PAKISTAN: Skewed land holding and denial of right to shelter
July 19, 2012
Imbibed in the colonial policies of British Raj prior the partition of India, 1947, whereby, in response to their support to British to suppress and rule the people; the local landlords, Pirs and Mirs, Chaudharis, Sardars and Maliks, were awarded large chunks of land and their fiefdoms were patronized by the British in today’s Pakistan. The ultimate beneficiary of partition; (Pakistan), has been symbolized with large land holdings in the region giving landed aristocracy the maximum power and license to keep the majority of the people of this country poverty ridden, under the clutches of debt-bondage and ultimately in virtual serfdom.
There has been a close connection of skewed land holdings with the insecurity of right to shelter of majority of the population of Pakistan. Starting with some facts; according to recent estimates, 63 per cent of Pakistan’s population resides in rural areas, whereas, 44 per cent of the country’s workforce is engaged in agriculture. Notably, overwhelming majority, 80.84 per cent, of rural population lives in housing made of mud bricks and wood, 26 per cent households live in one-room shelter; 69 per cent use wood/charcoal as fuel for cooking and only 21 per cent have access to tap water and 33 per cent have no toilet facility. The above mentioned housing arrangement too is not legally owned by these people.
The right to housing or shelter is recognized universally as one of the basic human rights. Article 25 of the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights proclaims and renders it mandatory for the member countries that they should provide their citizens with adequate housing.
More importantly, the Constitution of Pakistan has also incorporated clauses dealing with the right to shelter and adequate housing to its citizens in line with the International commitments. Article 38 (D) makes the state responsible for providing basic necessities of life to the citizens such as food, clothing, housing, education and health irrespective of sex, caste, creed or race.
However, the implementation of the rights enshrined in the Constitution is seldom materialized owing to the fact that politics and law making is dominated by the landlord-cum politicians who have kept the landless peasants and tenants at arm’s length and tightened their own grip over the system.
The right to shelter and adequate housing is one of the major aggravations in the lives of people in rural areas of Sindh and Baluchistan and Southern belt of Punjab in particular given the fact that these areas are characterized with large land holdings and age old rigid tribal system. According some estimates the landed elite constitutes only five per cent of the total people connected with agriculture but they own 64 per cent of the total agriculture land.
Brewing from this skewed nature of land ownership peasants and rural workers have been facing exclusion from the mainstream, thereby culminating in their un-ending social vulnerabilities. It is in this condition that peasants are pushed into the quagmire of marginalization where they do not have access to right of adequate housing or shelter and come across multiple problems like, sexual harassment, no right to unionization, and are slapped with the debt-bondage.
Lack of ownership of the houses they live in makes them more vulnerable to exploitation by the feudals. “Dependence for shelter/housing on landlord perpetuates the vulnerability of the poor that ranges from the extremes of forced eviction to the bonded labour”, says Karamat Ali well known labour and human rights activist.
The housing insecurity, therefore, continues to be used as an instrument of social marginalization, deprivation of the poor and downtrodden people. “It is this insecurity rural people are grappled with that they even face the forced expulsion by the feudals from their villages and agriculture lands and some times with out any substantial reason”, he adds.
“The insecurity of housing seen from the perspective of forced eviction of people from villages in Sindh particularly is the result of feudal dominance”, says Punhal Saryo a peasant and human rights activist.
People even can not dare think of the legal entitlements of their houses where there is feudal dominance. “We even can not imagine asking for the legal ownership of the houses we are living in, because our landlord can throw us out of the village”, says scared Wali Muhammad from Sanghar a district dominated by feudal structure.
It’s important that at this juncture of time concrete steps need to be taken by the government to abide by the provisions of the constitution. The successive governments have been playing on the tunes of feudal-cum politicians and bureaucracy and denying people their fundamental and constitutional rights.
Also the residential rights or housing security of the people living in rural areas who constitute the majority of our population could not be realized unless land reforms are not introduced in Pakistan, especially in the areas with large land holdings. It is now necessary for the state and its subsidiary organs to honor their constitutional obligations.
Moreover, all human settlements that are situated on the state land of any kind held by any civil and non civil government departments/institutions, in rural area should be registered. Also formal land entitlements should be extended to the shelter less settlers, particularly to the women folks of the local communities.
The AHRC is not responsible for the views shared in this article, which do not necessarily reflect its own.
About the Author: Altaf Hussain is a researcher at PILER and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org