Testimonials Part 1: Aslam’s story

15Jul10

After participating in the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum Climate Change Conference 2010, I began to question what makes thousands, tens of thousands Pakistanis leave their villages to come and work in the cities. They arrive with dreams and aspirations of making better lives for themselves, their families, and future generations. These men and women end up working for minimal salaries (as low as 2000 to 10,000 rupees a month) in harsh conditions for decades. What was driving them out of the village and into the city?

Studies such as one by the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics indicate that rural to urban migration is steadily on the rise over the past few decades. The report claims that ‘lack of employment opportunities coupled with inadequate income from farming are considered the leading cause(s) for rural to urban migration.’ Statistics show that it is no longer limited to men, but single women are also leaving their habitats for better opportunities in the cities. While people are shifting from rural areas due to environmental issues caused by irresponsible and unsustainable development, their influx is worsening pollution and unemployment in the urban centres as found in this report.

The numbers I read made me wonder at the individual stories to be told and heard, and what we could learn from these personal accounts. They may not all point to climate change, but there is little doubt in my mind that underlying are environmental issues that either are or will be.

I asked Aslam if he would tell me his story. ‘My story?’ he asked as a childlike smile crept over his incredulous face. He fidgeted with his salmon pink cotton shalwar kameez, and shifted from one foot to the other. ‘Baaji,’ he said, drawing out the last syllable with a laugh. ‘Why would you want my story?’ When I explained my intention, he gave me a skeptical look and nodded.

‘Twenty-five years ago, I was born in a small village outside Umerkot. My father died in 2001, but that was just now. Before that we all lived in a six-bedroom house. We meaning my six sisters and three brothers. You’re surprised that the house had six rooms? But it was a mud house so you could have as many rooms as you pleased. I don’t know who made it, but it has been there for thirty to thirty-five years.

Back then, they tell me water used to flow through our lands for everyone to drink and to grow all kinds of vegetable, fruit, wheat, rice and sugarcane. We never bought any of these things; we ate what grew outside the boundary of our home. I remember it being like that till I was five or six years old. It was around then that they came and built a round thing. It’s not a well. I don’t know what it is, but it was in the soil, and it made all the water turn to the landlords. After that, neither the water was free nor were we. Now, nothing grows on our lands. Wheat was our livelihood. Its flour was what we ate, and it is what we sold.

For a while, many men turned to the trade of timber. That didn’t last too long. There were only so many trees, and soon enough all of them had been chopped. We knew that there was coal beneath our soil, but the government didn’t want us to mine it. If only they would let us dig for coal, all the menfolk of my area could return home.

Anyway, I left my home when I was eight to come and live with my maternal grandfather in Umerkot. I thought I had a better shot at a good education if I stayed in town. But luck was not with me. My uncle said that my family needed me to work like he did in the big city. You see, I had an elder brother, but he didn’t have regular work. He was a daily wage-earner, and without farming, without timber, there was not much to do in the village. And I had to think of my three sisters who were still unwed.

That’s when I came to Karachi. I was eight years old, and I’m twenty-five now. I started working in people’s homes. Soon I learned how to cook, and that’s what I’ve been doing for many years now. None of my brothers have regular jobs. Everything I have earned, I’ve sent home. I wanted my younger brothers to go to school, and enrolled them, but their hearts were not in their studies. Tch! It’s not for everyone, you know, studying. But I married off my three sisters, and am very proud of it. My mother is still alive, and she counts on me. She knows I’m the responsible one. That makes me happy.

‘That’s my story,’ Aslam said with a big smile.

If statistics indicate migrations in the thousands at present, it is anticipated that these numbers will only grow. According to reports of a recent study conducted by scientists in Holland, ‘increased melting of glaciers and snow in Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau threatens the food security of millions of people in Asia with Pakistan likely to be among the nations hardest hit.’

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4 Responses to “Testimonials Part 1: Aslam’s story”

  1. 1 Ali Naqvi

    These Landlords are our Democratic rulers now, and they are as tyrannical, as dictatorial as overlord as authoritarian as any dictator and more. There are no idealistic solutions only pragmatic ones, Idealist live in lal la land they thought merely democracy would be enough to free them and they voted in dictators, or rather 40% serfs voted in their Lords.

  2. absolutely wonderful article, and yes i know of many such people who complain that their lands have dried up due to the change in weather and also because they don’t get enough water because some of the more powerful landlords are diverting waters towards there own land.

    now the need is to implement laws, which is the prime issue Pakistan, make water reservoirs and ensure equal distribution of water and secondly to educate these landlords and farmers and teach them how they can make their lands useful and grow other things we traditionally have not been growing.

    also we have been chopping down trees like crazies, because of the impacts of climate change and issues of water distribution, if we don’t take a stand now soon we will be running out of forests too .


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