By Shaukat Korai
Nearly 1,600 railway porters across the country are now without a livelihood, as unemployment rises across Sindh during the lockdown.
Despite assurances by Minister of Railways, Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad, of relief through the Federal Government’s Ehsas Emergency Cash Program 2020, these railway porters have yet to receive any sort of aid.
Around 400 porters are registered at the Karachi Cantonment railway station, many of whom have had to return to their homes in far-flung, rural villages. The stragglers who remain in Karachi, however, are still awaiting the easing of restrictions.
“We were barely able to feed our children before the lockdown,” says one of them. “But now there is no work for us at all. What can the government even do; our livelihood depended on these trains, and now they’re no longer operational. Yet we still show up every day because what else can we do, where do we go?”
Another porter lamented the state they had been pushed in.
“Sometimes people do pass by and gives us something to eat – biryani or something. This past month, we have received no official help at all. A few days ago our contractor came by and gave us Rs500, but that was it.”
“We request our government to help us,” says another. “Around 200 of us just sitting around doing nothing – it’s humiliating for us.”
DEPENDING UPON AID
Upon reaching out to the porters’ contractor and supervisor, Abdul Hameed, Voicepk.net was informed that aid through the Ehsaas Program would be dispensed as per directives.
“It has been five days since Sheikh Rasheed made the announcement and requested a list of contracted railway porters,” he said. “It takes time to plan these things out. But God-willing, they will soon receive relief.”
President of the Railway Workers Union, Manzoor Ahmed Razi, who has been a voice for workers for more than 40 years now, has demanded immediate relief via the Ehsaas program for railway porters.
“There are 1,600 registered porters in the country, who have identity cards, otherwise the actual figures may be around 2000 to 2500. Regardless, the registered porters were promised they would receive a stipend of Rs12,000 and they have yet to receive it,” he said.
Porters are classified as daily-wage laborers. If a porter fails to earn anything for a single day, an entire household will go hungry. Due to the lockdown, porters and other daily wage laborers are facing sustained unemployment.
Their only hope is an end to the lockdown so that they can resume work and earn a livelihood.
Till then, their lives, it seems have taken a turn for the worse.