May 26, 2023

By Asim Ahmed Khan


Surrounded by opulent dwellings in downtown Quetta, the lower-caste Hindus of the Lachi Baradari find themselves trapped in timeless, unyielding poverty.

At the heart of this misery is Shanti Nagar, a neighborhood that has become a poignant symbol of deprivation and shattered dreams. Its population has soared in the past decade, yet the community remains contained within the cramped confines of their makeshift homes, unable to escape the cycle of poverty that engulfs them.

Residents of Shanti Nagar, who are among Quetta’s oldest communities, live in cramped abodes that measure a meagre 250 to 350 sq ft. Over a thousand families reside in some 600 houses bereft of basic facilities.

In a painful irony, the very people who once played a crucial role in resurrecting Quetta from the ruins of a devastating earthquake in 1935 are now denied the basic right to decent homes.

“We rebuilt the city for the residents of Quetta, but today we are unable to build homes for ourselves,” bemoans Santosh Kumar, a community leader.

The absence of opportunities and widespread unemployment prevents Shanti Nagar’s lower-caste Hindu populace from acquiring additional land to build adequate housing. While the provincial government has allocated land for Christians, upper-class Hindus and Sikhs, the residents of Shanti Nagar have been neglected and overlooked.

Raj Kumar, President of the Quetta Hindu Panchayat, acknowledges the Shanti Nagar’s population boom, which in part is attributed to Sindhi Hindus migrating to Quetta with hopes of a better life.

Quetta’s Hindu community, despite their own challenges, has been extending support to their less privileged counterparts within their limited capacity. They allow them to join in temple celebrations and religious festivals, providing a semblance of unity and inclusivity.

However, the stories of suffering in Shanti Nagar are not limited to housing alone – they extend to every aspect of daily life, highlighting the pervasive misery that engulfs the community.

Shamsi, residing in a cramped 300-square-feet house with her four children and nine grandchildren, paints a heartbreaking picture of their existence.

“My elder son, with his seven children, lives in the basement while I am living with my younger son and daughters,” she relates. Such dire living conditions fuel social problems like child marriage, as families see it as a means to secure their daughters’ futures in the face of limited resources.

For Shaam Lasi, a lifelong resident of Shanti Nagar, the absence of essential services is a constant source of frustration.

“We have been living without gas for years,” he laments, his voice tinged with resignation. “Cooking meals has become a daily struggle, and we rely on primitive methods to sustain our families.”

Along with gas, water scarcity plagues the community, forcing residents to walk long distances in search of clean water.

“We are always on the lookout for water,” he explains, his weary eyes reflecting the hardships he endures. “Carrying heavy buckets of water on our shoulders is a daily ordeal, but we have no choice.”

The narrow streets of Shanti Nagar pose a multitude of challenges, hindering not only mobility but also emergency services.
Sanitation and cleanliness are elusive dreams for its residents. Piles of garbage line the streets, creating a breeding ground for diseases.

“Our children fall ill frequently due to unhygienic conditions,”

Karishma, a concerned mother, expresses her anguish as her eyes well up with tears. “We fear for their health, but we have no means to escape this filth.”

The lack of employment opportunities further exacerbates the community’s hardships. Sumar, a young graduate, speaks of the desperation that pervades the neighborhood. “Finding employment is nearly impossible here,” he says. “We are trapped in a cycle of poverty with no way to break free.”

The residents of Shanti Nagar long for a better life, one filled with dignity, access to basic necessities, and economic stability. Their struggles are a testament to their resilience, but they yearn for change.

For the Hindu families of Shanti Nagar, the temple serves as not only a place of worship but also a symbol of unity and identity.

The incomplete structure stands as a stark reminder of their marginalization and the broken promises of a better future. The absence of a proper temple denies them the spiritual sanctuary they long for, forcing them to resort to makeshift arrangements and cramped spaces to conduct their religious rituals.

Shanti Nagar, once a thriving center of hope and resilience, has become a testament to the stark inequality and systemic neglect plaguing the region. The community’s plight is further exacerbated by the chronic poverty that engulfs the area. The residents, trapped in cramped and dilapidated dwellings, barely manage to scrape together a meager existence. The lack of basic amenities such as clean water, gas, and electricity further compound their hardships.

The plight of the Hindu community echoes through the stories of individuals like Ramesh Kumar, a devoted follower. With a sense of despair in his voice, he shares,

“We have been waiting for years to have a proper temple, a sacred place where we can come together as a community and find solace in our faith. The incomplete temple is a painful reminder of our struggles and the indifference we face.”

The reasons behind the delayed construction of the temple are multifaceted. Insufficient funds, bureaucratic hurdles, and a lack of prioritization by the authorities have plagued the project, leaving it in a state of disarray. The promises made by the government and local officials have yet to materialize, leaving the community disillusioned and disheartened.
The impact of the unfinished temple extends far beyond religious boundaries. It reverberates in the daily lives of the community, stifling their sense of belonging and further marginalizing them in an already segregated society. The lack of a dedicated space for community gatherings and religious ceremonies denies them the opportunity to preserve their cultural heritage and pass it on to future generations.

The words of the community members paint a picture of a community trapped in the clutches of despair. Their struggles are emblematic of the larger issue of systemic neglect and inequality prevalent in Balochistan. The incomplete temple stands as a powerful symbol of their marginalized existence, where hopes and dreams remain unfulfilled.

Dhanesh Kumar, a senator from Balochistan who had previously served as the province’s minority minister, acknowledged the long-standing neglect suffered by the resilient Hindu community at the hands of local and central governments for the past seven decades.
Kumar revealed, “In 2020, the provincial government of Balochistan allocated a generous fund of Rs. 20 million to address the pressing issues faced by the residents of Shanti Nagar. As a result, we witnessed the much-needed development of streets and an improved sewerage system, bringing a ray of hope to the neglected community.”

“The announcement of these infrastructure improvements brought a renewed sense of optimism to the weary hearts of Shanti Nagar’s residents. For years, they had yearned for better living conditions, and finally, their voices were being heard. The once-narrow streets that hindered their daily lives were transformed into pathways of progress, allowing for easier movement and access to essential services,” Dhanesh Kumar claims.

But the positive changes do not end there. Kumar continues, his words resonating with a commitment to uplift the Hindu community, “In our efforts to uplift this neglected community, we have embarked on a significant project: the construction of a grand temple within the heart of Shanti Nagar itself.”

Babar Yousafzai, the Spokesperson to the Chief Minister of Balochistan, says the government has taken notice of the plight of the Hindu community and pledged to provide land for their relocation. It is a significant step towards granting them the basic rights and dignified living conditions they had long yearned for. Yousafzai has emphasized the government’s commitment to upholding the basic rights of the community. It is a promise that resonates deeply with the community.

“Though, the road ahead will not be without challenges. The process of resettlement requires meticulous planning and coordination,”

he says.


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