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KARACHI: Edhi Village, where people bury truth every day

October 25, 2004

KARACHI: Sixty-year-old Kausar Parveen had never imagined in her wildest dreams that one day she would join her 20-year-old mentally-ill daughter at the Edhi Foundation's Women Shelter Home. She had lodged her daughter at the shelter some five years back.

A Dawn survey found a number of elderly men and women lodged at various centres run by the Foundation across the city. Most of these people are brought to the centres by their children or relatives after failing to take proper care of the very old and sick people. The mentally retarded people, of all age groups, lodged at the centre are also brought here on similar grounds.

Kausar Parveen, who claims that she never suffered any mental disorder, lives at the shelter for the past six months. She had been brought here by her only son who runs a clothe shop in a shopping centre. Mother of seven, Kausar Parveen says she, along with her husband, Abdul Waheed, had lodged her mentally retarded daughter, Mariam, at the centre. She still insists that Mariam had been suffering from some mental disorder when they brought her here though she behaves like a normal person now.

Abdul Waheed, a goldsmith, is a goldsmith having some shops in Dubai. Kausar Parveen has spent much of her life with him in Dubai.

Narrating her ordeal, she reveals: "I lived with my married son in an apartment in Gulistan-i-Jauhar. One day he asked me to accompany him but did not say where he was going to take me to. Instead, he forced me into a taxi after dragging and thrashing me for offering resistance. The taxi driver also helped him and both of them brought me here."

According to her, they lodged her in the centre and left. "I do not suffer any mental illness," she almost shouted in grief with tears rolling down her cheeks. Giving address of her residence, she asked this reporter: "You may visit my son there and ask him why did he lodge me at this asylum."

She, however, appeared happy over her reunion with Mariam, though her daughter was not. Kausar Parveen claimed that her husband had regularly been visiting Mariam once in a week ever since they lodged her here. Mariam, however, instantly denied her mother's claim, saying she had never been visited by any of her relatives.

Apparently boggled by Mariam's intervention, the mother expressed her astonishment and asked her daughter to recall such visits. Mariam stood by her claim which bewildered Kausar, who uttered: "It means Waheed always lied to me?"

Kausar revealed that she had two sons and five daughters. Her younger son died in an accident. She does not know whereabouts of her husband. The other son got all the assets and property belonging to the family. It is still a mystery why did he send her mother to the Edhi's asylum but his statement submitted to the Foundation says that he does not want her mother to live with him because of her mental illness.

Everyone languishing in the Edhi's shelters has a tragic story to tell. Kulsoom Yusuf, 52, lives at one of the centres for the past 20 years. She already had two children when divorced in her pregnancy and lodged at the centre. As she gave birth to a baby girl, her husband struck at the centre and took the baby away. She receives no information about her children.

According to Kulsoom, she has two brothers and a sister. The sister died about 17 years back. Her elder brother lives in the United States and the younger one runs a shop in a cloth market. They send Rs500 and Rs300, respectively, on every Eid.

Kishwar Sultana, who was lodged at the centre in 1982, had four sons when her husband declared her mentally retarded following a certain period of strained relationship.

"My sons have grown up now. All of them are married and visit me here every week regularly. My elder son had taken me to Iran for Ziarat in June this year," she smilingly recalled.

She appeared very happy over her month-long 'freedom' during which she enjoyed the company of her elder son's family and her grandchildren. Asked why don't her sons keep her with them, she replied that they lacked adequate accommodation at their residences. "As and when any of them purchased a bigger house, he would take me with him... they all have promised," the innocent mother hoped.

The spokesman for the Edhi Foundation, Rizwan Edhi, said that in many cases, people came to an Edhi centre with request to take custody of their fathers. "They usually declare the old men accompany them physically disabled. In some cases, one would not disclose his relationship with the old man. Instead, he would identify himself as a neighbour. We don't investigate and admit the old men."

Those lodged at the centres are provide with food, basic medical facility, clothes and shelter.

The Edhi Village, located 54 kilometres off Sohrab Goth on Super Highway, has various sections. The inmates are accommodated as per their condition and categorized on the basis of age, physical condition and mental state.

An elderly man, Mohammad Ibrahim, 60, arrived here with his son who claimed that his ather was an addict. "I am not an addict... my son tells lie... I just consume niswar... they (people at the Edhi centre) don't allow me to go out... I want to go out..." said the old man who claimed that his son now wanted him to take away from here but these people did not let him to leave."

Rizwan Edhi maintains that those intending to lodge their relatives in the centre have to declare that the person being given in Edhi Foundation's custody would not be taken away.

Ibrahim is a fruit seller and once owned an apartment in Anarkali Complex, Federal B Area. He has two sons and a daughter. He confronted with domestic problems after transferring the apartment to his wife.

"My sons started beating up and abusing me. They wanted me to leave my own house. I had strived hard to own the apartment but they forced me to leave it. My son-in-law told me that he was taking me to some doctor when he brought me here," Ibrahim said with tears rolling down his cheeks.

Ibrahim said he had four brothers when they left their parents' apartment, located in Ranchhor Line. Their mother lived alone for five years after their father died. None of the sons was ready to keep her with him.

Another man, Syed Mehtab Hussain Zaidi, recently retired from Pakistan Steel Mills as junior officer, accuses his sisters-in-law of misleading his wife. Zaidi, who cannot walk owing to swelling on his legs, had a double-storey house in Gulshan-i-Hadeed. His funds totalling about Rs500,000 with the mills are pending a clearance. Mehtab has three sons who, according to him, do not allow him to get the funds.

Dr Mustafa, who works at the Edhi centre, said that Zaidi suffered from chronic renal failure, hypertension and diabetes. He badly needs dialysis but "we can provide him only basic health facility due to limited funds."

The doctor maintains that Zaidi's family has already been informed of his serious condition but they are reluctant to take him away for proper treatment.

Rizwan Edhi said that Zaidi's sons had come only once to see him at the centre since his admission. "They saw him from a distance and left, without talking to him," he added.

The tragic aspect of the whole affair was highlighted by Rizwan Edhi who pointed out that relatives of every person lodged at the centre were informed in case anyone died at the centre. "However, in most cases, people visit the centre only to have a final glimpse of the body. They leave after requesting the Foundation to carry out funeral rites as they don't have time and money to do all this. They do, however, seek a death certificate."

Almost 6,000 people are lodged at different centres set up by the Edhi Foundation across the country. In Karachi, 3,035 elderly men were admitted during the Jan-Oct 2004 period. Of them, 1,696 were stated to be mentally retarded. Over the previous year, 3,549 elderly men were lodged in the city's shelters and there were 1,972 among them declared as mentally ill.

Similarly, 670 and 786 psychically disabled women were admitted to the Edhi shelters in Karachi in 2004 and 2003, respectively.It seems that it was the decaying process of this society and disintegration of family system that is leading people to lodge their beloved ones in such institutions. Differences, disputes, grudge, poverty, greed, cruelty, etc., appeared major factors contributing to this pathetic situation.