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

malir jail
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.




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.

Plastic pollution in Delhi and Karachi

Akshata Mishra & Arsalan Sheikh

India observed World Environment Day on June 5 where it hosted “Beat Plastic Pollution”, an event in association with the United Nations EnvironmentProgramme (UNEP) in New Delhi. Even then, plastic pollution is on the rise and not nearly adequate measures have been taken to curb it.

ThePlastic Waste Management Rule, 2016 has not been implemented entirely and remains on paper largely. A specific rule under the Extended Producers’ Responsibility (EPR) states that the producers and generators must be held responsible for the plastic waste management system. There should also be a collect back system to deal with such waste, as per the rule. However, it is yet to be implemented entirely.

Delhi had banned plastic bags in 2009. The ban on plastic bags includes the manufacture and sale of all kinds of plastic sheets and bags. It includes shopping bags, garbage bags and all kinds of plastic films and storage packets. Only plastic bags which are required for medical waste is exempted. The use and disposal of plastic bags are still prevalent by and large for carrying groceries and takeaways, etc.. However, according to a report, 25,940 tonnes of plastic waste is produced in Delhi every day, which is home to about 20 million people. 50%of plastic waste is single-use or disposable.

Despite various provisions, policies and laws the use of plastic is prevalent by and large. It has caused the death of bovine animals and has also lead to land, water, and underground water pollution. Traces of microplastics have even been found in drinking water as plastic disposed off on land degrades slowly and its chemicals leech into the surroundings. India accounts for almost 18% of the world population. With its 2.4% of the global land area, the accumulation of plastic waste is enormous. A study revealed that 20 rivers (mostly from Asia) carry two-thirds of plastic waste to the ocean; the Ganga’s contribution to itis one of the highest.

“The Centre’s somewhat liberal estimate shows over 60% of about 25,000 tonnes of plastic waste generated daily is collected. That essentially means a staggering 10,000 tonnes of trash is being released into the environment, a lot of it is going into the sea. Also, not every piece of plastic collected by the system is scientifically processed”, quoted a news report in The Hindu.

In the wake of the current situation of the problem of plastic pollution in Delhi, it has become imperative that the citizens of the national capital take matters in their hands and venture forth to clean their city. The concept of Plogging – running and picking up trash – a movement that was started in Sweden, has now become an activity practiced worldwide. “With the exception of a small population of environmentally conscious individuals and organisations, public concern towards the issue is largely laced with apathy and indifference”, stated Abhimanyu Chakravorty, the founder of PloggaIndia, a foundation which takes up the initiative of plogging in Delhi.

A lot of the garbage on the streets doesn’t picked up and stays stacked up in landfills and waste houses. As it lies accumulated and does not get disposed off properly and recycled or composted, it ends up getting dumped in rivers and oceans, clogging the streets giving off stench during the rainy season and getting washed off into the river, polluting it further. The problem of waste management in Delhi has reached its acme. Problems like landfills catching fire, the Bhalswa landfill recently is another calamity which the city faces when it comes to disposing off of plastic waste. “Ploggingbecame our way of addressing plastic pollution and over time, we started to address other issues in the waste management system, such as recycling, the lives of waste pickers, the concept of zero waste, tree plantation drives etc.” stated Chakravorty.

Tobacco packets, styrofoam plates & glasses, single-use polythene bags, chips packets in large numbers, plastic bottles etc. are some of the common items that are picked up by ploggers. The waste collected is then segregated to recyclables and non-recyclables. A very less percentage of plastic waste collected qualifies for recyclable waste, which is then sent to the municipal authorities. The rest of it goes to the landfills. A waste audit is also done by plogging teams regularly to notify brands so that they may shift their packaging to more organic ones.

Another problem that the city faces is the lack of an equitable number of dustbins. Even if they are present they are not separated and tagged to collect organic and non-decomposable waste separately. While a considerable number of the population do not bother to throw the waste in the dustbins, segregation becomes an impossible task. Even the trash collected from homes, which can easily be segregated, is not separated. Moreover, the municipal authorities have only one vehicle to collect all the waste and as a result, it all gets dumped in one place. This becomes the breeding ground for vectors and a deadly fodder for bovine animals. “We definitely need to segregate waste at source. We also need to respect the work waste pickers are doing for us, they are the backbone of our informal recycling sector, and they need better wages for them to do their work best! ” stated Chakravorty.

It was observed that when the citizens engaged in activitieslike plogging, they became more environmentally conscious. It had a positivespill over effect in the closed community that was formed, in terms ofsustainable use of energy. “It’s our throw away culture that’s at the root ofthe problem. We have traditionally lived a frugal lifestyle but consumerism hastaken over and this is what is leading to the waste problem. We need to getinto the waste minimisation mode where we start thinking of reducing, reusingand precycling”, stated Chakravorty. Precycling is identifying the kind of plasticsbefore we make a purchase. This practice makes us aware and conscious of the type of plastic that the consumer is going to buy and if it is recyclable or not.

Field biologists are of the opinion that overflowing landfills have contaminated our groundwater beyond proportion, for the communities living next to them. The people living next to them are consuming this contaminated groundwater and are becoming prone to various health risks right from birth. The marine ecosystem has been heavily affected by the slush of plastic waste which stays there for hundreds of years, leading to death, starvation, deformities and even extinction. Plastic pollution has now started to add to the already deplorable condition of air pollution in Delhi. Land pollution is another aspect which is quite complex and not easy to solve due to the paucity of it. However, a recent study conducted by Universities abroad has also found traces of microplastics in the human body. It is largely due to the consumption of underground water and species of animals which are exposed to plastic waste. In a way, the entire food chain is under threat due to plastic pollution.

Karachi’s Plastic Monster

Plastic is convenient and cheap, thus it is widely used around the world. According to Plastics Europe, a trade association which represents plastics manufacturers active in the European plastics industry, in the year 2016 alone, 335 million metric tons of plastic was produced

A byproduct of oil and gas, plastic may have its uses but it is a known fact that it does not get decompose on its own. Depending on the type of plastic, it may take anywhere between 100 and 600 years to decompose.

It is virtually impossible to recycle the heaps of discarded plastic every day, so it find its way to landfills, large burners or in the seas. Erik van Sebille’s research article revealed that almost 8 million metric ton of plastic is being thrown in the oceans annually, which is like dumping a truck full of waste every minute of the day. Interestingly, a new study of Dr. Christian Schmidt of Germany, found almost 95% of the plastic which is polluting oceans comes from only 10 rivers and Pakistan’s Indus River is one of those.

