of the textile sector could help 40% of Pakistan population.

Yousam Khan, currently a merchandise supervisor,  poignantly puts in light the diminished capacity of the textile industry, which has lost 30-35% of its production capacity in recent years.

“In earlier days we couldn’t find enough people to take on jobs in the textile industry. Today, people are standing in queues and yet, there are no jobs. There is a lot that needs to be done for our betterment. “

As a fabric that binds the two nations, both of which cut from the same cloth, it is perhaps unsurprising that cotton is one of the essential commodities that needs to be traded.

Surjeet Singh, who has been farming cotton in Indian Punjab for decades, says that it is the high cost of acquiring inputs like fertilizers and good quality seeds that push them into great debt. And given the low yield and the consequently low prices they receive, they are left with no choice but to commit suicide. His words ring true in the light of a survey conducted by three universities of Punjab, which reveal that on an average, around 1,000 farmers have committed suicide every year in the state since 2003.

All that is needed to give these farmers a new lease of life are good prices for their produce. Pakistan imported raw cotton worth $203.25 million from India in 2017, apart from importing other cotton commodities such as yarn, woven cotton fabrics etc. In stark contrast, an Indian farmer in Punjab received less than INR 4,500/ quintal for his produce. The potential for this price to go up is immense, given Pakistan’s increasing imports.

Experts agree that the festering conditions of farmers in India’s Punjab could be solved if the state let them sell their products across the border. Given how both nations rely greatly on exporting cotton, Indian farmers expressed that the transit to Lahore could revive cotton farming.

“Exporting cotton ( to Pakistan) could fetch more revenue to us due to reduced transportation costs. Textile mills in Pakistan could be a better market for us than say, Mumbai”, says Avtar Singh. His beliefs are not unfounded. Mr. Fareed, a senior Pakistani Economist, says, “You can have differences, but it is impossible to survive if your neighbors are your enemies.”

And why not? After all, in times of distress, it is often the neighbors whose help is sought before that of one’s far-flung kin.

Bringing the neighbors together

Even after the recent skirmishes between the two neighbors, be it India stripping Pakistan of its Most Favoured Nation trade status or the 200% import duty hike, cotton traders on both sides were optimistic of cotton trade remaining unaffected. “India is the most accessible and price-lucrative cotton market for Pakistan,” Atul Ganatra, president of the Cotton Association of India, told Economic Times, a leading newspaper on the same.

Farmers and mill owners aside, yet another crucial link in the trade are labourers and porters who have also been left without any means of sustenance due to the present halt of trade at the Wagah Attari border.

“When they came to receive Abhinandan (Indian Air Force pilot), we thought it will bring us a fortune, But instead, it halted the trade,” complaints Ram Singh, one amongst the ten thousand laborers whose livelihood depend on Indo-Pak trade. Many hope that normal trade will resume post elections in India.

The turmoil triggered in February 2019 has slowed down the trade in Wagah Attari Border. Each day thousands of labors depending the trade are affected.

Temporary halts aplenty, trade has never been permanently discontinued between the nations. Sure, a disturbed political sphere has spelled unease for smooth trade to ensue between the two countries in the past. But both the countries have, more or less, made up for it by valiantly pushing forth trade dialogues to make way from dire bilateral situations.

Cotton is the most exported commodity by India to Pakistan. It constitutes around
25% of the total export value.

Trade between the two nations had reached an absolute standstill post the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war. Dialogue resumed nine years later, in 1974, with trade taking place in a limited number of commodities. What is noteworthy is that this ‘positive list’ kept increasing with time, commensurate their needs. Even in 2011-12, regarded by many experts as the ‘warmest period in the trade history of India-Pakistan’, the gradual phasing out of items from the negative or banned list to the positive register of commodities indicated the bilateral economic will to harness the prospects of trade growth.

India is estimated to export around 9,36,000 million tonnes of cotton in FY 2018-19. Pakistan imported cotton worth $1.2 billion in 2018, gaining its place as the 8th largest cotton importer in the world. Despite being a hefty producer, Pakistan’s reliance on imported cotton has been growing steadily. And for India, Pakistan remains a strong, if potential, trading partner.

What it was, what will it be?

“Trade is essential between the two,” says Dr. Nisha Taneja, one of the leading experts on India-Pakistan trade and a professor with the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations. In her words, there is a lot of untapped trade potential between these neighbors. More so, some products, she feels, seem so exclusively present for each other, that trade feels necessary and reasonable.

