While the issues at Pakistan Railways continue to haunt passengers and workers, the porters at the train stations, whose fates are linked with the arrival and departure of trains, are often neglected in this equation.
The men spend their days waiting for the trains to arrive so they can earn money.
“I woke up at 3 am because the Karachi-bound Tezgam Express was scheduled to arrive at 3.30 am, but it arrived at 12.30 pm instead”, said Habibullah, a porter at the Rohri railway station. Habibullah has worked as a porter for 40 years, and remembers when he was rarely idle because the trains arrived and left on schedule. “I have only earned Rs40”, he said. Twenty rupees of his earnings were earmarked for a contractor.
As Habibullah spoke, an announcement was made that Tezgam Express was arriving at platform No. 2. While the porters rushed there, they were left disappointed because passengers only hired three porters.
According to Habibullah, passengers vent their anger at the delayed trains on porters by not hiring them. He also realises that people are trying to save money given the rise in inflation. “I have never lived through such miserable time in my 40 years as porter”, he said. “I go home at night when my children are asleep” he said. “I avoid facing my grandchildren, who run to me in the hope that ‘our grandfather must have brought something for us.’”
Rustam Ali passed his intermediate exams four years ago and tried to get a job in the police. An interview for the position of a constable resulted in nothing, since he was asked to pay Rs50,000. He alleges that he tried his luck at the education and health departments but his inability to pay a bribe left him without a job. Now, as a porter, he earns Rs100 daily and supports a family of five.
Hakim Ali, a veteran porter of 35 years, also complained about the government’s indifference towards the poor. Ali railed that while rich people have the choice to travel by buses or planes, the thousands that depend on the railways do not have a choice. “Believe me, I am not able to buy one kilogramme of potatoes today.” Ali had only earned Rs30, and like Habibullah, he also had to give Rs20 to a contractor.
Porters have stopped working at the train stations and are instead doing manual labour jobs in the city.
According to porter Ghulam Akbar, over 250 porters used to work at the Rohri railway station and were happy with what they earned. There are now 150 registered porters, but only 20-odd can be seen at work.
Mohammad Ameen, who works as a contractor, is also stuck in a bind. “I have to pay Rs750 daily to the railway authorities to keep my contract”, he said.
With only 20 or so porters at work, Ameen says it is very difficult to make ends meet. According to the contractor, the Rohri railway station was considered one of the busiest stations in the Sukkur railway division. They now sit idle, waiting for trains to arrive.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 5th, 2012.
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