(Karachi): Sindhi community once dominated the business and trade in Karachi. Before the partition, this hard-working community with business acumen dominated the economy of the region. Today Sindhis are struggling for survival.
As the partition turned them into a minority, the Sindhi Hindus who once established Karachi – the capital of Sindh now feels helpless. “We are treated as beggars in the market. We toil for 250 rupees daily wages,” says Najma Maheshwari, a daily wage worker in Jodia Bazaar, Karachi.
Jodia Bazaar is an old market where the majority of worker clean Masalas (species) and breaks shells of dry fruits. Hindu women workers from the Mehshwari community have been working here for decades. Once Hindu and Memon businesspersons dominated the market and old timers say that their behavior towards women workers was polite and respectful. Now, Hindus and Memons have been replaced by Pathans.
Najma shares her experience of how a Pathan discriminated against and harassed her. “He treats women very badly. He once asked why we break Badams (Almonds) shells with feet. I replied that all workers do the same and nobody breaks shells with their hands. I also told him that we generally break shells with hands, but there is no option to use feet if shells are hard”. The Pathan did not listen. He didn’t pay these women and also asked them to stop working.
While other workers can break Almond shells with their feet, Hindu women are abused and not paid if they do so.
The majority of women are afraid of speaking to the media, as they do not want to lose their work. They get 250 rupees per sack of Almond. While women working at a shop cleaning dry fruits receive 500 rupees a day. The area is less developed and people live in poor conditions, women do not want to lose 200 rupees, which support their family.
“Those women cannot afford to go to market, they take an order from a shop for cleaning Almonds and get 250 rupees,” said Kamla. She quit work because of unfair treatment and harassment in the market.
Najma is one of them who stands up against injustice and harassment in the market. She lives in a three-room flat and shares it with two families.
Working conditions for women
Women are not treated well in the workplace anywhere in Pakistan. The same is the situation in other countries. According to UNDP “At the global level, women currently represent 38.8 percent of the global labour force and just 20 percent in Pakistan.”
Pakistan has an economic crisis and then torrential rains and floods make matters worse. In such kind of conditions, daily wage workers suffer the most. Women are most vulnerable, as they do not have protection from the State and family to raise their voices against injustice in the workplace.
National Commission for Human Rights in Pakistan says 80 percent of Non-Muslim are employed in low-paid jobs and terms “unequal citizens” for non-Muslims. Imagine women workers’ conditions in the market.
Watch the full video on Hindu daily wage worker
Rise in Poverty
“The World Bank has estimated that poverty in Pakistan has increased from 4.4 percent to 5.4 percent in 2020, as over two million people have fallen below the poverty line,” as reported. The majority of women live below the poverty line. The businessmen in Sindh are aware that women are not in a position to quit work. The Pathans exploit them.
Kamla tells that she wanted to support her family and decided to work in the market. When she went to work, found that women were being treated badly and Pathans were misbehaving and touching women inappropriately. Kamla decided to leave the workplace because she could not tolerate the misbehavior
“We have been working in the same market for a long time, first, Hindu and Memon businesspersons were dominated who did not misbehave and even gave 300 rupees per sack of Badaams. Now, we are getting less amount against our hard work and being abused, too,” says Najma.
One of the worker women injured her thumb while cracking a hard shell of Almond but could not get the benefit of the Benazir Income Support Program.
The Sindh government does not provide facilities for the labour class or no protection for women in the market. Sindh government departments: Labor and Human Resources department and women’s development department have complaint forms on their websites. The question is how women file complaints who cannot afford rickshaw fares.
However, Najma is determined. She says that she will fight for women’s rights and will bring their honor back as the market belongs to women workers. She has a difficult battle at her hands.
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