Taneja’s words are substantiated by the World Bank report, “ A glass half filled; Promise of regional trade in South Asia”. Released in September 2018, the report estimated that trade between India and Pakistan can potentially reach up to $37 billion from the current trade of $2.4 billion.

Millions of lives is depend on Indo- Pak trade. Opening markets to each other could bring even more employment on both sides of the border

“It is always the people who are at the losing end,” said Sanjay Kathuria,  author of the report and lead economist with the World Bank. But given the immense trade potential between the countries, there is no reason why people on both sides should have to suffer.

Seventy years back, both these nations were torn apart by partition that ravaged countless lives. Cotton can be a commodity that can bind the subcontinent and bring people closer, one bale, one yarn at a time.

Predators turned protectors: India, Pakistan involve communities to save endangered species

By Arslan Sheikh, Farkhanda Ashfaq, Shahzaib Naik and Tanishka Mehtani

Separated by the perennially hostile Radcliffe line Pakistan’s Multan and India’s Sawai Madhopur share a unique example of conserving endangered wildlife. These two regions in the sub-continent stand tall for turning indigenous groups, which were once considered imminent threats, into major stakeholders responsible for conservation of biodiversity they live in.

Sharing a rich biodiversity, Multan, Punjab (Pakistan) and Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan (India) are home to the endangered Indus River dolphins and Royal Bengal tigers, respectively. The animals make for a global attraction, and drive ecotourism in the areas. However, not long ago, their numbers were fast declining. In such a critical situation, local communities, who used to be part of the problem, are emerging as the solution.

In early 2000s, tiger population in southeastern Rajasthan’s Ranthambore National Park had fallen to an all-time-low of 17. This was in line with the nationwide trend of rapidly declining tiger population. The alarmingly low population prompted Rajasthan’s Forest Department to spring into action, and adopt new strategies to protect India’s national animal. Today, the park is home to 67 tigers.

A key driver of this change is the local Mogya tribe, erstwhile notorious for poaching tigers in the name of crop-protection. The forest department, with the support of Tiger Watch, a local NGO, unearthed a distinct pattern among poachers who had been arrested; an overwhelming majority belonged to the same local tribe — Mogyas.

Mogyas reside in makeshift tents and mud houses in an enclosed space, safe from wild animals.

Dharmendra Khandal, who spearheads Tiger Watch, says, “We realized that our approach of putting the poachers behind bars was ineffective, as they went back to the same profession.” Tiger Watch, along with the Forest Department, were able to dissuade Mogyas from hunting animals, by employing them in conservation activities and

Around the same time, 400 miles northwest from Sawai Madhopur, officials at the Sustainable Tourism Foundation Pakistan (STFP) were facing an equally grave situation. Indus River Dolphin, a rare species which can only be found in the Indus river in Pakistan, was on the cusp of extinction.

About 80 kms from Multan, in Pakistan, Taunsa Barrage is a tourist destination popular for dolphin safaris.

Not long ago, these dolphins could be found in abundance from the Indus estuary up into the foothills of the mighty Himalayas. Locally known as Bhulan, the dolphin is currently the second most endangered species of freshwater dolphin in the world. The primary reason for this population plummet apart from poaching, is dolphins getting caught in the cast nets laid out by local fishermen.

Javed Iqbal, in-charge of Taunsa region for STFP, says, “A few years ago, dolphin population at Taunsa Barrage had gone as low as 800. Today, things are much better and Bhulan population has shown a healthy upward trend in recent times.” According to the latest WWF survey, there are more than 1,800 hundred dolphins at the Taunsa Barrage.

A sneak-peek into the conservation efforts

Javed Iqbal, head of Taunsa region, is associated with STFP since 2013.

Iqbal believes that community involvement in conservation activities has played a key role in this. STFP has started a dolphin safari programme which provides alternate employment to the fishermen. “Dolphin safaris are conducted using boats of local fishermen. This gives them employment and an incentive to help authorities in conservation activities and rescue operations,’’ adds Iqbal.

Khandal’s Tiger Watch has employed 50 locals — mostly Mogyas— who reside along the periphery of the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve. Further, they have established a school for young Mogya boys. Local women have also been employed in a handicrafts business by Dhonk, the business arm of Tiger Watch.

