KARACHI: At 4:00 am, when most residents of the city are in deep slumber, Hanif Anjum and others can be found sweeping the dusty streets of Mithadar’s Sarafa market, filling their bulging sacks with garbage. However, it is not usually food, or broken furniture, that these men are looking for.
For over 40 years, Anjum’s family has been engaged in sifting and filtering trash to get flakes of gold.
Anjum and others engaged in this little-known profession, whom people call neyaras, work in the Lyari riverbed, under Shershah Bridge. They weed in and out of trash that is stuck in mosquito-infested water. They get soaked to their skin, while carrying bags into which they deposit their “treasure.”
“People ask us why we work so hard just to get a handful of gold glints. But this is the only job we know to earn money from,” says Anjum, as he tries to sift sand from the trash.
Another man, Sharif, explained, “People say that the water is dirty, and that we might get sick by coming in contact with it. However, nothing has happened to us over the years. It looks like we have become immune to it.”
Collecting sand is the first part of the process. The next involves manual filtration of the sand, into small pools of water is carried on. The useful sludge is collected at top of the pool, while the rest is discarded.
The muck is dried and then the whole process is repeated. The resulting mixture now consists of a collection of metals, including gold.
While showing the gold-coloured particles that had been filtered into a small pot, Anjum explains, “Since there are other metals present, we put acid into the mixture and leave it for one hour. Only gold is left behind after that.”
These neyaras then sell the gold to jewellers in the area. They say that they earn anywhere from Rs300 to Rs400 every time they hand over their treasure to the jewellers. Most men are forced to work second jobs, like driving rickshaws or working as mechanics, as they stop searching through the pile of rubbish by the afternoon.
But the neyaras complain that their business has declined over the years. “Skyrocketing prices of gold have made both jewellers and customers to opt for artificial [metals],” said Mohammad Nasir.
One of the ways the neyaras use to protect their monopoly over the business is to assign identification cards to members of their profession. Only a select group of individuals are allowed to collect trash from outside jewellery shops. “Every jewellery market has its own neyaras. They cannot work outside shops in other areas,” said a man bearing a card with the Zargan Welfare Association, Sarafa Bazaar, Mithadar, printed on it.
Anjum also worries that younger members of the neyaras’ families are not drawn towards the profession. “I spent my life doing this because I am illiterate. But I forced my son to get educated. He now works in a jewellery shop.”
The neyaras appear to be have resigned themselves to working in this thankless profession.
“We are poor people. Our women cannot afford [to buy] gold, and this the only way [they] can get closer to it,” said Anjum with a smile.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 26th, 2012.
More in PakistanKillings continue: Policeman, ASWJ man among three shot dead