A life of endless work

With a population of 1.5 million people, Sukkur is said to be the third largest city of Sindh. The majority of its population lives in slums and comparatively less developed areas like New Pind, Thermal Colony, New Goth, Nusrat Colony, Numaish Colony, Saleem Colony, Regent Colony, Achchiyoon Kubiyoon and others. New Pind is one of the most populous localities of Sukkur, where a mixed population of around 500,000 people live amid a lack of civic facilities. Similar is the position of other areas like Saleem Colony, Regent Colony, Nusrat Colony, Numaish Colony, Thermal Colony and especially Achchiyoon Kubiyoon, where those poor families are residing who earlier used to live in Katcha Bunder on the right bank of the Indus. After the 2010 super flood, the authorities issued vacation notices to the residents of Katcha Bunder. For vacating their properties, residents with small houses were given Rs300,000 residents with bigger houses were given Rs600,000.

These colonies, which are termed as nurseries, are mainly known for producing labourers and maids for the city centre. Notably, majority of the men living in these areas, seldom go to work and instead are dependent upon their women to go out, find a job as domestic support and earn money for the family.

Mai Mukhtiar is one of the women, working as a maid in different houses to earn livelihood for the family. Her husband, Abdul Majeed, once used to work as a labourer. One day, while working on a construction site, he was carrying bricks on his head when he fell down and sustained minor injuries. Since that incident, Majeed has refused to go back to work and asked his wife Mukhtiar to find a job to support the family instead. Mai Mukhtiar’s three sons also work as laborers but they spend all their money on gambling and drugs, never contributing a single penny to support the household. Compelled with extreme poverty and the unsupportive attitude of her husband and sons, Mukhtiar began doing laundry in different houses to support her family. In the morning before she leaves for work, Mukhtiar’s husband wants her to buy him a packet of cigarettes. If she sometimes fails to or resists doing so, it leads to a string of abuses or mistreatment from him in retaliation “My sons earn at least Rs 600 to 700 each daily but they never give me a single penny,” she said. “After washing clothes throughout the month, I earn around Rs15,000, which is quite insufficient to fulfill the needs of a seven-member family. Usually I purchase groceries on credit from a grocery shop in my neighborhood, who more often than not stops giving me groceries and insists that I first clear all my previous dues,” she says. Once this correspondent offered the job of watchman at his residential plaza to her husband but he plainly refused saying, I am not habitual of taking orders from others.

Asia’s story is no different than that of Mukhtiar. Her husband, Noor Mohammad, is a disabled and therefore remains at home while sends Asia and their 13-year-old daughter Rukhsana go to work. Asia’s elder son Irfan is 18-years-old and works at a carpenter shop, earning Rs5,000 per month but he never gives money to his mother or father and instead spends all his money buying clothes and eating out with his friends. According to Asia, her marriage to Noor Mohammad was solemnised under the custom of ‘Watta Satta’ (giving one girl in marriage in exchange for another one from within your own family). “Noor Mohammad’s sister was married to my brother and I was married to Noor Mohammad, though I protested a lot due to his disability but no one cared,” she said. “As I was a newlywed bride, everyone at home including my husband, his brothers and their wives showed much care but their love and affection vanished pretty soon and my husband started urging me to find some job like his brother’s wives because he was not able to go to work.”

“At first I was reluctant to go and find some work but when my husband and his brothers kept forcing me, I went out and found a job as a domestic support in a house and then other homes and so on and so forth,” she said. “During the last 20 years of my married life, I have worked as domestic staff in seven houses to try to fulfill the needs of my family but neither my husband nor his brothers are happy with my struggle.”