The volunteers  are paid to monitor the movement of tigers and other animals of the park, through camera traps and digital heat sensors. “In the past, we used to study tiger-movement from their pug-marks, which was highly inaccurate and flawed. A widespread network of local tribesmen who live along the border of the park gave us the manpower and reach to employ accurate and modern techniques of studying animal movements,” says Khandal.

Dharmendra Khandal has installed several camera traps to monitor tiger movement at the periphery of the reserve in Sawai Madhopur.

Mogyas are an indigenous semi-nomadic hunting tribe who, for generations, relied on their tribe-specific work of ‘crop protection’ as the only means of earning a livelihood. In addition to the widely-recognized meaning, the term ‘crop-protection’ has a unique connotation to it in this part of the world; it involves killing of wild animals who are seen as intruders and potential threats to crops.

Lakhan Singh, an elderly Mogya, explains that they were born into this profession and stuck to it, not to smuggle bushmeat but to make ends meet. A resident of Halonda, a small village on the periphery of the reserve, Singh was among the first to sign up for conservation efforts. A now-changed man, he says, “We don’t hunt animals anymore because our livelihood doesn’t solely depend on it now. We have a respectable alternate which helps the animals and in turn helps in clearing our muddy name.’’

Caught off guard: Lakhan Singh and his family share moments of quiet just before dusk in Halonda, Rajasthan.

Boat-owner Afaq Siddiq makes anywhere between PKR three and four thousand ($20-$30) per safari.

Thirty-five-year-old fisherman, Afzal Khalid, inadvertently, echoes Singh’s sentiments as he says that they were simply working when laying nets; they intended no harm. Riding with him on this wave of change is Afaq Siddiq (24), a boat owner of Taunsa, who is happy that not only have the dolphin safaris brought money, but also empathy towards dolphins. “It feels good that we are helping the dolphins. The safaris are seasonal for now. If these tours take place throughout the year, it will really help us, we will have a regular income,’’ says Siddiq.

These men are part of a changed breed, who are being given their due importance as catalysts of change. Their influence is gradually trickling down to the youth, as they pursue education and alternative career paths. Abhishek Baore, a young Mogya studying in class nine at the school run by Tiger Watch, says, “My father, like his father, was paid for protecting the villagers’ crops from animals, which sometimes meant killing them.”

Representing a significant shift in their mentality, Baore vehemently opposes the killing of animals, and dreams of one day becoming a forest guard.

Water scarcity not just a headline but a grim reality for the villages in Rajasthan, India and Sindh, Pakistan

By Abdul Latif, Poorvi Gaur, Rishabh Jain and Tamanna Rafique

4 May 2019

Bad water management and decline in groundwater levels have left Rajasthan, India, and Sindh, Pakistan, stuck in a crisis with severe water shortage in villages.Situated 40 kilometres from Karauli city,Rajasthan, India is a village called Omri, which is home to 42 families. They have only one borewell and it takes a minimum of two hours to fill one bucket. “We struggle every day to obtain water for our families. The politicians will never understand our woes, they only care about making money,” says Ranjit Singh, a farmer based in Omri. Rajasthan, the largest state in India, covers 11 percent of the country’s land but the water coverage is a mere two percent in this arid region.

Bordering Rajasthan is Sindh in Pakistan, a province that  faces water shortage. Of the 1.8 million people living in Badin district of Sindh Province, a majority are farmers by profession. The underlying water crisis has given rise to the issue of unemployment as well. “I have plowed my land and now the canal has run out of water. How am I supposed to cultivate my crops? This will cut down our annual production by 70 percent,” says Sardar Meer Ali, resident of Seerani, a village situated in the suburbs of Badin.

The converging politics of unjust water distribution by the governments is the main reason why the villagers of both Rajasthan, as well as Sindh, are facing such a grim crisis. “It is the Sindh Irrigation and Drainage Authority (SIDA) and other influential locals who dictate the water distribution in the state and promote unequal distribution,” says Tanveer Ahmed Arain,President, Badin Press Club.

image2Protest by farmers of  Badin,Pakistan for better access to water.

