Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Cotton Picker -- a profile
Cotton is the main cash crop of Pakistan but poor laborer women earning their livelihood as seasonal field workers in cotton fields are becoming poorer because of ignorance, haplessness, systematic exploitation and absence of political will to protect them.
Profile of a cotton picker
Sharifan Mai, 70, who works as housemaid in a village on the outskirts of Punjab’s cotton district Multan, looks back at her life indifferently.
Draped in sweat-soaked and fade-coloured clothes, Mai started picking cotton in her childhood. "I started going for cotton picking with my mother and other women of the village when I was a child."
Mai used to pick cotton (phutti) on different terms. She laboured in cotton fields for one-fifth part of her work as wage. "When I was young they (farmers) paid us one-twentieth of our picking."
However, Mai says phutti was never weighed. "Mostly some senior woman of farmer's family made 20 equal divisions on the phutti merely on her own assessment. We got one of those divisions as our labour."
Presently cotton pickers work for 60 to 80 rupees a day of picking cotton from dawn to dusk. "Present wage system is better," says Mai.
Born in Shujaabad, a tehsil headquarter in Multan district, she now lives in a village of tehsil Jahanian after marriage. Mother of five daughters and two sons, Mai's husband died eleven years ago. Or that is what she guesses. Time seems to be standing still for her.
"He died about 10 years ago. Or perhaps eleven. But I still feel as if he died yesterday. After he left, I had to double efforts to help my children grow."
Mai gets Rs500 a month for almost four hours of daily work in her master's house. She does dusting, floor washing, and bringing grocery from the market. She also kneads flour, bakes rotis in tanoor (traditional bread oven) and washes clothes of the family.
There is no weekly day off. She comes for work three times a day, which is for preparing three meals. She also performs other chores when she comes for preparing breakfast. "Zameendar (landlord) and his wife are kind. They let me go to doctor when I am sick," says Mai.
Mai's sons are married but they cannot help their mother. They are too poor to think of it. They do not live with their mother. "How they can help me? They hardly meet their families' needs."
It seems Mai has forgotten laughing. Even smiling. Her only interest left in life is her youngest daughter. "I wish my kaki (little girl) is married to some gentleman before I die," says Mai in a tired tone.
Mai and her daughter go for cotton picking, but she thinks it is less lucrative than working in houses as maids. For Mai working as housemaid assures her bread through out the year.
"At least it is permanent. We are sure that after a month we will get some thing. Besides, picking is not an easy job after all.
"One has to stand and work the whole day in cotton field. I am not strong enough now for this working."
With age, Mai has started feeling insecure. She fears sending her young daughter alone to the fields. "I am satisfied with her being at home."
On her life as a field labourer, Mai takes a deep sigh that expresses less relief and more remorse. "Listen son, this is our destination. Our fate. We had to do this; our children will have to do this."
Mai's wrinkled face speaks of hardships of life, but she thinks sufferings are inevitable. "This is part of life."