Every morning at the crack of dawn, 32-year-old Hashmat Khan leaves home to work on construction sites across the city so that he can put food on the table for his family.
Khan is one of the thousands of daily wage labourers in this country who cannot afford a roof over their own heads, but work on grand construction sites just to make ends meet.
Clad in a blue shalwar kameez soaked with sweat, the young labourer takes a break from his work to talk to The Express Tribune. “I have been constructing bungalows, plazas and roads for the past 10 years, but I haven’t even been able to build a house for myself,” Khan says.
He lives in a dilapidated rented house in Chugalpura, for which he has to pay a monthly rent of Rs2,500.
The 32-year-old dreams of constructing a small house for his family one day, but for now, the man who builds elaborate buildings cannot even afford to fix the cracks in the walls of his tiny abode.
The conversation drifts to the upcoming budget, and the irritation in Khan is immediately evident. “I don’t have many expectations from the current government. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf came into power chanting slogans of ‘change’, but I don’t think its government can do much to alleviate the suffering of thousands of poor people in the province like me,” he says.
“There is a status quo in place; the condition of the downtrodden section of society will never change. Many governments have come and gone and many budgets have been passed, but there is no change in our conditions and no roti, kapra or makan in sight,” he adds with bitterness.
“We have no gas connection in our house, we use firewood to cook our meals, and you ask whether there is any hope that the lives of the poor will become better?”
When asked to share his views on Chief Minister Pervez Khattak’s earlier statement in which he announced that the next budget would be “poor-friendly”, the labourer said, “These promises are merely hollow statements, there is no reality to them.”
“We labourers work from sunrise to sunset every day – be it the scorching heat of summer or the harsh cold winds of winter – and hardly make Rs500. There are days when we don’t even earn a single penny,” he says, wiping the sweat from his brow.
With his earnings changing from day to day, Khan worries about how he will be able to provide for his family when he gets married and has children.
However, realising that he has taken a long enough break, Khan points to his fellow labourers working on the site and says, “Look at these people, especially the older ones whose hair and beards gave gone grey working as labourers. Over the years, their financial condition hasn’t changed, neither will mine. Now let me get back to work,” he concludes abruptly and walks off.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 1st, 2014.