According to the researchers who conducted the study, 88% of this volume is the result of sheer mismanagement. Pakistan Plastic Manufacturers Association reported that the per capita use of plastic in Pakistan in 5.5 kg, moreover, the country imports 1.07 metric ton of polymers every year.

Karachi being the largest city of the country, consumes a large chunk of plastic products produced in Pakistan. However, even with the constant increase in the usage and production of plastic, authorities seem to be at a loss when it comes to waste management.

There is a sizeable plastic manufacturing industry in Karachi.”The plastic Industry in Karachi is huge, with private firms producing it on various volumes of production,” says Ahsan Khan, a representative of Pakistan Plastic Manufacturers Association. The body is affiliated with the Director General of Trade Organizations and is working to expand the industry in the country. “However, a large majority of these manufacturers are not registered with the government,” he lamented.

The government of Pakistan only allows the manufacture and use of oxo-biodegradable shopping bags, which are usually above 30 microns. The shopping bags of 30 micros are thicker, they do not fly with air pressure and are also reusable. However, there is no implementation on these sanctions from the authorities as bags without D2W, a substance that sets a pre-programmed life of plastic and starts naturally decomposing, are openly used everywhere in Pakistan, including Karachi.”Manufacturers are selling shoppers with a biodegradable stamp on them, though it is fake and there is no inquiry against them,” Khan added.

These non-biodegradable shoppers are nearly impossible to recycle and they do not decompose. As a result, they become a threat to the environment. A significant chunk of this plastic ends up in rivers and oceans through different channels, which adversely affects the marine life.

A World Economic Forum’s report estimated by the scientists that by 2050, the amount of plastic will exceed the number of marine life in the sea in terms of weight. Fish and other sea creatures consume this plastic and are then eaten by human, thus becoming part of the food cycle and cancerous for people.”There have been much talk about birds and fish dying because of consuming plastic, similarly, there must be fish and crabs eating plastic, which we dine on and the particles transfer to our body, because it does not decompose, it is one of the reasons for cancer becoming so common,” says Toseef Pasha, an environmentalist.

There are two other ways of disposing plastic waste – either you burn it to ashes or you bury it in the ground. The amount of plastic which is being produced and added to waste is too much to effectively dispose of in this manner. Besides, both methods are unsafe for the environment as well as living organisms.

“When plastic wastage is dumped in landfills along with other discarded materials, it creates a chemical[Leachate], which leaks down to water reservoirs in the rocks. The contaminated water is consumed by animal, plants and humans, which again end up in the food cycle,” explains Ahmed Shabbar, who has been researching the subject with the intent to set up a recycling plant. On the other hand, burning plastic is a common practice in Karachi and is disastrous for the environment.”Toxic gases are being released on burning plastic, so it cannot be a viable option to handle this problem,” he adds.

“See the environment of the city, there is no rain, there is scorching heat throughout the year, winters hardly arrive. Our food is contaminated, our water is toxic, we have been eating, breathing, seeing pollution and plastic has a huge role in this dilemma,” laments Shabbar.

There are recyclers working in Karachi, but they are unaware of the affects it is causing on the environment or on public health. All they know and do is to crush and melt all the plastic from which they can produce more plastic.”The recyclers in localities like Shershah are interested in crushing plastic, melting it, washing it and then producing grains for further manufacturing,” mentioned Zeeshan Khan, who is an engineer having experienced of working plastic manufacturing firms and currently associated with Ministry of Industries.

There are two major problems in what they are doing in the name of recycling. The first and foremost issue is, they do not differentiate between the recyclable and non-recyclable products. Secondly, they tend to melt plastic in open burners, which cause air pollution.”Recyclers in Karachi mix hospital waste, such as used syringes, gloves and other harmful objects with other plastic. No matter how much you wash or heat them, there is always some toxic particles attached to them, if you reproduce any food packaging material from these, it will be harmful,” Khan added.

So the question remains – how to deal with this plastic monster? “First, government has to step in, which has been almost ignorant of this massive problem. The government should run campaigns to create awareness regarding the cons of using this eco-unfriendly products,” Khan suggested. It is the people, who can make a significant difference, otherwise the devil is almost impossible to stop.”We have already been crushed by these mountains of plastics, there are researches going on, hopefully they will come up with a solution, but unfortunately, we have gotten late, we need drastic measures, we do not have 50 or 100 years to take down this problem,” Pasha stated.

Karachi has become a city too big for its own good, so do the problems of the city.Karachiites will have to come to basic to tackle this plastic pollution. It is the citizens of Karachi, who need to step up and get aware of the issue. Boycotting plastic bags is one of the solutions, it will be tough for them, but it will help the cause slowly and gradually.”Take the bag of cloth, use bowls to buy things like yogurt, get a bottle when you purchase milk, it sounds old-fashioned, it sounds a bit tough, but you have to go some extra miles to win against plastic, tolerate the inconvenience and think about our future generations,” emphasized Pasha.

On the other hand, Pakistan Plastic Manufacturers Association is in talks with the Minister of Climate Change, Zartaj Gul, regarding the pollution caused by their production. They are looking to bring in laws that can help the industry grow safely and at the same time mitigate the environmental problem. They are hopeful to convince government to introduce harsher penalties for those flouting the law when it comes to the manufacture and sale of plastics.

India’s forbidden love

Nineteenth-century American essayist and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson believed that all the world loved, a lover. However, Indian society does not seem to be agreeing with Ralph’s belief.  In India, falling in love with the wrong person is deadly.  Every day, couples are brutally murdered on account of bringing dishonor to their families by falling in love, defying caste system and for rejecting strict social boundaries.

 In 2002, the entire nation plunged into shock when Nitish Katara, an MBA graduate and the son of IAS officer was murdered by his girlfriend’s family. The case fought by Nitish’s mother, Neelam Katara, went on for 15 years. However, not much has changed in the past 16 years. In fact, the situation has got even worse. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Between 2014 and 2015 alone, the number of honor killings in India leaped by 798 percent.  States such as Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, and Andhra Pradesh are leading in such extrajudicial killings. “ 

In 2016, the evil of honor killing came to the fore once again when a young 23-years-old photographer, Ankit Saxena was murdered last year.  Falling in love with a Muslim girl was his only fault.  According to a BBC report, year after year 20,000 women were being murdered the world over, especially in Asia for falling in love with men whom their families and communities considered unsuitable.

