LAHORE: Hundreds of people dependent on charity meal and monetary assistance from shrines in Lahore are facing starvation as the coronavirus pandemic containment measures have severed donations by visitors.
The underprivileged and Malangs permanently residing outside shrines relied on daily Langar (communal meals) that are not being served any more owing to the strict lockdown orders by the government.
In the absence of philanthropic support, this segment of the society is looking up to the local administration for support.
Kalsoom Bibi, 60, sits outside Data Darbar, offering caged sparrows that people can free after buying them from her. Speaking to the Express Tribune, she said she’s worried no one would come to release the 12 caged sparrows in exchange for money.
“In the good old days, I would bring more than 1,000 sparrows and the shrine visitors would release them after paying me money. After the lockdown, I have not even managed to release 100 sparrows in the past four days.”
When asked about meals, she said she eats if someone comes to distribute food among the destitute at the shrine, otherwise she remains hungry.
Another sparrow vendor, Irshad Bibi, said she would release her 30 caged birds once she is paid a fair amount by customers.
Her husband’s handcart was stolen a few days back and now all expenses are borne through her business.
One of the old men living at the darbar said he had been living on the footpath in front of the shrine for a very long time and had never seen such starvation throughout his life.
Baba Din said there were days when they had ‘no space’ to store Langar but now they are famished in the prevailing circumstances.
Hundreds of destitute and mentally challenged individuals housed at Datar Darbar, Bibi Pakdaman, Baba Bullhay Shah and several other shrines are at risk of starvation if the authorities fail to provide them essentials in these hard times.
Neeli, a transgender community activist, said she had received a lot of requests for help from membesr of the community living in different areas.
The activist revealed that the transgender community is facing extraordinary problems as their sustenance depends on marriages, celebrations and other ceremonies but now there is no work for them.
“Some of our colleagues live in rented houses. They do not even have a single penny to pay the owners.”
Explaining their conditions further, she said, “No ration is being distributed among us.”
She asked the privileged class to join hands with the government to help those in desperate need of assistance.
Neeli appealed to the prime minister to take drastic steps to ensure provision of food to all the destitute rather than selected people.
A human rights advocate, Abdullah Malik, was weary of the government’s response to protect the marginalised communities who were dependent on philanthropic activities to survive. “They need our help but it is regrettable that no efforts are being made at the government level to support these segments of our society,” he complained.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 16th, 2020.