Hindu women are passing by selling dry fruits... Kidnapping and illegal marriages are a big challenge

Hindu women are passing by selling dry fruits... Kidnapping and illegal marriages are a big challenge

Dressed in a Banarasi saree and red bangles, 30-year-old Savita makes a living by selling dry fruits on the pavement in Karachi, but because of her belonging to the minority Hindu community, she is often at loggerheads with shopkeepers, mostly from the Pashtun community. Savita is an important part of the micro-economy of Pakistan's largest city, Karachi, where thousands of expatriates come every year. The dry fruits business contributes 40 percent to the economy of Karachi.

Like Savita, around 200 women earn their livelihood by selling dry fruits in Empress Market. However, life is not so easy for these women. Being from the minority Hindu community, he often has to face harassment and taunts from Pashtun businessmen.

She is the third generation member of her family to sell dry fruits on the footpath outside the Empress Market building in the bustling Sadar area.

She said, "My grandmother and maternal grandmother started working here after the 1965 war, and then my mother, sister and now I am doing this work."

Another Hindu woman vendor, Vijeta, 20, said, “Some shopkeepers, mostly from the Pashtun community, fight us that we are disturbing their business. There have been incidents when some even harassed our women.

But Mala, another vendor along with Savita, says that the public's behavior towards them is good and they are not afraid to work from morning to evening outside Empress Market.

Asked if her daughter would also do the same thing, Savita said, "She is 15 years old now, we will see what she does."

On probing further, Savita revealed that she had stopped her daughter from going to school in the neighboring area as some boys had started harassing her.

Kidnapping, forced conversions and illegal marriages are the biggest challenges facing Hindu women in Pakistan, and Savita's story is no different.

Another vendor Kajal said that one cannot even imagine how difficult it is to earn while sitting on the footpath.

"We also have to deal with policemen patrolling the market who take away dry fruits by the handful from our cart," he said.

Before the epidemic, the campaign to remove the retail vendors here in 2019 had also disrupted the lives of these women. The anti-encroachment campaign was started three years ago and the World Bank provided funds for it to turn around Empress Market.

About 1,700 shops were demolished under the campaign. Around 3,000 vendors, including several Hindu women, were asked to move elsewhere. It is estimated that around 2,00,000 people lost their livelihood in this anti-encroachment drive.

Sharda Devi, who has been doing business in this area for more than two decades, recalled the time when she protested outside the Karachi Press Club to pressurize the authorities to give her a chance to restart her business.

She said, "A female journalist had helped us a lot and had sent applications on our behalf."

Sharda Devi told that during the renovation of the Empress market many Hindu women were arrested while some women died of hunger.

Then after this, the Kovid epidemic came.

He said, “Coronavirus has made us beggars as we could not go out and could not get any help from the government or any other organization. No one came to minorities like us.

Most of these women live in the Ranchhor Line and Bhimpura areas of Karachi city, near which temples were built before partition.

Sharda said, "Six people in the house are dependent on me as my husband died 15 years ago."

Life is still full of challenges for these women.

"Despite the challenges, we earn a living with dignity and can hold our heads high," said Vijeta.

Hindus are the largest minority community in Pakistan. According to official estimates, 7.5 million Hindus live in the Muslim-majority country.

Hindus in Pakistan live in large numbers in the Sindh province because their culture, traditions, and language are similar to those of the Muslim residents there.

(with language input)