Hundreds and thousands of war affected people from FATA have poured into Karachi in recent months. Many still live with relatives or friends already settled in Karachi. Twelve-year-old Hakim, his six siblings ranging in age from five to 16, his parents and his 78-year-old grandfather, Hikmat, are among them.
Three months ago, the biggest problem in Hakim's life was trying to not get beaten up by his teacher. He was learning the Qura'an by heart at his local mosque, which also doubled as a Madressah in his village near Waziristan. Today, Hakim polishes shoes for a living at a park near his temporary home in Karachi. When business is slow, he begs, as do his siblings and his
"Somewhere around the end of summer, fliers rained down on us from the Pakistan Army aeroplanes. The imam from the mosque said that the fliers were telling us to pack up and leave within six hours, because they would bomb our village," Hakim said. He doesn't know who 'they' are, or why his village was going to be bombed. "We gathered up everything, and left in large trucks. We had heard stories about people who died in other villages because they did not leave when told to do so."
The family came to Hakim's distant uncle in Karachi. This 'uncle' can more appropriately be described as someone who lived in the same village as Hakim's family. Around 40 people from the village came to his house and stayed there for three weeks, before moving in with other Pukhtoon families in the area. Hakim's family of 10, including his parents, however, still live at his 'uncle's' house. The latter already had four children of his own, and the house is actually a mud room in one of the slums around SITE. The small space is divided into a kitchen area and an enclosure for a restroom.
Prior to this move, Hikmat had never set foot outside his village. His son herded goats, which had to be left behind when the family fled. He gained employment a month-and-a-half ago at a local textile mill in Karachi. "My uncle took my father to the Thekedaar (contractor) for this factory, and he hired him," Hakim said.
"My husband hasn't been paid since he joined," Hakim's mother told The News. "He works two shifts at the factory. They said they would pay him last month. Then they said they'll pay him this month. When he protests, they threaten to throw him out, but what would he do if he loses this job? Right now we make ends meet with the money the children bring in."
Hakim's father's story is not unique. While a majority of the people that came to Karachi from FATA have taken to begging – especially old people and children – many of the able-bodied young men have taken up work in the industrial areas of Karachi.
The turnover of labour in these areas is generally extremely high, primarily due to the Thekedaari Nizaam or the contractual system. One person is chosen by the owner of a factory to recruit labour informally for the organisation. These workers are not listed as part of the factory in official labour department reviews, and are open to exploitation – especially immigrants
Almost none of these people had been paid since they joined, and were too scared to protest or quit for fear of losing their jobs and not being able to find another.
Many work multiple shifts, and rest at nearby parks during breaks. "I don't go home because the rooms are already so crowded," said Nihal, a worker at a construction site. "I'd rather just try and get some sleep in this park here, before getting back to work again in an hour."
Meanwhile, the Sindh Labour Department maintains that it has not received complaints regarding the exploitation of these workers. "We can only take action if these workers come up to us and complain," provincial Labour Minister Amir Nawab said. "Once we receive complaints, we constitute an inquiry commission, and try to rectify their grievances. If this does not work, we issue a notice, and then take the matter up as per the law."
"They should unionise and fight for their rights," he said. The children of these families, meanwhile, have taken to either shoe-polishing, selling sugarcane (ganderi) at signals, or begging. Many children who The News spoke to said that "back home" they had been enrolled at local mosques-cum-madressahs where they learnt to read the Qura'an. None of them have set foot inside a school ever since they came to Karachi. Hakim wants to be a Qura'an teacher when he grows up, and is looking forward to getting back to his studies again.
The families, however, have no idea as to when they will be able to go back to their villages, or what to expect when they return. "I don't think anything is left behind there," Hakim's mother said. "We heard of other villages while we were back home. Nothing was left behind there except
rubble. What makes you think our village will be any different?"