Islamabad - ‘Violence is power’ is hammered down in our heads more often than not. Gypsy families remain on the move and occupy land rarely. They seldom resort to violence, not a shadow of it when they are set against the Afghans who encroach on state land and no one can get it vacated; however some state institutions may try. No development project, even the mighty metro bus service would ever touch these encroachers but the life of non-violent nomads is being pushed out even from the edges of the federal capital.

Camped under the shade of metro bus station at 9th Avenue intersection, a number of homeless families wonder why the government spent ‘uncountable’ money on this project. They also pose a question when they will be able to attract the government’s attention. “We have never been under governments’ consideration,” regretted an old man sitting in his camp, waiting for a glass of marijuana drink. “Thousands of people will benefit from this service but we can just see it,” he added.

As this scribe crossed the road to get closer to the tents, the children playing cricket with a hand-made bat just stared at him with blank eyes. Around a shabby tent, a little boy took one look at him, turned around, dropped his bat and asked why he was there. He was upset and sorrowed at the same time as he had nothing to offer to the boy.

Dark skin, unwashed face, matted hair, barefoot and dirt around neck are the characteristics of these people roaming in search of identity from one place to the other, generation upon generation. Once one is in the vicinity, one witnesses the life below dignity. But still their faces wear an utter satisfaction as they have nothing to lose. Poverty begets poverty and this is how life goes on in these camps. These people hold up a mirror to the society, showing how inhumanly the successive governments have left them to rot. They face discrimination and contempt and are cast off.

A man in his early 30s walked to this scribe as the other elders scared away. “We are not thieves... we are Muslims and have always been a soft target for the law enforcers,” Muhammad Butt alias Kala Butt said. Asked what his real name was, he answered, “Even my close family members would hardly recall that I was given the name of Muhammad Ishfaq. They call me ‘Butt’ with love,” he explained.

He said, “In the past, we used to camp in Kurri Road area but we were forced to leave the premises as a college and water tank was to be constructed on that land. We marry within family (endogamy). I made a love marriage. I brought my bride in the tent when we lived at Kuri Road area,” he added. Butt continued, “We communicate good and bad amongst the relatives on mobile phones now. We charge phone batteries at a nearby hotel where we also take tea from sometime. Earlier, we used to send a messenger to the community camps to convey what was very important. Love marriage is now a routine matter in these camps. But if the parents ask a girl to accept someone, the girl cannot dare disagree.”

Butt said the main source of entertainment and information for the males of the family is the television they used to watch at some nearby hotels. Females hardly know anything about what is going on in the country. Butt was also disturbed over the law and order situation in the country.

He thinks aliens are chased for security and intelligence purposes in America but in Pakistan, terrorists are ‘out of control’. He said that the community has a ‘Numberdar’ and no one can dare flout his orders; otherwise one would have to face social boycott. “We earn a livelihood by collecting garbage,” he said when asked about the source of income. The females fetch water from broken water pipeline or from a nearby mosque.

Males used to go to the broken pipelines to take bath and wash clothes whenever it is direly needed. This is how life goes on.

According to Butt, his ancestors belonged to Kasur district and they later travelled to different parts of the country in search of identity but they continued losing it. “Hardly anyone in the tents has the national identity card... sometime we face problems for not having the cards. The language (Punjabi) we speak and the dialect we adopt is the sole proof that we are Pakistanis. We have no CNICs, no vote, no bank account, no child registration,” he added. He said some of his relatives live in Iqbal Town area of the federal capital and pay ‘rent’ to a local landlord over whose land they have erected tents. For each tent, Rs 1,000 rent is paid that included Rs 300 water charges, he said.

Butt lamented that they have been homeless for generations. “Homeless mothers are giving birth to more homeless children,” he added. He urged the government to give them homes on instalments, arguing the Afghans have finally succeeded in getting land and ID cards in Pakistan. “But our children continue playing barefoot, with no proper clothes to counter harshness of weather,” Butt said.

Life gets harsher for these people with every dawn. They have no idea about their next destination; yet, they are hopeful for future. The observation is, despite all this, life is worth living. Butt wished he would have a home one day and left a question for the government - whether they or the metro bus project is the real face of the capital.