Protesting against this unequal distribution of resources in Badin, farmers have been on strike since February 2019.The government’s response to this has been slow. “We have no water to drink, the canals are dry. They used to supply water fortnightly and even that was not guaranteed.The filtration plants that were installed by the government to treat saline water have stopped working and the filter plant operator is nowhere to be found,”says Meer Akram, a farmer who has been a part of the protest

A report by The Hisaar Foundation, Pakistan states that only seven percent rural households in Badin had access to tap water. The situation is worse for the neighboring state of Rajasthan, India, where tap water is not even an option for the villagers. “We walk miles and miles every day to access the only well that still has water. We can only carry two pots at a time and we end up making multiple trips throughout the day and night and waste all our lives searching for water in the scorching heat,” says Narayani Devi, a resident of Hallapuri, Rajasthan. Amidst this struggle, there are some organizations and individuals in both India and Pakistan who trying to help the villagers to tackle this crisis.

Narayani Devi walks miles every day to fetch water(Location-Hallipura, Rajasthan, India)

Chaman Singh, popularly known as the ‘waterman’ of Rajasthan,India, is known for his work in the Karauli district of Rajasthan. He can often be found sitting on a charpoy bed during  hot summer afternoons, imploring the locals to let him help them build pokhars(man-made ponds) and pagaras(small irrigation channels) to practice rainwater harvesting.

image5.jpgChaman Singh with a group of villagers at Karauli,Rajasthan

image1Chaman Singh standing beside a newly built pagar or human made pond. (Location-Omri,Rajasthan)

“I quit my government job and joined Tarun Bharat Sangh,an NGO that works in the water sector in 1993 because I saw how this crisis was affecting people at the ground level. .Traditional methods of restoring groundwater are the most effective and with the implementation of recent technology, a lot can be done to revive the barren lands of Rajasthan.”

Over 29 years, Chaman Singh, through his association with the Tarun Bharat Sangh has helped build 4,500 johads (earthen check dams) in 1,050 villages of Rajasthan, regenerating 6,500 square kilometers of land for agriculture. According to Mukesh Singh, a volunteer who works with Chaman Singh, the involvement of the villagers in the process of building and harvesting is what makes it work.“When we let the villagers take the matters in their hands, our results reflect what the government policies overlook”, he adds.

“The government chooses a location as per its convenience without checking the water levels to build wells and then, the wells runs dry.Here, we work together with Chaman ji as one team and hence,the Pokhars continue to serve for years,”says 70-year-old farmer,Sridhar from Manakho village,who recently cultivated wheat for the very first time in his life.Before this restoration, all that the farmers in this area could grow were millets and hay for the cattle.

Like Tarun Bharat, it is the Badin Bachao Committee that is standing beside the villagers of Sindh,Pakistan,helping them to deal with  the government and water mafias for the control over the only natural canal which has water. Mr. Azizullah Dero, a member of the Committee has been fighting for the rights of rural Sindh to equal distribution of water. “We walk miles from our villages to Badin City to lodge our protest every day and we will not stop until our villages get the water they deserve,” he says.

image4Water Bodies are running dry in Badin,Pakistan

While the villages of Rajasthan are still hopeful about the restoration of groundwater, the villagers across borders in Sindh,Pakistan are stuck in a fight for access to water. The continued negligence of governments of both the countries has, of course, cast a spell of despair amidst the rural farmers of Rajasthan and Sindh.Even after 73 years of independence, the farmers of India and Pakistan like Sardar Meer Ali(resident of Seerani, Sindh) or  Babu Kaka(resident of Hallipura, Rajasthan), wake up every morning dreaming of a day when the governments would finally hear their woes and help them overcome this humanitarian crisis.


Towards a better future: Community efforts towards financial freedom for women.


Anwiti singh, Gourav Gandhi, Syed Omer, Yumna Ahmad

According to the world bank, only 27% women in India, and 22% women in Pakistan officially partake in any formal economic activity. Such statistics make it clear that women have largely been missing from the work front in the two countries. According to Development economist Jayati Ghosh, women’s participation in the workspace can be a good indicator of status of women in a particular society. If participation of women in the workforce increases, it will have multiple positive effects. Issues like wage-gap and gender-based discrimination will go down. But that is easier said than done. There are multiple socio-economic, cultural, and religious barriers between women and their financial independence. In both India and Pakistan, lack of proper education or even freedom to venture out on their own are major issues for women, especially in rural areas .