Jagmati Sangwan a social activist in Haryana who has been fighting for this cause from very long time says, “Honour is just a sham, this term in itself is wrong because there is nothing honorable in this act.”

 Saviours From Honour killing

“Falling in love for us, was just like committing a sin,” says Zainul who fell in love with a Hindu girl Neha from Siliguri. Neha told, “I was beaten up by my family and had to stop taking classes when my family got to know about my relationship with Zainul”. Zainul and Neha eloped and reached out to for help after going through a traumatizing period of two months. The couple found a safe haven in Delhi provided by an NGO called Dhanak. The NGO helped them get married too.

“Falling in love for us, was just like committing a sin,” says Zainul who fell in love with a Hindu girl Neha from Siliguri. Neha told, “I was beaten up by my family and had to stop taking classes when my family got to know about my relationship with Zainul.” Zainul and Neha eloped and reached out to for help after going through a traumatizing period of two months. The couple found a safe haven in Delhi provided by an NGO called Dhanak. The NGO helped them get married too.

“Loving beyond social boundaries is fraught with many challenges in India,” says  Anish a cinematographer by profession who fell in love with a Muslim girl Tayyaba. The pall of gloom fell over the familywhen the family came to know about their relationship. When they saw that their family will not accept them they took help of an NGO Dhanak and they helped us in getting married.

Caste system stood in the way of Aarti and Ravikant’s story. Aarti belonged to the so-called upper caste Brahmin family while Ravikant belonged to the Jat community. Fearing death at the hands of her family, Aarti decided to leave Bhopal and come to Delhi.  The story of Arti who belongs from upper-class Brahmin community and Ravikant who belongs from Jat community also sought the help of NGO and after staying in a shelter home provided by Dhanak, they finally got married a few days back. Dhanak an organization based in Delhi is providing shelter, legal and financial help to couples from all across India. Dhanak was born in 2005. When few interfaith couples decided to get together with the intention to form a front.

“The idea was to help couples from similar backgrounds to come together and form a support structure for couples,” says Shabana, Secretary of Dhanak. All the members and members of Dhanak has the same stories to share. Shabana a psychologist by profession married Rajeev way back in 2005 after facing lots of odds in their life.  “Standing firm in face of societal opposition requires elephantine courage and when it is about Hindu Muslim marriage the obstacles in the way gets double,” so few couples like us with the thought that what we faced in life shouldn’t be faced by anyone else. Thus we created this forum to help out other couples cutting across caste and religion.  Shabana who got married to a Hindu guy in 2003 says: “Marrying against the wishes of the family is like striding on a thorny road. It has been 15 years of happy married life but still, everything is not normal, riders imposed on us from both sides of the family are still persistent.”

“While doing work on ground level the issue that shook our conscience was how couples were murdered in broad daylight, be ita case of Manoj- Babli or Be it a case of Nitish Katara that pricked us up about the legal void existing in Indian law to target the perpetrators of the crime,”says Ravikant a supreme court lawyer and President of NGO Shakti Vahini in Delhi. This legal void prompted Shakti Vahini to file PIL in 2010.  A bench hearing the PIL delivered a remarkable Judgement earlier this year that, “ Khap Panchayats has no right to act as conscience keeper of society.”

“We have won half battle as apex court of the country has directed the central government to frame and implement a stringent law identifying honour crimes in India. We as an organization will keep on fighting for this cause,” says Ravikant. 

Honor Crimes: Unholy Alliance of Patriarchy and Feudalism

A steep jump of 796 % was seen in the ‘honour’ killings according to the NationalCrime Record Bureau NCRB data in the year 2015. 28 murder cases were recorded in 2014, while the number jumped to 251 in the year 2015. States like Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh are the infamous states where honour crimes are most rampant in the country. Lack of a separate law, shared interests of political leaders and archaic institutions such as Khap Panchayats in overlooking the gravity of the matter and societal pressure to toe its line are the main roadblocks.

Demands for the enactment of a separate law on honour crimes have fallen on deaf ears, says Jagmati Sangwan, General Secretary, All India Democratic WomenAssociation. “When we met the then Law Minister Sadanand Gowda in 2014 and demanded the new law he said that the government would look into the demand but the actions of the government have not been forthcoming.” According to experts, there is no mechanism to recognize a crime as honour crime and the cases get registered under the murder and other IPC provisions cloaking the hideous nature of this crime where one gets killed at the hands of her near and dear ones.

Demanding a separate law against honour crimes on the lines of DomesticViolence Act 2005, Sangwan says, “In honor crimes your family members are the main culprits. In such a situation, it is very hard to establish the culpability of the accused as the crime is not reported to the Police in the first place and even if reported it becomes very hard to collect the requisite evidence. When you have a separate law like the Domestic Violence Act 2005, the onus will be on the accused to prove his innocence and not on the state machinery to prove his guilt.” Once a separate law gets enacted, it will be difficult for the accused family members to secure bail and get away with the crime, addedSangwan.

Apart from inter-caste and inter-religion marriages, marrying within the same Gotra(Clan), Guhand (neighbourhood), and a person from the same village also invite the wrath of archaic elements which results in consequences such as ex-communication, exile and violence against the couples. Aarti Tiwari, a 25year old Brahmin girl, married Ravikant who comes from the Jat community only to be abandoned by her family. Longing for her mother hopelessly and afraid for her husband’s safety at the same time Aarti says, “Sometimes I think of going to Bhopal to meet my mother and family but then… better sense prevails. It’snot safe in Bhopal. The only problem my parents had was Ravi’s caste. They would not have abandoned me if I had eloped with a Brahmin boy.”

Not withstanding the beliefs and age-old association of people with such issues, one can see through the vote bank politics and a political economy as part and parcel of honour crimes in the country. “Due to very bad sex ratio in Haryana, thousands of youth get married to women who are trafficked and ‘bought’ from poor states like Bengal and Bihar. Do they ascertain their caste and clan before marrying them? No.”. Highlighting the economy associated with the whole issue, Sangwan says, “If this was an issue linked to marriage only, the reaction would have not been this loud and violent. Their (upper caste) thinking is- today the girl’s hostile about her marriage; tomorrow she could become hostile for the property as well and ask for her share. The shift of land and property from the propertied class to have nots of our society is their biggest fear. Patriarchy and Feudalism are hands in glove on this issue.”

