Life in Pathar Colony: When will our government start providing housing facilities to the poor?
In my visit to Pathar Colony (situated in the recesses of H-12 Islamabad), I witnessed how challenging life was for its inhabitants living under feeble mud houses. A rainy season meant that they had to re-build their homes. With approximately 150 households thriving on no electricity provision, stingy water supply and utter poverty – the nomads dwelling the place have accustomed themselves to such an ascetic lifestyle.
It is beyond the control of these people living in the slums that are deprived of such basic necessities, such as electricity and clean running water. Most survive on one meal a day, while working as hard manual labourers. The dominion of the powerful further prevents these people from attaining justice and making a better living.
The Pakistani government is oblivious to the plight of such impoverished areas that lack facilities as important as a sewerage system. The local authorities are doing nothing for these people except driving them out of their homes to build skyscrapers and making Islamabad into another instance of Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers façade. Capital Development Authority (CDA) is known for razing slums to the ground for the aforementioned reason. Inhabitants of a slum in Maskeen Colony, Islamabad, were made to evacuate because apparently slums harbour terrorists and criminals. The unfortunate slum dwellers were made to evacuate for no vice of their own.
As per the legal aspect of slums, they encroach private land and are illegal settlements, but then, is that really the fault of the slum dwellers? Is it not the responsibility of the government to provide its citizen with decent housing facilities? Islamabad is the capital of our nation and considering it is an immaculately planned city, should there not have been better chalked out housing plans for the lower income and poor individuals of society?
The government has failed repeatedly in this sector. To be honest, I know they aren’t least bothered about housing the poor, but if we can build skyscrapers like those we see abroad, why can’t we have an affordable housing plan for our citizens, like those we see abroad? We have taken our laws from England, we are trying to emulate their skyscrapers, transport systems and other policies, yet we do not seem the slightest bit interested in adopting their social welfare policies. Why?
The same goes for Pathar Colony, it’s just another colony the government wouldn’t bother worrying about.
Here the children spend a majority of their time outdoors. The breadwinner of the house arranges for wood early in the morning for fire to cook food. With a single room being occupied by over six people, things can become quite claustrophobic. The wood is burnt in the same rooms that the children sleep in. The smoke affects their immune systems, making them vulnerable to pneumonia and bronchitis. Open water containers birth diseases like malaria and dengue.
Aslam Khan, a resident of Pathar Colony said,
“We have only one hand pump, my house is a little far so I have to carry gallons for my children. Even in vegetables, we can only afford the cheap ones. Our life is very difficult, especially in winters, and women here are not allowed to step outside the area otherwise they are beaten at night; we are that crazy.”
That being said, life as a woman is worse in this community.
The children living in this community have no access to education. Usman, another resident miserably relates,
“Some Chinese people came; they collected money and made a school for us. There are two separate classrooms for girls and boys, but it’s been more than two months and they haven’t returned. They ran away and didn’t return to teach us. These classrooms have chairs and tables, but no teachers.”
Aslam Khan tells us of his encounter with the authorities as a poor man,
“We are mistreated by the police. Two of our children who are minors are in police custody because they do not have identification papers. The police blackmailed us, demanding money to free our children; money that we did not have.”
Pakistan has a functioning ministry of housing and works but it is marred by corruption and ineptness. Lahore and Karachi aren’t far behind either. Karachi, with its haphazard city planning, is home to countless slums and colonies and one has to visit them to see the sorry state they are in. As for Lahore, keeping in mind how Nawaz Sharif loves planning and developing infrastructure, should he not provide housing for the labourers and workers who provide the manual labour for his continuous infrastructure developmental projects?
These colony and slum dwellers may call Pakistan their home, but they don’t have a decent house to shelter them roof simply because the government has failed in this matter.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.