Muzaffargarh: Contrary to the common perception of Punjab being the most prosperous province of the country, Southern Punjab is home to some of the most impoverished citizens of the country. In the recent monsoon floods, Muzaffargarh was also one of the worst affected districts of the province due to its location between the rivers of Chenab and Indus. The devastation was evident during our visit to Muzaffargarh – Kot Adu. Home to one of the most famous folk singer Pathanay Khan, Kot Adu is considered one of the literary cities in Southern Punjab.
Our drive to the town of Kot Adu, a Tehsil of Muzaffargarh 80 kilometers north of Multan, presented a living memory of the most horrific natural disaster Pakistan ever saw. Water filled fields and broken buildings with high water marks are reminiscent of the tragedy that left millions homeless, penniless and physiologically disarrayed.
With a strong feudal influence, Kot Adu forms part of the Saraiki belt that witnesses regular human rights violations. In the aftermath of the recent monsoon floods, affectees not only lost their loved ones and lifelong valuables, they also lost basic identification documents that play a crucial to restart life. This includes National Identity Cards (NICs), educational documents, property documents, and marriage certificates.
In a cultural environment where women don’t leave the house unless absolutely necessary and faces completely veiled, going to NADRA office to reapply for NICs is not easy. What seems like a simple activity to many of us is actually very challenging due to social, cultural and political hindrances at many fronts.
“I have never had an NIC before,” said Sakina Bibi, sitting in line to apply for her NIC for the first time at the age of 60. When asked for the reason not to have one, she said, “I don’t know. I never felt the need. My husband and sons have it. I think that is enough. ” Although not many women admit it openly, the tough feudal influence in the region is making it difficult for women to obtain this basic documentation (new or replaced) without the approval of the local power figures.
“Most of these women are hesitant to come out of their houses to get NICs made. They not only fail to understand the need for it, but also face resistance from male members of the household as it could result in the wrath of the local lord. Local community mobilizers put a lot of effort to coach both men and women to apply for NICs”, said Sadiqa Bibi, a school teacher who volunteered to help the local NGO in reaching out to women. “More than half the women don’t know their date of birth [resulting in the use of default date of 1st of January]. This is the type of socio-economic landscape for the project”.
“What started off as an initiative to benefit the flood affectees in the restoration of lost IDs soon made us realize that most of the women never had ID cards to begin with. As a result, social mobilization plan had to be initiated to convince a large number of affectees, especially men, to allow female family members to apply for NICs”, added Sadiqa Bibi.
NICs provide vulnerable segments of the society the ability to stand for themselves. Sakina Bibi, among many other women in the severely affected districts of Muzaffargarh, has been able to craft an identity for herself for the first time. Now when she says “I am Sakina”, she has a legal document that proves her existence in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
For more information, contact:
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Pakistan
4rth Floor, Serena Office Complex, Islamabad, Pakistan