As per the census reports of India and Pakistan, female literacy rate is 64.8 percent (India) and 45% (Pakistan) With statistics like these, participation of women in the formal work-force becomes even more difficult. But entrepreneurship is one area where a degree isn’t necessary. All it requires is one’s own skills and a little financial support. And for the rural women in both countries, one of the most successful ways to save some money or start a venture is the concept of ‘self-help groups’. Self Help Groups (SHGs) are small financial intermediary committees. SHGs promote small monthly savings among their members. The savings are kept with the bank in most cases, depending on their need. This is the common fund in the name of the SHG and the president/cashier of the group may give small loans to its members from it.

But what about the women who are not a part of any SHG? How can they follow their dreams  of entrepreneurship? This is where various non-government organisations come into play. Many NGOs lend a helping hand to the rural women by generating awareness, facilitating loans, or giving direct funding to those in need. Kashf foundation and Abhivyakti are two such organisations that are helping the rural women of Pakistan and India lead better, financially stable lives.

Kashf foundation, based in Karachi, acts like a micro-financing institution and training centre for rural women in Pakistan. Abhivyakti, based in Delhi, works mostly in Northern states of India where they act as an intermediary between rural women and government institutions (like National Bank for Agricultural and Rural Development or NABARD). Both of these foundations have one common aim- financial empowerment of rural women.

The micro-finance route for entrepreneurship.

Microfinancing, or microcredit, is a way to provide capital to small business owners who don’t have access to traditional banking sources. This form of loans generally do not involve collateral and can be beneficial for rural women.

Kashf foundation is a non-banking microcredit institution in Pakistan, and the first of its kind according to the founder. The foundation helps women micro-entrepreneurs through a set of financial and non-financial products and services, keeping in view the special challenges and hurdles that women face in low-income communities.

“Our vision and mission is to strive for a poverty-free and gender equitable society. Our goal is to empower women by enabling them to become active agents of social and economic change in the society,” says Kashf founder Roshaneh Zafar.

The main focus of Kashf is microfinancing, where they provide women entrepreneurs with financial support to start their venture. People from the foundation go door to door, asking women if they need loans.

One of the 30,000 women, who have had the opportunity to feel empowered with the help of Kashf, is Khalida, 47 who lives in Thatta with her husband and two children. Soon after marrying her cousin in Punjab, she had shifted to Thatta with her family in search of  a better fortune. 

Khalida KASHF 2Khalida at her store.

“I was always intrigued by the embellishments (laces, motifs and colourful accessories) women put in their dresses, so I went to the market to buy such things. I started selling them through my home. Then, Kashf foundation reached out to me and my life drastically changed,” she said. As she got the first loan, she bought cosmetic items such as face washes, soaps, henna, shampoos and conditioners to sell at her home-based store. She then collaborated with different tailors in the region to make customised dresses for women so that they “would not feel any lesser than urban and modern women.”

She strongly believes women need to stand firm along with their husbands to earn for the family. When she started her business, her brothers criticized her. But now, she is happy to have proven them wrong, as she earns almost as much as them. She plans to take her third installment of the loan from KASHF foundation to set up a shop for her husband. Her children are going to a reputed private school in Thatta. She says she has enough amount left after paying back the loans.  

Like Khalida,  Marvi, 52 also lives in the province of Sindh but in Badin. She started making parandas while she was still an adolescent. She got married at the age of 18. However, she did not give up her passion; she continues to sell parandas to women who live nearby. When she came to know of KASHF, she applied for the loan without thinking twice. As soon as she got the loan, she decided to expand her business to other cities of Sindh. She has recently decided to take the third and last loan from Kashf foundation after paying back her previous two loans. Talking about Sindh government’s Benazir Income Support Program, she says, “Although government representatives came twice, I still have no card and no one ever came to facilitate me with any governmental grant.”

However, the advisor to Chief Minister Sindh, Murtaza Wahab says the government of Sindh has helped numerous women via Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP). The government of Pakistan led by Pakistan People’s Party had launched BISP in July 2008. It was passed by the parliament in 2010 and was called as the Benazir Income Support Programme Act 2010. “The idea behind BISP was to prepare a list of women living in rural areas and giving them certain amounts through bank transfer so that they could feel empowered,” he adds.  

                  Abhivyakti, teaching women the power of community through SHGs

SHG meeting SamraliAn SHG meeting at Samrali, Punjab, India.

