THATTA: Appearance matters and for 20-year-old Samina, the more unkempt she looks, the more business she rakes in as a beggar.
Clad in a burqa, which from the dust of the passing by vehicles has changed its shade, people can only see her eyes, hands and feet. For keeping up appearances, Samina doesn’t shower for an entire month at times and when she finally does, she doesn’t go out to beg for a couple of days.
On an average, she earns between Rs200 and Rs300 by working ten hours a day at the Badin-Sajawal Road. The road is an ideal spot for begging for money, according to Samina, as parts of it have been damaged by the flood, forcing vehicles to stop on the way. Through the clouds of dust which surround her, she raises her hand for money while crouched on the ground - sometimes burying her head in her lap to avoid the dirt from going into her eye.
“An ugly face attracts people,” she justified with a smile. “If I wear a good dress, they won’t give me even a single penny and will probably make up wrong ideas about me as a woman.”
She added that while a large number of vehicles stop where she sits, not many throw coins or banknotes her way.
While talking to The Express Tribune, Samina said that she didn’t choose the life of a beggar. “My family had a certain reputation in the society and my father never thought that any member of the family would beg,” she said. “But the floods ruined us and we had to migrate from a remote area into a make-shift abode near Sajawal city.” Her elder sister and other family members, including children, also beg and earn a reasonable amount of money regularly, she said.
Making ends meet
Samina is one of the many beggars that throng Thatta and Sajawal cities. For outsiders, it’s an overwhelming sight to be surrounded by so many beggars - some pulling on a person’s shirt while other touch their feet.
Bus stops in cities of Thatta and Sajawal are popular spots for these beggars who also flaunt their many ‘skills’ for petty cash - an aged woman promises riches for only Rs10 while an old man predicts future for Rs200.
Ghulam Shabir, 45, appears physically challenged to people but is actually completely fine. “I got polio around 10 years ago,” he said at first, later whispering, “I am physically fit.” According to him, almost all the beggars in his area were physically and mentally fit but pretended otherwise for the “drama”.
Shabir belongs to Khairpur Mirs and has been begging in Thatta for the last three years. “Begging has been our family profession for long but we recently moved to Thatta as it is an ideal location after the floods. The commuters, especially from Karachi, give you reasonable amount of charity,” he said.
According to social worker and writer Farouque Jafferany, Thatta has the highest number of beggars as compared to other districts of Sindh. “Thousands of beggars live in Thatta, and during the month of Ramazan, some even move to Karachi and Hyderabad,” he said, adding that migration from the coastal belt has also increased the burden on small cities such as Sajawal.
“There are villages full of beggars in different parts of Thatta. It has become a family profession now. There is extreme poverty in the area and the situation took a turn for the worse after the 2010 floods.”
According to Jafferany, illiteracy and lack of resources and proper shelter are among the reasons pushing people towards begging. “There is no other option for the flood-affected people to make ends meet.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 16th, 2013.