This is all about a tale of an illiterate and impoverished village called Basti Shado Khan in Layyah, Punjab. I was visiting this village, while on annual vacation last month. I met an 11-year-old boy, Aamir Khan, who told me he had never been to school. “I want to go to school,” he said sharing his heart’s desire with me. “Can you help me, please?” the young boy asked, while standing on the bank of the Indus, which encircled this village like a ring.
He is one of 20,000 children who are out of school in this village and now work on agricultural lands. They are, in many instances, the only source of sustenance for their large, extended families. This village has three schools, but teachers hardly seem to have attended to their duties here. The average ratio of literate people in this village is less than 10 per cent, with 90 per cent living below the poverty line. The majority of women make use of the money coming to them through the Benazir Income Support Programme. An average of 87 women, elderly males and children die every year of heat stroke, tuberculosis, hepatitis C and due to the absence of basic health facilities.
This village falls in NA-182, a constituency run by the ruling PML-N and inundated almost every year by the Indus, damaging summer crops. There is no health centre in the area. The list of problems here is just too long and has forced me to put some basic questions to the rulers and representatives of this area.
Why are the representatives turning a blind eye to the woes of the people here? Why has a single hospital or development project not been launched in this village since 1991? The tale of this village reminds me of the destroyed infrastructure of 10 other villages I visited in Rahim Yar Khan, Kot Addu, Muzaffargarh, Rajanpur and Mianwali. All these villages were washed out by heavy floods in 2010. Some 90 per cent of the people are farmers and agriculture is the only source of income for them.
They have complained and cried over their impoverished condition, saying the rulers have completely ignored them for decades. “We need a leader, who will provide us with basic facilities — we don’t care for democracy as it has given us nothing,” said a villager, Karim Bux Ilyani, while sitting on his boat.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 6th, 2015.