Through snail-paced, the political machinery is being forced to acknowledge the gravity of the issue and take action on the same front. “Couple Protection homes are being built across the country where the couples can stay in a safe and protected environment. Also, the Apex Court has also laid its guidelines where the District Superintendent of Police will be held responsible if a couple is harmed under her watch,” says Ravikant, President Shakti Vahini, an NGO working on the issue. However, these developments are the small steps and the movement has a long road to tread  

Shrinking spaces: Encounters of homeless women on roads

By-Ahmad Belal, Anubhav Chakraborty, Arpita Singh, Ayesha Khan, Azam Abbas & Filza Rizwan

The idea of space has been severely contested for the longest period of time between several sections of the society. The oppressor and the oppressed contest over the ‘Demarcation of space’ almost every time. In some cases, it might be based on caste or class division and in some cases, it might be based upon gender division. Women historically have been denied the rights to ‘public places’ as a systematic way of marginalizing them. However, things have changed, with the rise of the new India milieu, there is a high section of working women population who are challenging the outdated patriarchal norms.

A cold winter morning

Rain baseras or homeless shelters area part of an initiative launched by the Delhi government in a hope to give comfort and shelter to people who are homeless. There is around 144 Rain base as currently in operation in and across Delhi. Among these, there are certain shelter homes which are just reserved for women and their children. Most people come and stay here on a day to day basis, while some people prefer sleeping in these shelter homes, some like loitering around outside as it somehow curbs their freedom. Reasons to not stay in a night shelter can be multi-fold and not traced back easily to one single cause and effect.

While the facilities which are provided in these shelter homes are mostly adequate, however, there is still systematic negligence which these shelter homes face in terms of most of them not having a properly established fence in and around the compound, time restrictions for entry and exit from these shelter homes and proper management of these shelter homes.

We tried to find women who would narrate their stories on why they prefer to sleep outside rather than the homeless shelters which are provided to them and what the concept of ‘home’ or the idea of residence means to them per say, and how many have won the battle against the society and how many are continuing to fight it till these point of time.

Who said ‘Dogs are a man’s best friend’?

NewDelhi, the capital of the ‘bright spot’ amongst all developing countries, is also the city infamous for its unsafe streets for women and is thus, often dubbed as the ‘rape capital. On December 16, 2012, a 23 y/o woman was gang-raped inside a moving bus and the incident shook the nation to its core. Women took to the streets to raise their voices, and were further angered by the thecontinuous rhetoric of ‘What was she doing out so late?’ The incident marked a movement that started out for women to reclaim public spaces.

Image for Pakisatni students Pexels.com

The norm is that women’s access to public space has to be conditional to a specific purpose. Once the purpose is fulfilled, they should no longer remain in thepublic space. Pinjra Tod, a movement based out of New Delhi, is attempting tofight this idea. It is no news that women’s hostels in India have curfewtimings while most men’s hostels don’t.

Three years on, the movement continues to fight for women in the public space. It is not only questioning the boundaries set for women but also the internalisation of patriarchal practices. Since 1953, the boys of Hindu college worship a banyan tree as a Virgin tree. Several students gather around a tree amidst a lot of fanfare to paste a picture of a woman and proclaim her as the object of male desire. As per Pinjra Tod, this celebration reeks of misogyny and views a woman only as an object of desire, not as an equal citizen. The idea is that only men have the right to express their sexuality, women are simply objects.

TheReclaim the Nights movement began in August 2017 in Chandigarh in response to the stalking case of DJ Varnika Kundu by Vikas Barala, the son of a prominent politician. Close to 700 people stepped out on the streets of Geri route for the Bekhauf Azadi March to reclaim the nights.

The boundaries are clearly defined.

Some incidents touch a chord and appeal to the collective conscience of the people. Most of the time, however, they remain as bystanders who simply do not want to interfere in another person’s matter. The #AskingForIt initiative by a Delhi based NGO Breakthrough attempts to focus the attention on the role of bystanders who have the power to influence the situation but largely remain ignorant. Some of them even end up blaming the girl, who is simply going about her day. They decided to flip the rhetoric by asking #WhatAreAskingFor and #WhatAreWeNotAskingFor?

Have the movements made an impact on the unconditional presence of women in public spaces? Do women feel safer maneuvering their way around the city? Women in collectives claim more women out on the streets means safer and inclusive spaces for them, however, a similar feeling of safety for a lone women stepping out still needs to be addressed.

The movements are centered on campuses, mainly fuelled by the urban middle-class women going to colleges. These movements rarely address the discourse on the lower class women and their mobilization. There need to be stronger efforts aimed at mobilizing the rural areas so that they too, can be a part of making sure their spaces are safer and more inclusive.

Asgari Begum

It was early morning, close to Nizamuddin In Khusrau park when people were draped in the blanket of their dreams. We met one such woman who was laying with her two kids, they were rabbits who were named ‘Amitabh’ and Rekha’. When we looked a bit closer, we came to know that in these modern times, when people don’t have time to talk to her, she found her own time to have a conversation with her rabbits.

Asgari Begum arrived in Delhi as a teenager, she came from her birthplace Calcutta in search of a new life where she would have her own family and a home.

They say destiny is pre-written. She got married and had her own kids, however even after thirty years she couldn’t find her own home. She tried every possible way to build a home but she failed, and now she works as a rag picker.

With the passage of time, she fell in love with Nizamuddin Dargah and its adjacent surroundings and in the last thirty years, she has made that her home.

She is happy now, however, the fate of a homeless remains uncertain always, because there is no guarantee when she can be evicted from the premises.

In 2017, she received the biggest shock of her life, when the Delhi government decided to demolish every makeshift shanty in Khusro Park. She pleaded multiple times to the government, however, nothing worked. After all who will listen to a homeless person?

However she still hasn’t lost all hope, she is still optimistic about having her own home in few years by saving the money which she earns as a ragpicker and without any feeling of ‘fear’ and ‘paranoia’, she will have her own home.

