Old and abused: The labourer’s grind on an empty stomach

Daily wage workers complain of police brutality at Fawara Chowk

Umer Farooq February 24, 2016
Labourers sit at the entrance of Peshawar Press Club. PHOTO: EXPRESS


With ropes slung over their shoulders, over a dozen older citizens, mostly over the age of 55, sought the help of journalists against what they called the “police’s rough treatment” of labourers. They were gathered at the Peshawar Press Club on Wednesday.

“He started abusing us and waving his baton in the air,” said 60-year old Shah Jahan while referring to a policeman. “He warned us to vacate Fawara Chowk or else we would not even be able to walk,” added Jahan who hails from Mashokhel on the outskirts of the provincial capital.

Day to day

Jahan said he and around 60 other labourers line Fawara Chowk every morning, looking to make a day’s living. They load vehicles, carry luggage and find other work if selected; age and ability are key factors in getting the job.

He said they earn perhaps Rs500 a day, if they are lucky. However, he said, sometimes the police call the older workers to the station to work for free.

“We collect bricks, fill bags with sand [for security arrangements], whitewash, clean, cut grass and other things, but are never paid,” Jahan told The Express Tribune.

Tawas Khan, another labourer, said the police baton charged and abused them for sitting around the fountain at Fawara Chowk.

He added they try to look for work during the day and depend on philanthropists to distribute bread for lunch and dinner if they make any money. “If we earn, we leave for home. If we don’t, we wait for the free bread, eat it and leave for home empty-handed.”

Tawas said sometimes local shopkeepers also help them, but in most cases the elderly workers find something to do in exchange for money.

The men sitting on the entry gate of Peshawar Press Club said people told them to protest, but they refused as it would not only cause traffic jams, but also prompt the police to baton charge them.

“I am nearing 60 and would not be able to bear even a single blow,” said Zyan Shah, 54, a resident of Shah Alam Pul. “Once we vocally protest against the police, they will never allow us to sit at Fawara Chowk ever.” He said the situation was brought to the notice of the SHO, but he seemed least bothered.

“We earn a living honestly and we cannot even think of making money illegally. You will see many of our age begging, but we don’t.”

Not a happy retirement

The daily wagers said they were meant to sit at home and play with their grandchildren at this stage, but many of their children had deserted them and gruelling physical labour was the only option left. When contacted, West Cantt SHO Dost Muhammad refuted the allegations and claimed the elderly people were never baton charged. However, he acknowledged they had been told not to block the road at Fawara Chowk.

“It’s not us; the cantonment board employees do this. We only accompany them.  Honestly, who on earth would try to harm aged people; especially since Pukhtuns respect elders,” said the SHO.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 25th,  2016.


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