Published in Newsline in May 2018
When the warm sun, that brings
Seed-time and harvest, has
Asma Jahangir addressing the farmers in Okara.
As the farmers in Punjab harvested a bumper crop of wheat, on the Okara Military Farms this April, there was palpable tension in the air. Several women in each village set up camp and kept vigil on the fields, lest the men in uniform appear and demand their batai (share). For the last 19 years, the women have fought and resisted them relentlessly, along with their men, to claim the land their forefathers have tilled for a hundred years, in the hope that some day the ownership would be transferred to them as promised by three successive heads of state.
The year 2018 has brought sorrow and added to the anxieties of the farmers. Their strongest ally, Asma Jahangir, who fought with them in the courts, is no more. Meanwhile, the repression of the present incumbents has intensified. In 2023, the status of the lease of the land will change in favour of the farmers. According to the rules, if an agricultural land is tilled by the occupancy tenant for 25 years, he or she has the right to claim its ownership, Aqila Naz, finance secretary Anjuman-e-Mazarain Punjab (AMP) and president Peasant Women’s Society Pakistan, tells Newsline.
Published in Dawn on February 7 2018
ONCE upon a time, in one of the neighbourhoods in Karachi’s PECHS area where I grew up, there stood two or three houses in each row of the demarcated land; the remaining plots lay vacant. Children would roam around, play in open spaces, climb the trees and go back home.
Fifty years have gone by and practically no plot has remained without a structure. I do find children on the streets, only boys though, between nine and 17 years, playing cricket in the afternoon for an hour or less. All are domestic help; the kids get some respite from their chores while their masters take a siesta. They live in this neighbourhood but belong to the fringes of society. Compelled to leave their homes up in the north, they supplement the household income through child labour in the city.
Though visible, child labour remains undocumented. One census taker told me that children engaged in domestic service were not counted in the 2017 census as they were not members of the households they lived in and that there was no category to document their existence.
Published in Dawn on July 26 2016
WORLD Youth Skills Day on July 15 went by quietly in Pakistan. There was no fresh resolve, nor any policy announcement by the government for ‘skills development to improve youth employment’ — the UN theme of the year — though it would have been an opportune moment to share recommendations of the task force on the national technical and vocational education and training policy the government formed in May 2014.
Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2016
AS you drive down the Super Highway, past Sohrab Goth in Karachi, your eyes fall on mammoth excavators — huge truck cranes, bulldozers, loaders and cement-mixers parked left and right in the open katcha land. Around the dangerous-looking machinery you spot drivers and cleaners in faded shalwar kameez squatting and chatting, or resting on charpoys.
In between are patches of dust and bushes, raiti-bajri adda with mounds of gravel, stand-by trucks and junkyards full of rusted vehicles. The first thought that springs to your mind: ‘Construction business is booming is Pakistan!’ Indeed, the machinery, high-rises, upcoming residential schemes, underpasses and flyovers — all highly visible — are indicative of the 7pc growth rate of the construction industry and its 2.4pc contribution to the country’s GDP.