While Kashf helps women by direct financial support, i.e. loans, Abhivyakti in India works a little differently. Inspired by the Gandhian philosophies of his late father, Shailendra Kumar Singh started the Abhivyakti foundation in 2000. The foundation is involved in Health & Sanitation, Education, Women & Child Development, Livelihood, Skill Development programmes etc.  For their skill development and SHG programmes, Abhivyakti foundation has been working with National Bank for Agricultural and Rural Development (NABARD) since 2012.

“It started with our SHG programme in Jalandhar. Now we have multiple clusters all across the state and each has 10-15 SHGs. Our skill development programme was also financed by NABARD. They gave us around Rs. 80,000 as grant and approximately three lakhs as loan (which we paid with interest). With this grant, we started a stitching training programme for Nehru Jackets. Around 25 ladies were trained and we hired the best of them to work at our production centre here,’ says Amritpal Singh, regional director of Abhivyakti, Punjab, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh division.

Chandravati, who was trained by Abhivyakti and now works at their production centre in Palwal, Haryana, says she has gained a lot from this programme. ‘I work here, making shopping bags and ladies purses (at the production centre) from morning till afternoon. They pay me anywhere from Rs. 15 to Rs. 50 per bag, depending on its size. And because they gave the stitching training, I take private commissions to stitch salwar-kameez at home,’ she says.  Chandravati is the sole earning member in a family of seven. Her husband was left paralysed after an accident ten years ago.

Abhivyakti’s journey began in Punjab, with their coordinators going around various small villages, creating awareness about the benefits of Self-help groups.  SHGs have emerged as an effective way of promoting entrepreneurship and self-confidence among women, particularly in rural areas. In the small village of Samrali, Punjab, Kulvinder Kaur is a member of Jai Mata Di AF, one of the many SHGs in the area. She always had a knack for cooking, and with a little financial help from the SHG and Abhivyakti, she now sells pickles for a living. “They set up a stall for me at the Suraj Kund Mela. And I made a lot of contacts. Last year, I sold twenty kilograms of pickles because of it.’

Like the many other women of the SHGs, Kulvinder has also taken financial help from the SHG. When her husband was ill, the members loaned her the money from their savings at just 1% interest.

Every member in an SHG contributes a fixed monthly amount to the group savings, in case of Kulvinder (Punjab) and Chandravati (Haryani), it is Rs. 200 per month. There is a cashier and a president appointed by the group which takes care of the savings and keeps the record books. Whenever a member is in need of money, they can inter-loan each other. If they don’t have that amount, the SHG collectively takes a loan from banks, and repays it with the interest paid by the debtor.

Skill development for true independence

A big hurdle in women employment in rural areas is a lack of higher education. One way they can overcome this weakness is by developing vocational skills. Skill development is something both Kashf and Abhivyakti advocate for. If the women have skills, they can choose to either start their own business or work for an existing one.

Since 2014, Kashf’s Vocational skill trainings have been equipping women micro-entrepreneurs with industry level skills to help increase their employability. Their training programmes include- tailoring, embellishment, beautician work and football stitching. Some of their training programmes are supported by the Punjab Skills Development Fund, the Coca-Cola Company, and other corporations.

Abhivyakti started their training camps in 2015, in collaboration with NABARD. In the first year, it was centred around training women to stitch the signature politician jackets popular in India called Nehru jackets. After the success of their first training programme, they conducted multiple training programmes, and set up many production units for jute bags, jacket stitching, canvas bag, and phulkari (a traditional embroidery style of Punjab) all across Punjab and Haryana. Each training programme can last between fifteen days to a month, depending on the art being taught there. Most of the women in these training camps come via the SHGs established with the help of Abhivyakti.

Training programme AbhivyaktiOne of the Abhivyakti training programmes in Moga, Punjab. The production centre here specialises in jute and canvass products.

The future

While NGOs like Kashf and Abhivyakti are doing their best to promote women participation in the workforce at the ground level, we still need the government bodies to be involved at the all the levels. The efforts of NGOs cannot replace a need for a proper government framework. There is a need for policies, schemes, and awareness programmes run by various institutions to promote women employment and entrepreneurship. “As long as the government isn’t taking dedicated steps, the condition of women representation in the work-force cannot be improved. Having a few schemes on paper to support women isn’t enough,” says Jayati Ghosh. In the meanwhile, the conscious efforts of NGOs and general public awareness can help to create a plan for a future where equal participation of men and women in the workforce can become a reality.  

