Underneath the Kala Pul, a cluster of clumsily built houses of all shapes and sizes scatter over a hill. The top end is inhabited by Muslims, the bottom Hindus; and together they form Chanesar Goth, an area infamous as a hub for crime.
The locality is also known for housing one of the most established begging communities of the city, comprising mainly of Hindus. According to an estimate, about 500,000 beggars are currently stationed in the city.
Although there are other settlements of beggars in areas such as Musa Colony, Nazimabad no 2, Cantt Station, Manghopir and behind Karachi University; Chanesar Goth is the oldest in the city.
Rajesh, our guide to the area, waits by a charpoy shop, the meeting point which was decided. Though he once sold cleaning cloth at a signal by Cant Station, things turned out fairly well for the 18-year-old. He has long completed his matriculation and now works as a peon at a local bank.
In a grey Shalwar Kurta, he greets with a smiling face and before proceeding further, warns against the usage of a camera. “The community hates their pictures being taken.” Through a topsy-turvy road, between a Dhaba and a grocery shop, a thin lane opens. “This is where our community lives,” he points out.
One factor that defines the area is the strong stench of sewerage, toilet waste and rotten food. Rajesh immediately offers an apology and an explanation. “The area is generally clean,” he claims, adding that the recent celebration of Holi is the reason for the mess. “We tried to get our gutters cleaned,” Rajesh says.
Inside the community, it is important to be politically correct. Though the residents beg to meet their daily expenses, they do not like to be told that they do. For them, it is work.
It is mostly women and children who work in the profession. They collect in vehicles at nine in the morning and most return by nine in the evening, but some come back later. However, it is not all plain sailing as they have an enemy in the police, who beat them up, extort money and sometimes even take them to jail.
“A few days back they took my brother who sells head massagers near Cantt Station to jail,” shares Rajesh. Sometimes they bribe the police with “five hundred to a thousand rupees”. At other times, they seek the help of an influential person to get their relatives released.
But things are changing in the neighbourhood. The younger lot is interested in studying and a small group of parents have started sending their children to school. Some attend a private school nearby and others study at St Josephs.
The school goers are genuinely interested in studying. “Are you here to give us free tuitions?” asks Kumar, an 11-year-old courageous enough to lead a group of young boys and girls who have started crowding around.
Rana Asif, president of Initiators, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that has worked in the area for more than a decade, reveals that most of the 350 households that exist at Chanesar Goth beg for a living.
“But things have changed with time. Now you will be able to find drivers, electricians and tailors in the area. However, their numbers are still low because begging earns more.” Apart from the hardcore beggars, there are others who use begging as a cover or an additional source of income.
“There is also the transgender community at four main areas of the city. Zamazama, Gulistan-e-Jauhar, Azam Basti and Gizri, but they don’t just beg and indulge in commercial sex too.” He claims they amount to 17,000 in the city.
There is another wave of what Asif terms “seasonal beggars”. One lot comes in Ramazan, mainly from Sindh or Southern Punjab, and the other joins the profession when fishing season is over. They are mostly Bengalis and Burmese.
He believes the underlying problem with these communities is “the culture of poverty”. “They are not as poor as they look and have their own system of savings through committees. But they do not know what to spend on; such as basic things needed for a decent living.”
And for this he believes a “little love and care” from society and a begging rehab centre from the government can do wonders. “The government has no shortage of space. The CDGK parking plaza has been empty since it was constructed and the location is ideal for a rehabilitation centre,” he retorts. Asif also alleges that the begging mafia is strongly sheltered by police officials.