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November 9, 2017

A tale of have-nots struggling to keep body and soul together


November 9, 2017

PESHAWAR: Despair is writ large on the face of Razia Bibi, 48, while sitting close to her paralysed husband Adam Khan, who lies on a charpoy in their ramshackle house in a suburban area of the provincial capital.

Adam Khan, about 70 years old, has several daughters to look after, while his sons have abandoned him and his wife as they live in their separate homes. 

Razia Bibi can barely earn the money required to keep the body and soul together. One of their daughters is also paralysed and can hardly sit.

“We have no source of income. We applied for Zakat fund of the government, but that wasn’t provided,” complained Razia Bibi, as her eyes get tearful and voice weak. Their house is located in a small and narrow street with poor sanitation. There are another 12 small houses like theirs in the locality.

A social worker of the locality, Imran Khan, while discussing the pitiable condition of the family, said that it was in desperate need of support.

“We went to the local Zakat committee chairman several times, but the family of Adam Khan is yet to receive any financial assistance,” says Imran Khan, who works for a welfare organisation that provides blood transfusion facility to thalassemia patients.

Pukhraj Bibi, a 40-year-old widow living in a two-marla house with her children, had another sorrow story to tell. Her eldest son earns Rs150 per day working as helper at a shop.

Pukhraj’s husband was shot dead by robbers and later some people donated money and bought a small house for the widow and her children.

Wearing a shuttlecock burqa and sitting beside a few utensils and small firewood stove in her dilapidated house, Pukraj Bibi recounts the tales of her husband. “Since he was killed by robbers, each day has been like a catastrophe for me,” she said in a choked voice.

Like the stories of Razia Bibi and Pukraj Bibi, there are countless others of many other such families who look forward to support in cash and kind. And keeping such stories of misery in mind, this correspondent went to the offices of the Social Welfare Department, where the clerical staffers were busy moving the dusty files from one table to another.

This correspondent was referred from one room to another to find someone who could talk to a media person. The most senior official of the department, ie the secretary Social Welfare, refused to meet this correspondent since her subordinate staff said the secretary can only respond to questions that are submitted in the form of a questionnaire.

However, Deputy Director IT in the department, Altaf, said the department transferred funds to the district Zakat committees in the province and the district committees then transferred the funds to Zakat chairmen at the union councils’ level for distribution to the deserving people.

He also said that there was a mechanism of annual audit of Zakat fund too. However, he said the Zakat chairmen are mostly appointed by the ruling parties in the province.

It may be mentioned here that no proper survey is conducted to find out the ratio of underprivileged families in society for their proper assistance. But the Social Welfare Department only transfers funds to the local committees at district and union council levels for distribution of meagre amounts among those who are favoured locally.

Meanwhile, an official of the department said on condition of anonymity that the Zakat chairmen at local community level are appointed on basis of political affiliations.

He added that whenever a political party comes into power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the ruling party soon begins replacing the Zakat chairmen with their own nomines across the province.

“The problem is that the Social Welfare Department has huge staff. Most of the funds transferred to the department annually are spent on salaries of employees. Many Zakat chairmen are accused of embezzling the money meant for the underprivileged, hence very little funds reach the deserving people,” the official said.

Poverty is not just a national issue, it is global. According to the UN statistics, 767 million people live beneath the poverty line as they earn $1.90 a day. The world body says that Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are the regions that house a majority of the people living under the international poverty line.

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