Delhi and Karachi struggle to cope with glaring water crisis

By Abdul Latif, Poorvi Gaur, Rishabh Jain and Tamanna Rafique

2 May 2019

A normal day at Sangam Vihar, one of New Delhi’s many water-deprived slums, starts with uncertainty among residents, as they wait for the arrival of Delhi Jal Board Tanks which have the task of distributing water in this area. On fortunate days the trucks arrive after a wait of around two hours. As soon as the trucks reach, the gathering turns into a brawl as people await their turn for the water pipe.  

“There is a huge shortage of water. We don’t know if the water that comes is even clean but we don’t have many options..The water tank comes only once a week and even that is not for sure,” says Afsana, a resident of Sangam Vihar.

image3Sangam Vihar, New Delhi

According to a report published by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in 2018, Afsana represents a shocking 163 million of the total population of India, who till date, struggle to attain their constitutional right to safe drinking water (Article 27) (1)(b). A similar crisis resonates in Karachi, Pakistan. Shafiq Ahmed, a resident of Ali Nagar, Karachi leaves his house at 7 AM every day, in search of water. This often means him getting late for work and sometimes, even wasting his entire day in search of water for his family. The World Bank categorizes Pakistan as a severely water-stressed country.

With the increase in unchecked urbanization in India and Pakistan, lack of water is a major issue in cities. The Composite Water Management Index(2018) states that Delhi will run out of groundwater by 2020. Unregulated slums such as Sangam Vihar(New Delhi) and Orangi Town(Karachi) bear the brunt of unequal distribution of water in both cities. As a result, the residents of these colonies in Delhi and Karachi are forced to depend upon illegal tankers. The residents of Karachi pay 21 USD monthly, whereas in Delhi residents pay close to 7 USD.

Resident, Orangi Town, Karachi

One of the major reasons for this dire crisis is the wastage of water that occurs across the major metropolitan cities of developing countries. According to reports by NITI Aayog (2017), Delhi loses 40 percent of its water to pipe leaks. The water supply system is old and the broken pipelines are left to rot at the hands of the municipal corporations. Mismanagement of water is a major threat to the water economy of Karachi, as well. “Karachi requires its water supply network to be maintained, avoiding leakage of water which causes millions of gallons water wastage,” says Dr. Noman Ahmed, Dean, Faculty of Architecture at NED University, Karachi.

The water resources are depleting and there is an increase in consumers and effective utilization is the only way forward.Mr.S.K Goyal, Head, Council of Scientific & Industrial Research-National Environmental Engineering Research Institute(NEERI), New Delhi, stresses on the need to treat sewage water as he points out that most upper-class urban households in Delhi and Karachi, use RO purifiers that generate huge amounts of wastewater.“Reusing reject-water can cut down the city’s fresh water requirement. We need to aware our citizens of budgeting water consumption at each level,” he says.

image2Sewage-waste treatment can improve the roads & restore groundwater in Orangi Town, Karachi.

In places like Sangam Vihar, shopkeepers fill unsealed plastic bottles and sell them as mineral water. The reason why the residents of both cities have to rely on illegal water tanks and bottled water is the deplorable quality of groundwater. Report by the World Bank(2019) states that poor groundwater quality and lack of wastewater treatment cause water-borne diseases that kill 110 children in Pakistan every day. “Our kids fall ill every day after drinking this saline water, the water trucks demand huge bribes..It has been five years since we last saw clean water,” says Mumtaaz, mother of three and resident,Orangi Town, Karachi. Sangam Vihar resident and father of two, Kanhaiya too, worries about his children who end up visiting the doctor more than their classrooms due to frequent water infections.

image4Plastic tanks and bottles are the most profitable business ventures in Delhi’s Sangam Vihar.

Irregularity of tanks is a common phenomenon across borders(Location: Harkesh Nagar, New Delhi).

Any improvement in the current water situation in both cities can only occur through a revamp of the current water policies of Delhi and Karachi. “In order to meet the challenges, there needs to be a shift in the way we manage urban water systems. Integrated Urban Water Management approach must be adopted by these cities which involves managing freshwater, wastewater, and stormwater, using an urban area as the unit of management,” says Mr.Qazi Syed Wamiq Ali, Research Associate, TERI, India. Mr.Ali’s call to action must raise concerns as now is the only time left to act upon this humanitarian crisis before it becomes a lost battle.