International Day of the World`s Indigenous Peoples Gypsies voice concern over lack of basic rights, facilities
By Xari Jalil
LAHORE: Located in Bagrian, on the outskirts of Lahore, the Mir Alam community is just one of those gypsy settlements which live in a deplorable condition due to a lack of facilities. Little water, no sanitation and very little healthcare are the major issues plaguing them.
But, on World Indigenous Day, this small gypsy community presents only a snapshot of the entire situation.
World Indigenous Day was announced to make indigenous people speak out for their rights, protection and other problems.
World over, it is estimated that there are almost 500 million indigenous peoples spread across 90 countries with over 5,000 different cultures. Today however, theymake up less than five per cent of the world`s population. They also make up 15pc of the poorest population.
Godh, which has been working for the betterment of gypsy communities, spoke to the people living in the Mir Alam settlement to gather details about the issues they were facing.
`Many of these gypsies lack awareness, especially when it comes to having legal documentation,` said Ghazi Nazir Ahmed, the head of Godh. `The biggest issue thatthey arefacingforyears is regarding their identities, way of life, rights to traditional lands, territories and natural resources.
Last year, Godh managed to provide identity cards for 1,500 people, computerised 2,000 marriage certificates and registered 3,000 births.
Still, a lot more needs to be done.
`We are street performers byprofession,` says Allah Rakhi.
`Dancing and singing have been part of our culture for centuries, but today they are dying out. We used to go to weddings to dance and sing, but with the increase of enclosed wedding halls, we are not allowed inside anymore.
`Sometimes we are stopped from performing in streets as well.
We are called beggars and other names and asked to leave.
Gypsy Naimat says that one major issue is travelling. `They ask for legal identity documents, which we usually do not have.
Because of our nomadic culture we have no fixed address, while many of us also do not have awareness,` he admitted.
The gypsy community uses animal-based logistics -mostly donkey carts, but this means the animals are kept away from main motorways and roads with heavytraffic. With more such infrastructure being built, travelling becomes difficult for them.
In terms of health also, they suffer from malnutrition and often lack proper social protection and economic resources. Due to a lack of information, they face health issues such as malaria, tuberculosis, HIV and AIDS, lowering life expectancy. There is also a danger of sexually transmitted diseases and drug abuse.
Maternal and infant mortality is comparatively high.
Allah Rakhi said that first there used to be midwives, but now the current generation lacks this training. At the same time, private clinics are unaffordable and government hospitals ask for identity cards.
Dildaar and Bulbul expressed that they want to live within their culture and traditions and pre-serve their dying culture, language and identity. There is also a lack of space for them with rapid urbanisation, they complained.
`The government can designate a section of land for us in every district like some kind of a village, said Inayat. `As empty spaces are being covered, sometimes our makeshift huts are demolished by the Lahore Development Authority and we are evicted.
Private landlords charge high for staying and we don`t always get utilities. For example, there is no water and we cannot dig for it either. This causes hygiene issues and subsequent stereotyping by society against us. Sometimes we have to go to the canal to bathe or wash our clothes.
In Lahore, there are over 300,000 gypsies, said Ghazi Nazir.
Their rights, he said, must be protected.