Starving In The Time Of Coronavirus

gypsy id card
A gypsy woman shows her CNIC, something which most other gypsies are bereft of. As a result they lose out on welfare programmes.


By Zulfiqar Kunbhar

Dozens of clans and thousands of people – the gypsies make a sizeable portion of the population. They are also the natives of the soil, wandering the land since the days of the Indus Valley Civilization. Yet the PM’s relief program won’t count them as the needy until they produce ID cards. talks to them to find out more.

Twenty two year old Riva Jogi belongs to a gypsy snake charmers’ clan in Sanghar, Sindh. In his routine life, Riva leaves home daily to go to mainstream public places so that he may show his snake stunts to people.

For jogis, who are the snake charmers, this kind of work is their only source of livelihood and is an innate skill that is passed on in their families. Clad in orange robes, these gypsies’ settlements can be temporary and are spread across Sindh.

But since the recent Coronavirus lockdown, while those who belong to the working classes are miserable, communities like Riva’s are suffering even more. Historically gypsies have always been outsiders and have rarely mixed with society. They have their norms and traditions and often live on the cities’ outskirts, in makeshift settlements that they can take with them wherever they go.

Perhaps this is the reason why gypsies do not own any Computerized National Identity Cards (CNICs) and remain  neglected by the State for any kind of support.

As a result of the lockdown, for example, they are facing extreme difficulties, barely being able to live through their daily lives.


Only recently, Prime Minister Imran Khan initiated a cash relief delivery service for deserving persons who have lost their livelihoods because of the lockdown. But to avail of this Ehsas Programme , producing CNICs is  the prime requirement.

But Riva along with the thousands of other gypsies who make the poorest of the poor in Pakistan, miss out on this relief because they do not have CNICs. interviewed Riva who laments that he does not have an identity card.

“Most of my clans’ people do not have CNICs,” he says. “The authorities tell us that without our cards we are not eligible for any government relief activities. It is we who deserve the most relief, more than anybody else, but it is we who are not getting any.”

He points to their makeshift huts made of plastic, wood, and straw.

makeshift hut
Gypsies live in vulnerable conditions in makeshift huts, open to extreme weather conditions.

“Look at our shacks. We don’t even have water supply, and now we are facing starvation,” he says. “We have to face extreme weather conditions – blazing heat, bitter cold, rain, storms yet we do not even have roofs, or electricity or any other facility.”

According to estimates, there are around 2 million gypsies that belong to different clans spread over Sindh. Over time, gypsies have settled for a little permanence, but even now thousands roam the province throughout their lives.


Mirpurkhas based social worker, Advocate Sarwan Kumar Bheel gives awareness to the gypsy communities regarding the importance of attaining national identity cards.

According to him, at least 700,000 gypsies would become ineligible in Sindh for the PM’s relief package. He says the main reason for them not having a CNIC in the first place is that they have no permanent residence and have a roaming lifestyle.

Jogis are gypsies who earn their livelihood through snake charming acts. They can be seen usually clad in orange.

“Gypsies have little awareness about the importance of identity cards,” he says. “In the past, they too they have resisted making identity cards as part of their culture. But they also do not meet the conditions that NADRA (National Database and Registration Authority) has established for issuing cards. For instance, NADRA seeks residence certificates and parents’ ID cards which most of them do not have. Also, attestation from a 17th-grade government officer is required.”

Since gypsies have no access to such officers they cannot get their documents attested.

“It is a pity that gypsies who are sons of the soil are the ones who are not being recognized as citizens,” he says. “A committee should be formed at the district level consisting of local stakeholders. The committee could give testimony through scrutiny and personal guarantee based upon the clan names as these clans are living here since the days of the Indus Valley civilization.”

Advocate Sarwan has demanded that the Government give special focus in resolving this issue of gypsies not having national identity cards. It would not only make them eligible for casting votes and other basic rights but administratively also a large chunk of the population will be recognized and there could be a better allocation of resources.

The writer is a freelance journalist and tweets at @zulfiqarkunbhar