Further narrating her ordeal she said that sometimes if she gets back home late, her husband and his brothers start abusing and taunting me but I never respond to them, as I know it would be useless. Once, while serving a guest at one of the homes where she worked, Asia got late coming home. Her employer, asked her teenage son to drop her home. When Asia arrived home, her brother-in-law upon seeing the boy immediately called her husband and other family members and termed Asia ‘kari’ (dishonored) and started beating her. The boy, who had come to drop her, upon witnessing the fight, became scared and fled. “My husband also beat me with his walking stick and resultantly one of the bones in my hand was fractured but he went on saying, ‘stop your drama you dirty woman,’” she said. The next morning, Asia’s son took her to the hospital where after an X-ray, the doctor plastered her hand advised her to rest for fifteen days. “But for a maid it is not possible to take two weeks off so I went back to work after two days with the help of my 13-year-old daughter,” she said. “Sometimes my daughter and I face harassment at work but we never complain because from fear of our losing jobs. However, one day, a man caught hold of my daughter, who screamed out of fear, and the housewife came running. The woman asked her husband what is going on, the man instead of feeling ashamed of his act blamed my daughter of opening the drawer to steal money and that was my last day in that house.”

Haseena yet another maid has the responsibility of nine-member family including her father and mother-in-law, herself, her husband and five children. Her husband Azad is an alcoholic and forces his wife to earn money so he can buy alcohol. “I am a mother of five children and would never do anything wrong because my conscience will not allow me to,” said Haseena with a resolve. “Our life is very hard and painful,” she went on to say while using her dirty dupatta to clean her misty eyes.” Haseena works in five houses and therefore goes to work as early as eight in the morning. “You know it takes time to clean and was dishes in five houses,” she says adding, her husband, who has nothing to do with her labor, orders her to be back at home by 2 pm. According to her if she gets late sometimes, her husband gets verbally and physically abusive with her in front of the rest of her family. Haseena’s mother started working as domestic support at the tender age of six and kept on working after her marriage and died at the age of 49 while giving birth to her eleventh child. “One day, I too am going to die like my mother,” she says adding, “at least in this way I will get rid of this miserable life.

Shabbir, a resident of Saleem Colony picks and drops his wife, Saeeda, to and fro from the many homes she works in. Upon asking him why he doesn’t work himself, he smiled sheepishly and showing his pale teeth saying, “since my childhood I saw my mother working as domestic support while my father used to sit back at home enjoying his huqqa. My father often used to say, ‘women are created to serve men,’” he said with a touch of pride and added, “sometimes I go to work but mostly I cannot find any work to do.” I offered to help him to help him find a job and he inquired the nature of the job. I suggested watchman or motor pump operator, however, he dismissed the suggested and said,.“Nahi Sahab, chowkidari or pump chalana apne buss ki baat nahi, (No Sir, the work of a watchman or pump operator is not for me,” and with that, he ended the conversation, started his bike and left.

Yet another maid Razia*, has three children and her husband too doesn’t work, instead passes time at a tea stall in the neighborhood. At first she was reluctant to share her story but then relented on the condition of anonymity. Razia began working as domestic support at the tender age of 6, when most girls or boys her age were busy playing and going to school. “My father was a drug addict and gambler, and mostly he wasted my mother’s hard-earned money on drugs and gambling,” she said adding, “he always needed money never caring about our needs. He often used to beat my mother and me for not bringing enough money for his luxuries,” she says. “One day my father, who was badly in need of money, sold all the valuables of the house including, utensils, cots, a pedestal fan and an old TV. On return to home from work, we couldn’t find anything at home and when asked, my father slapped my mother saying, “how dare you ask me such questions?” One day, after her father had a scuffle with some people over gambling, one of them stabbed her father to death and fled the scene. “For me, losing my father didn’t seem a big deal. Instead I was happy for getting rid of that cruel man, who never showed any love to me or my mother,” she said. “Time went on passing and my mother married me off at the age of 14 with a boy, who used to work as a daily wager at a hotel. But, my bad luck never left me and kept chasing me,” she said. “After ten days of marriage, my husband asked me to go back to working with my mother. I informed my mother about this and she talked to my husband, asking why he wanted me to start working.” My husband replied, “I cannot afford to take care of your daughter in a meager income and therefore she must start working,” she went on telling. “So I started going with my mother once again. Poverty though is said to be the mother of all problems but there should be some ‘ghairat’ in the men, who refuse to work and become dependent upon their women,” she said. According to her, gradually her husband quit his job and asked her to find a couple of more households to work however, she was unable to work in more than five houses. “My life too is no different than that of my late mother but one thing is quite clear that, I will never ever allow my daughter to join hands with me.”

*Names have been changed to protect identity.

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