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Meet the gypsies of Lahore

Updated Apr 10, 2015 11:56am
After a long day of work, family members prepare a place to spend the night.
After a long day of work, family members prepare a place to spend the night.

On the way to Lahore from the historic Grand Trunk road crossing Shahdara Bridge, one is greeted with an extended strip of makeshift tents along the river Ravi.

Over 10 years, the campsite has grown into an entire community of gypsy tribes belonging to various districts of southern Punjab, primarily Jhang.

The nomads are socially and politically marginalised and largely alienated, deprived of the most basic rights.

From social rights to earning opportunities, nomad families grapple with various problems. Illiteracy and increasing population is a major issue, with each of the families having at least 10 children.

Cluster of about 400 tents along the bank of river Ravi, without any basic utilities like electricity and water.
Cluster of about 400 tents along the bank of river Ravi, without any basic utilities like electricity and water.
Asad, working as beggar, earns for his family, his father is worried that government’s child protection department often detain the younger beggars and ask for bribes.
Asad, working as beggar, earns for his family, his father is worried that government’s child protection department often detain the younger beggars and ask for bribes.

Most gypsies belong to the Changar, Odh, Bhatu, Jogy, Kenghar, Bazigar, Gurajmar, Gugray cast. They tend to stay put for a few weeks, months, or sometimes even years in Lahore.

Although some of these families are daily wage labourers, most of them rely on begging as their main source of income. A few of them have traditional professions like drum beating and monkey shows.

In a metropolis like Lahore, not only are the transient families not given their due rights, they are looked down upon by people in the city.

The gypsies have not helped their cause either by isolating themselves from society.

The tent community got a water pump installed a few years ago but has now dried.
The tent community got a water pump installed a few years ago but has now dried.
Few gypsies have proper tents in place, but many live only under a shade.
Few gypsies have proper tents in place, but many live only under a shade.

In a colony of about 400 tents which I had the opportunity to visit, there were only two individuals with a very basic education. Both of them have taken the responsibility to teach the rest of the children the little that they know.

It is a bitter reality that begging is the main source of income for gypsy families and for them having a number of children means more earning hands. But when it comes to feeding and maintaining healthy living conditions, these have no means and ultimately descent into a state of poverty.

Gulam Rasul hailed from Jhang about eight years ago, a heart patient, father of six daughters and two sons, has no job, and does not know about the cardiology hospital run by government.
Gulam Rasul hailed from Jhang about eight years ago, a heart patient, father of six daughters and two sons, has no job, and does not know about the cardiology hospital run by government.
The main source of water is a small leak in the water supply pipe of city government.
The main source of water is a small leak in the water supply pipe of city government.
Gulam Qasim said that children are interested in studying and that there is hardly any absences from class.
Gulam Qasim said that children are interested in studying and that there is hardly any absences from class.
Gulam Qasim who got a primary education from his village near Multan, thinks racism is the reason why many gypsy children cannot attend government school.
Gulam Qasim who got a primary education from his village near Multan, thinks racism is the reason why many gypsy children cannot attend government school.
One of few tea stalls of the community.
One of few tea stalls of the community.
A grocery stall, these small business are run by the gypsy community, no outsiders are welcomed here.
A grocery stall, these small business are run by the gypsy community, no outsiders are welcomed here.
Gulam Qasim’s little pupil, fluent in Urdu and English alphabets.
Gulam Qasim’s little pupil, fluent in Urdu and English alphabets.
Ashraf Adil started this class about two years ago on his own. He even got the books from his own salary.
Ashraf Adil started this class about two years ago on his own. He even got the books from his own salary.
The premises where he holds this morning class is called mosque of the community.
The premises where he holds this morning class is called mosque of the community.
Sajjad, has done matriculation through self-study, he has also managed to get some books but so far not succeeded in getting any pupils.
Sajjad, has done matriculation through self-study, he has also managed to get some books but so far not succeeded in getting any pupils.
On the way to work, monkey jugglers Riaz and Arshad have to walk all day to collect Rs 400-500.
On the way to work, monkey jugglers Riaz and Arshad have to walk all day to collect Rs 400-500.

*The writer is a Lahore based photojournalist