Seema Begum

Folding her bed sheet, Seema waits for her daughter to get up in the morning. She bought two cups of tea from a nearby stall, she is worried the tea will get cold if her daughter will take any more time. Seema’s daughter visits her once in a blue moon, whenever she feels like. Otherwise, they prefer living away from each other.

Seema has been living in a small corner in Khusro Park near Nizammudin Dargah in Delhi. Seema says the corner is where she belongs, she has an affection with the place to an extent that she wouldn’t trade it for a palace. Seema’s shanty was demolished by the government in 2017. Her heart was broken but her attachment to the place didn’t. She couldn’t leave the place even when her husband died last year. “I was introduced to the road by my husband. He brought me here after our marriage. His company made this footpath a palace for me.”


At the age of seven, leaving behind the abusive father and a six-month-old sister, Radha fled nights of physical torcher and days of forceful labour only to find herself stuck in the arduous circle of drug abuse and petty thefts near Kalkaji Mandir. Since her birth, shehas been mostly abandoned and left alone.

Since that time she arrived in Delhi, she found herself living on the streets, lingering wearily in the neighborhood, spending time in deserted narrow lanes yearning for food and a way to escape her situation.

Today, when she looks back at her life she gets teary-eyed at the afflictions that she endured.

Bare Hands: A struggle for dignity of labour


By-Zeeshan Kaskar, Karan Anand, Akhilesh Nagari, Eisha Hussain and Tahira Noor Khan:

These lines from Langton Hughes’, ‘The Black Man Speaks’ exhibit how democracy, which promises equality and dignity to every citizen, consists of groups that are marginalized and face continued oppression.

This holds true for the community of manual scavengers in India. Most of the manual scavengers largely belong to the historically oppressed and marginalized Dalit community. The Dalits have also been discriminated against for being “untouchables”. Though untouchability and caste discrimination remain banned by the Constitution of India, the discrimination faced by dalits, has insidiously crept through to the modern society. People from the dalit community have been restricted to the dehumanizing profession of manual scavenging and are subsequently alienated and ghettoised.

In recent years, the government came up with the Swach Bharat Mission, a scheme which claims to clean up the streets, roads, and infrastructure of India by 2019. The central government has spent around Rs 530 crore over its publicity in the last three years but the promises don’t include any relief for the manual scavengers. An overwhelming majority of sanitation workers in India are still contractually employed, wherein they aren’t paid any minimum fixed wages, and often had to work under the hazardous conditions without any safety measures.

“Our kids are asked to sit separately in the school and are bullied because of our profession,” tells Virender, a 40-year-old manual scavenger. He lives in a neighbourhood where most people belong to his caste. He says other professions are closed for him and the people of his community. “People refrain from giving us any other job because of our caste.”

“Our kids are asked to sit separately in the school and are bullied because of our profession,” tells Virender, a 40-year-old manual scavenger. He lives in a neighbourhood where most people belong to his caste. He says other professions are closed for him and the people of his community. “People refrain from giving us any other job because of our caste.”

In 1993 The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act was passed and in 2013 Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act was passed to stop the employment of people in the degrading job of cleaning human excreta. Though the government employed sanitation workers do not have to enter manholes anymore, those illegally employed by private contractors have no respite. Despite countless deaths of manual scavengers, not a single person has been convicted under these acts.

The government’s apathy towards the issue reflects in the discrepant budgetary allocation. While in 2013-14, the Budget Allocation for manual scavengers was Rs.557 crores, it has seen a drastic plunge to Rs. 5 crores in the 2017-18 budget.

Manual scavenging, apart from being dehumanizing, is also a lethal profession. In 2017 alone, more than 300 people died due to it as stated by National Safai Karamchari Andolan. Manual scavengers are exposed to high concentration of poisonous gases causing various health issues like hepatitis, cholera, meningitis, typhoid, and cardiovascular problems. Many die because of asphyxiation in the manholes.

According to a survey conducted by the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, around 20,500 people have been identified as manual scavengers across 18 states. These figures have been contested by NGOs and other organisations for the welfare of manual scavengers and thus, considered to be grossly underestimated. The National Commission for Safai Karamchari, on the contrary, reports that there are more than 30 lakh manual scavengers and one person dies every five days because of manual scavenging.

Manual Scavengers are from the caste groups which are relegated to the bottom of the caste hierarchy and are confined to a livelihood which is perceived as deplorable or deemed to be too menial by the higher caste groups. The caste designated profession further reinforces the social stigma that they are unclean or untouchable and thus perpetuates their misery.

An absurd misery

Entangled within the web of society, Virender, a 40-year-old manual scavenger, shares his community’s agony. He talks about the discrimination they face every day, how their children are coerced to sit separately in school and bullied for being born into a manual scavenger’s family. His voice trembles with the years of disappointment both from the society and the government, as he explains his predicament.

While cleaning the gutter, with his hands immersed in the muck, he said with a smile, “..sometimes while cleaning the sewage we come across such disgusting things, that it  becomes impossible for us to eat.”

The sight of him cleaning the shit is one rattled with an absurd misery; the longing for something seemingly impossible, nostalgia for what never was and the regret for not being something else.

In a dim-lit room with walls smeared with a quaint blue, Virender took a chair to sit and started eating. He remembered his co-workers and friends who lost their lives while cleaning the gutters. He says that if it were up to him, he would straight away leave this profession. But in order to survive and provide his children quality education, if he has to work as a manual scavenger, he would.

Virender and many others like him start their days with some booze and smoke. They explain that if it were not for intoxication, they would never be able to convince themselves to get in the gutter brimming with human excreta and muck. The alcohol helps them fathom the courage to face the pungent smell that welcomes them in the sewer.

Even though the government has banned the act of manual scavenging, the discrimination against those still involved or previously involved in the profession doesn’t end there. While Dharampal, a permanently employed sanitation worker with the government organ doesn’t have to enter the manholes anymore, he has still not managed to escape the discrimination perpetuated by the caste system. Most people still don’t let him come near their houses. They despise his presence as if the squalor they produce is stuck to the bodies of Dharampal and others like him.

An old manual scavenger waiting for work on a wintry morning 
2 PM: Waiting

The irony of being Rani

Rani (literally translates to queen), a 35-year-old woman, has the most ironic name. With eyes filled with tears, she recounts a life full of hardships and short-lived happiness.

