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."


  1. Very nice.... i really like the human touch in this piece :)

  2. yeh,heart touching story.Such atrocities are being committed around us.Its another thing we ignore them .May be some one around us,some one among our close is doing this knowingly or not knowingly.
    Just we can stop happenig this.

  3. Pathetic condition of the people where a suit of our MNA costs more than that Sharifa Mai had earned in her whole life. However its a worth reading and an eye opener.

  4. Its one of the million stories which are existing in our beloved country Pakistan. It’s the dilemma of our society that the poor are getting more poor emphatically and the rich are getting richer. And this is salient vise-versa of our democratic country that the elite class is enjoying all the luxuries of life and on the same earth the poor class is striving for the basic needs of life.I was in that area for sometime. One can find “men-Rikshaw” in the small city of Alipur about 125 Km from Multan. And on the other hand what I observed every fifth car on the roads of Multan is 2009 Toyota corolla.
    One can not only find the pathetic condition of the cotton pickers, can also find same with field workers of rice and Mangos.
    I can say a million word in this aspect of our society, but I will not do a single practical step to solve these problems and I am not a person yet I am a unit of in the edifice of the Pakistani empire and same behavior and reluctance I trace in each unit of Pakistan, so we come and so we leave, we do have thousand of wards and minus of practical step.

  5. I believe we as part of the society are to be blamed for being indifferent towards the lives of people like Mai. We take advantage of their misery and they start believing they were born to suffer. It is rightly said, "ghareeb ki bi kia zindagi hai!"

  6. Heart touching n thought provoking blog. i myself find me guilty n sorry for wat is happening in Quid's Pakistan. we r living in a condemned society where we only react when it comes to ourselves. Indifferance is dominent product now. we r not willing to take pain of a number of "MAIs" around. on the other hand our democratic "rajeem" finds it hard to mull over such rather tiny issues of MAIs in the state as the efficiently inefficient "Khappay" ppl have many other matters of interest.. in the country we r striving to survive now was never being dreamt of. Long live Pakistan!!

  7. Aamer; its is a good effort to present miseries and troubles of cotton pickers in cotton belt... but my dear; one of the most dangerous side of the work you did not highlight... and this is the residual effects of pesticides on pickers and cotton waste (as fuel) users... You must highlighted that hidden corner of their work place. So please try to bring into light such issues of hazardous professions.... and one thing more... Govt or any CSO need to work on wage system for this labor force... as they have nothing else to do.... we cant arrange alternative professions or jobs for them but we can make these jobs safe and healthy source of income for the laborers... I hope you got my point...

  8. I have heard of times when people used to work not for monetary wages, but just if the landlord provided meals to the worker. It looked like a dark fantasy tale to me till I read this now. So hard to believe what is true. Reality, especially in our country, is too harsh.

    I also suggest that Mr. Amer should write on farmers. Vegetable prices are always unaffected by rising prices of petroleum along with rising prices of everything in economy. Farmers hardly recover the basic cost of their labor, ironically they sometimes hardly recover the transportation cost of just taking their products to the market.

  9. "Mai" is not only one case who suffers from the feudal lords but there are many that go unnoticed. Amer Bahi,it is a good attempt to bring into the lime-light such story to give credit to those workers whose work is never acknowledged. Can we demand the equal rights or laws to be devised for the daily wagers from the otherwise democratic government whose personnels are also belong to FEUDAL class.
    The fact is that we cannot blame any one but to peep into ourselves to know where we are standing now and where will we put are next step...

  10. The state of helplessness depicted in the story needs to be reviewed. If looked from a different perspective Mai's case is a story of success too. She has successfully raised her family despite all the odds she had to face in her life even when she had to work alone after the death of her spouse. We also need to get inspiration from these characters of our society who are working in a an extremely challenging environment but still are so grateful to God for whatever He has given them.

  11. Real life Example with a lot of lessons for me; but still the Mai is determined to hard work at this age. Inspiration and motivation are the right words.

    As far as comparison on lifestyle or condition is concerned, I say Smile on our faces is due to hard work of these people.

  12. Heart touching story. keep writing and get prayers from poors. Need the address of Mai,one friend of mine in multan will help her for the Jehez of her daughter. regards. Nasir Jamil