In a dingy shanty, with the haunting absence of her husband, Rani lives with three young children. Her husband, Anil, was a manual scavenger and died on 14 September 2018, because of asphyxiation while cleaning a sewer in West Delhi.

“My life has become unbearable without Anil. I constantly think of immersing myself in mother Ganges (a Holy river according to Hindu mythology). But something pulls me back. Maybe it’s the thought of my three young children who have nobody except me.”

Rani feels that if there were no manholes, her husband wouldn’t have died. She hopes that all manholes are closed and no other woman has to face the same fate as she did.

Rani’s story echoes the wail of a hapless woman resonating the agonizing pain of the life of a manual scavenger’s family, her four-month-old son passed away after fighting his last battle with pneumonia, and soon after that blow, within six days Anil passed away, leaving Rani with her three children alone at the mercy of God. 

The Tyranny of Caste

Caste discrimination is the Achilles’ Heels of the Indian society. Dr. B R Ambedkar, the writer of the Indian Constitution and the one who coined the term “Dalit”(oppressed)—has compared caste discrimination in India with that of the discrimination against Jews under Hitler. Caste is a social structure which permits the domination of one caste (a social status in the ‘divinely ordained’ social hierarchy in the Hindu society) by the other on the basis of hereditary. Simply put, it means a perpetual domination of one caste on the other.

According to Stanley Rice, the origin of untouchability is to be found in the unclean and filthy occupations of the untouchables. The Dalits have been forced to clean human excreta, burn dead bodies and remove animals’ corpses. This makes them ‘impure’ in the eyes of the rest of the society. They have been subjected to ostracisation owing to their profession.

In a caste-based society, one doesn’t choose their profession but is restricted to it.“How can one feel proud of cleaning the worm-filled, stench-producing shit of millions every day?” Bezwada Wilson writes in his foreword to Ramaswamy book, “India Stinking: Manual Scavengers in Andhra Pradesh and their work.”

With dirt coated hands, eyes longing for respect, the gaze of a scavenger reflects the irony of a society which seems to inflict the burden and misery of scavenging collectively upon him but at the same time looks at him as ‘impure.’ Kailash, Virender and Dharampal are amongst few belonging to the community of manual scavengers, whose profession historically has been to clean the shit produced by other humans. The predicament is that even today there are millions who are forced into scavenging. Their dignity and life are of little importance to the government and society alike, that have comfortably turned a blind eye towards the agony of manual scavenging.

On the other side of the border

Tehseen Abbas

Manual scavenging is not an attractive career choice but for some in Pakistan it is still the only option. 
“I remember my mother’s words, she said that we can only eat when we clean the waste of others,” said  Akram Masih, who was 15 when his mother told him that he would spend his life cleaning blocked sewage lines across the city. 

Masih is now 25 years-old but he remembers each day he spent cleaning blocked drain lines of Saddar town in the bustling port city of Karachi.

In Pakistan, such jobs are reserved for Chuhras or the lowest ranking members of the minority Christian community.  He lives in Essa Nagri, a predominant Christian neighborhood, with a family of six. He makes Rs.800 or roughly $6 per day. “Rainy days were always the worst I had to do extra work to make the rainwater follow,”  Masih said.

Like Masih, so many others are forced to clean the human waste across Pakistan. 
Saqib Masih, 27, is another manual scavenger who has worked in Karachi for more than a decade.  “We often find it difficult to find any other job in the city,” he said. Manual scavenging involves not only cleaning manholes and blocked sewerage lines but also stepping into drains and septic tanks. All of this is a health hazard, according to medical experts. 

Dr. Hassan Auj, a medical officer at University of Karachi said that scavengers are constantly exposed to germs. “Their (scavengers) workplace is unsafe and terrible it definitely has a negative impact on their health,” the medic added. “Most of the scavengers have no protection which makes their job more difficult,” Dr. Auj said.

Like India, manual scavenging in Pakistan is also restricted to particular castes — primarily Christians. Public advertisement clearly seek members from the Christian community for such jobs.

Despite little hope of change, Jawaid Michael, a Christian social activist, encourages members of his community to send their children to school. Michael believes it is about time the government protect members of his community. “The government needs to get serious about enacting laws that ban manual scavenging and assist the affected caste communities.”

A news report quoting World Watch Monitor said that minority representation in sanitation work in Pakistan is above 80 percent. According to the report, 824 out of 935 sanitation workers in the Peshawar Municipal Corporation are Christian.
About 6,000 out of 7,894 sanitation workers in the Lahore Waste Management Company are Christian. And 768 out of 978 workers in the Quetta Municipal Corporation are Christian.

Iqbal Masih, who is responsible for cleaning the sewage lines of Federal B Area block 20 said that he and others have complained so many times about the unsafe sites where they are being sent to work. “We never receive safety training; neither we have safety equipment nor do we get any precautions,” he said. “The only response we get is ‘do your jobs or quit’,” he added.

A report by Minority Rights Commission published in 2012 said that at least 70 Christians have died in Pakistan since 1988 while cleaning sewerage pipelines.
A number of Asian countries, including Japan, Singapore, and Malaysia, have successfully tackled the problem of sewage management and technology is being used to do such jobs.

While Pakistan struggles to provide equality. People like Akram Masih continue to do their job in tough and inhumane conditions. Masih recalls he had no option but to be a manual scavenger. “There was poverty and I had to feed our family. So there was no other option for me – I covered my nose and started doing it,” he said with a quiver in this voice.

Inside Madarsas: A story beyond stereotypes

By – Hasan Akram, Pramiti Lonkar, Mayank Chawla, Ghada Mohammed, Ila Kazmi & Haris Ahmed Khan

A timeline from the colonial times to the present

Early Islamic education started inside mosques in the form of study circles. It had evolved gradually to separate institutions for elementary and higher stages that taught Islamic theology along with various subjects such as mathematics, grammar, poetry and history.

In the Indian sub-continent, early ‘Madrasas were established in Sindh region during the Arab rule in the 8th century. InSouth India, a form of Madarsas was established almost around the same time along the Malabar Coast. Thus, Madarsa was an essential part of any Muslim society to provide the individuals with education and to fulfill the state’need for preachers, teachers and judges or Qazis.

It wasn’t until the colonial years that the distinction was made between religious and general education. According to Muslim scholars, there were traditionally transmitted sciences such as Quranic studies, Hadith and Fiqh and then there were the rational sciences – logic, philosophy, arithmetic and astronomy. (ReligiousEducation and rhetoric of reform: Madarsa in British India and Pakistan by Muhammad Qasim Zaman) ‘Both these sciences were taught in Madarsas. When the colonizers wanted to set up universities in India, they started promoting this binary,” says Waris Azhari, an Islamic scholar at Jamia HamdardUniversity, New Delhi.

 The British came to an understanding that a distinction between religious and non-religious learning was imperative for sound political administration. The East India Company only supported Madarsas set up by the state or the ones they financially supported. They faced restrictions on imparting religious knowledge, limiting themselves to Arabic and Persian. During Viceroy Macaulay’s tenure, the British came down heavily upon these religious institutes.

Muslims realised that their religious sciences were under threat due to the state regime. In response to this threat, Darul Uloom Deoband was set up in 1866. The syllabus of the Madarsa had now entirely changed, shifting its emphasis from the rational sciences to religious education. Other Madarsas in British India were set up on the same model as Deoband. The focus had shifted to the preservation of Islamic texts.

In 1875, Aligarh Muslim University was set up. “Since then,the Muslim ulama decided to take up the task of teaching the religious sciencesin the Madarsa and let the university take up the task of modern education,”says Wazhari.

Most private Madarsas in India resist state funding as the ones run by the state are in deplorable condition. They also fear that the state may exercise control over the syllabus in lieu of funds. Further, many of the Madarsas are run by families over generations who don’t want to pass over the ownership to the government

After the events of 11 September, 2001, Madarsas across the world began to be viewed as a hub of extremist activities. In a Congressional report on Madarsas by the United States government- ‘observers suggest that these schools are wholly unconcerned with religious scholarship and focused solely on teaching violence.’

“Several Madarsas in India were run by foreign funds from Saudi Arabia and other countries. As Madarsas were seen as a threat, the funding soon dried up after 2001,” says a member of the administration at Jamia Riyaz Ul-Uloom in New Delhi.

In a recent survey by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), the educational attainment of Muslims is the least. In urban areas, the number of male Muslim postgraduates is as low as 15 per 1,000. This number is about four times lower than that of other communities, including Hindus, Christians and Sikhs. Despite India being the fastest growing large economy, the economic condition of Muslims does not show any sign of improving.

Madarsas often pave the way for affordable education in low-income households. Caught between the cycle of ‘reform’ and ‘modernism’, Madarsas strive to maintain their relevance in the contemporary world.

One cannot limit oneself to the Madarsa, need to study beyond it: Ayaz Ahmed

17-year-old Ayaz Ahmed has already chalked out his career plans. Currently studying at Jamia Riyaz Ul-Uloom in old Delhi, he wants a desk job as a web designer. ‘Mujhe AC aur kursi ki naukri karni hai’- I want a job where I can sit in an airconditioned room. He also aspires to serve his community along with his regular job.

Four years ago, Ayaz joined the Madarsa to offer hisservices to Islam. After finishing his classes in the Madrasa, he travels toMukherjee Nagar in North Delhi to study for a Diploma in Computers. Several universities don’t give due recognition to students of Madarsa to enroll in college courses. Ayaz is also giving his Class 12 examinations from theNational Institute of Open Schooling so that he can apply for a Bachelor’s inComputer Applications.

According to him, studying in a school or college is necessary to earn a livelihood and studying in a Madarsa is necessary to become a good Muslim. He believes that both of them are of equal importance. When asked if Madrasas need to change to remain relevant, Ayaz says, “A Madarsa is a fort for religion. If they change, then there will be no such thing as a Madarsa.”

If everyone becomes doctors who will spread the message of Islam?: Mohammad Asif

It’s a few hours after sunrise. The boys are busy getting ready for their morning classes. As they comb their hair while sharing hand mirrors in the corridor, 24year old Mohammad Asif walks along and gathers a small crowd. The students in the Madrasa are not too pleased with Asif as their newly elected leader. They believe the student union president has not done enough to make their problems go away. ‘What have you done for us since you were elected? We have been asking for a good English teacher since months’, says the tallest one amongst them.  Asif explains that he has been trying to get a teacher that the Madrasa can afford but to no avail. “There is a constant need for funds and we always come up short,” says Asif.

Four years ago, Asif came to Jamia Riyaz Ul- Uloom in old Delhi to become an Islamic scholar. Born and raised in Muradabad, Asif soon realised that the world looks at the Madrasa with a different lens. Largely, the narrative in media is that extremist beliefs are being taught in Madrasas. This is also largely backed by the research papers on Madrasa written by government agencies. ‘There is no understanding of the message of Islam. What does Islam really say? It is the messenger of peace’, says Asif.

And it is this understanding that Asif wants to bring in to society’s discourse on Madrasas. While Asif acknowledges the lack of economic stability that comes with becoming an alim, he believes there is a need for more youngsters to start learning the religious sciences.“If everybody becomes doctors and engineers and no one becomes an alim, then who will tell the people what goes on inside a Madrasa?’ he asks.

Eventhough the children at Madarsa have the talent, they can’t get jobs: Arshad

“Learning Urdu was the biggest advantage of studying at the Madarsa,” says 23-year-old Arshad. He is preparing for civil servicesand he has chosen Urdu as his optional subject. However, Arshad believes thatis the only advantage he has over students from the modern education system.

Many Madarsas are not governed by a central body. Hence, there is no standardised syllabus. History and geography taught at the Madarsa has barely helped him prepare for civil services. “Before coming to JNU, I was not even aware of my rights or the Indian constitution,” says Arshad.

Madarsas have a 12-year course. The governmentrecognises Madarsa education only if the student completes the entire length ofthe course. Else, he is considered a dropout and has to start over. Further, several colleges don’t recognise these certificates. JNU is one of the fewinstitutes which recognise Madarsa education.

“There is a need to restructure the syllabus and work with the government to gain recognition,” says Arshad. Even though a child may have the requisite skills, he cannot get employed without a valid certificate.

I want to become the future: Shamshaad Alam

As the students in the Madarsa settle in after dinner, Shamshad arranges notes for his class.He teaches his class based on themes. Today, he is going to teach the studentsthe etiquettes of addressing people in English. Although English is included inthe curriculum of the Madarsa, some of the students feel it’s not enough.

“Shamshaad helps us in making conversations. What we study from the teacher is mainly textbook knowledge which doesn’t help us to talk in English,” says one of his students. There are around 15-20 students who pay a monthly sum of 300 rupees for the night classes. Shamshaad has been training himself in English for the past seven months at the American Institute in New Delhi.

He passes on these teachings to his students. Shamshaad also said that once he imposed a fine of five rupees for anyone speaking English in his class. He says that the same rule is applicable at the American Institute too.

According to Shamshaad, English helps him bridge the cultural gap and he considers it as important as currency in today’s world. “Now, when I step out of the Madarsa, I become a part of the culture outside. There is no difference,” says Shamshaad.

He says that English is not taught ‘up to that level’ in the Madarsa. When asked if he plansto talk to the principal about it, he says he doesn’t want to rile things up asthe teachers might take offence. He refrains from questioning their pedagogy. Shamshaad plans to learn five more languages in the future and aspires to become a translator.


In need of an upgrade in Pakistan

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It is a small room packed with teenagers, all of whom sit on the matted floor, with wooden desks in front of them. They are virtually glued to the copies of Holy Quran places in front of them as they recite verses in chorus following their Qari (teacher). This is a regular madrasa class at Jamia Darul Khair, a medium-sized Deobandi madrasa (religious seminary) in Karachi.

In Pakistan, there are over 35,000 functioning madrasas, as per  a report titled “The Madrasa Conundrum – The state of religious education in Pakistan” by Umair Khalil, lead researcher of HIVE, a non-governmental organization.

The report estimates 64 percent of Pakistani madrasas are Deobandis. Whereas 25 percent are Barelvis and the remaining 11 percent are from different sects.
A large amount of Pakistan’s youth receives education at madrasas. A majority of these young students belong to underprivileged backgrounds and cannot afford to enroll at schools. “I have a year left in my graduation as a religious scholar. I came here from a very deprived area of Torghar district in Mansehra, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. I could never have imagined to study if madrassas weren’t there,” said Sibghatullah Qayum, a student of Jamia Darul Khair.

In Pakistan, madrasa based education has a great deal of significance in the society. Madrasas are considered as the primary source for Islamic teachings. On the other hand, these institutions also fill the vacuum created by the deteriorated educational system of the country.

According to an associated press report, approximately 2 million students have been enrolled in madrasas across Pakistan.

Reason being, they provide free religious and basic education to the underprivileged students of the country and also serve as an alternative to state-funded schools which used to provide spasmodic and substandard education. Qayum’s further described that all of his colleagues are from diverse rural areas of Pakistan where educational institutes are a rare find.

“On my return, I plan to teach at my local madrasa,” said Qayum.Historically, the curriculum at madrassas has undergone revision. They’ve taught Arabic grammar to learn Quran and Hadiths, Philology, Persian poetry, Philosophy, Penmanship, Arithmetic, Logic, Fundamentals of jurisprudence, Dialectics and Dogmatic sciences. Even, Swimming and Horse riding were included in the syllabus by some madrasas as co-curricular activities.

But, these practices were abandoned after the downfall of liberal Muslim empires across the world. According to the curriculum published by each board on their website, it is drafted in such a way that it follows Dars-e-Nizami which is the historical madrasa curriculum of the subcontinent, combining in-depth religious and some secular subjects.

Most academic experts claim that the system of education at Madrassas has been out of touch. A professor of linguistics at a university in Karachi, who wished not to be named, questioned: “How can you educate students and prepare them for the world if you haven’t updated your curriculum in decades?”madrassah secondWhile many religious institutions claim to teach English, Science, Drawing, Math, Logic, Sindhi, Urdu, Economics, Persian, History, Geography, Physics, Biology, Chemistry and Astronomy as secular subjects throughout the period of study.  Their primary focus remains on Arabic (Grammar & Literature), Islamiat, Life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Tajweed, Quran, Islamic jurisprudence, Qira’at, Hadith, Tafseer, Ethics, Ruling of Edicts and studying the life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

“Our curriculum is designed in such a way that it develops student’s expertise in religious education without ignoring secular subjects because at the end of the day our prime intent is to educate students regarding Islam,” claims Mufti Adnan Ali, a scholar, and teacher at madrasa Jamia Darul Khair.madrassahHowever, Murtaza Haider, the Associate Dean of research and graduate program at Ryerson University in Canada who is currently researching on madrasa graduates and their prospects in labor market has debated over the fact that the curriculum offers secular subjects only at the initial phases of studies and are gradually reduced as the classes proceed.

This means students lack in technical and vocational skills which limit their job options. “With our limited funding sources, we can only teach theoretical subjects to the students. It is the responsibility of the Ministry of Education to introduce technical and vocational training in madrasa curriculum to help these students in attaining certain kind of skill development as well. Had it been implemented it would be a great initiative,” explained Mufti Ali in his defense.As the graduating madrassa students approach the competitive job market a majority of them fail to find employment opportunities.

“Most of them are not trained for the world we live in,” said a top ranking multinational firm’s HR manager, who did not wish to be named. Professor Jamal Malik, chairman of Islamic Studies at Erfurt University in Germany and an expert on the matter stressed the fact that the curriculum at madrassas in Pakistan should be revised and should include technical and vocational training which could help students securing better employment opportunities in job market.

While there is little political will to reform madrassas, the current Chief of Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa has recently stressed that madrasas should be reformed. In 2015, the Sindh government initiated the registration process of madrasas in the province. Lawmakers in the province have also drafted a bill for registering madrasas and monitoring their funding sources but unfortunately it has been nothing more than a paper tiger.Some madrassas in the country have realized the need for change. Darul Uloom is one of them.

“Darul Uloom has always tried to set standards,” said Mufti Ebad-ur-Rehman, head of the department of studies at Darul Uloom, Karachi. “Adopting a curriculum which has a mix of traditional religious subjects along with updated modern subjects has helped us produce better students,” the cleric claimed. While Darul Uloom may have experimented with reforming its curriculum, there are many madrassas across Pakistan that continue to resist change.

“It is necessary for the government to introduce compulsory act for reforming madrasas which should be applicable across the board,” said Murtaza Haider an expert on madrassas at Ryerson University in Canada.  

“You can’t have unskilled workers in the market. Students must receive vocational training along with religion and other subject to be able to sustain themselves in the market,” Haider stressed.