I Spent Time With The Gypsies In Lahore's Johar Town And It Was Heartbreakingly Eye-Opening

By Mubasshir Ijaz | 11 Dec, 2018

Recently, I visited a community of gypsies in Lahore, and believe me, it was quite the experience. But before I jump into the details, let’s talk about what gypsies really are.

Gypsies are people that move from place to place, mostly in search of work. They usually have horses, donkeys, and caravans to help them do so and they mostly live in tents that they carry with them. They can be found all over the world but are said to have originated from South Asia. And they never stay in one place for too long.

The community members I met are currently residing in Johar Town, Lahore right next to Emporium Mall. They have been living there for the past year.

Now, as soon as my colleagues and I walked into the area we saw the poor habitat that they are accustomed to living in. As you can clearly see for your self, there is garbage everywhere and no sanitation.

One of the folks I talked to was Ali Raza. Ali Raza’s family agreed to talk to me and invited me to sit with them just outside their tent.

They told me that their biggest problem is a lack of clean water. The entire camp relies on getting its drinking and cleaning water from public water coolers near them. They also told me that local authorities, the media and NGOs do come by to see them and offer help. But the only help they give is in the shape of water bottles, snacks to eat and new clothes.

Ali’s mother told me that people from the media ask her children to pick up trash and wear worn-out clothes, just so they can get a good shot and in return, they promise to help them out by creating awareness but, none of that has ever helped them out.

Ali’s father, Zafar told me that he makes a living by finding labor work. During the previous government’s tenure, there was a lot of construction on the roads so it was easier for him to find work. Nowadays, work is harder to come by, according to Zafar. No one hires gypsies to work for them at offices or homes. Their major income is either through labor work such as construction, or begging.

This particular family was Muslim so they celebrate all Islamic festivities with great joy. Others also told me that most of the camp usually comes together and butchers a few chickens and goats to have a grand lunch on Eid.

For instance, here’s a picture of the kids within the community who worked together to make this hill to celebrate Eid Milad Un Nabi.

Source: Mubasshir Ijaz

While talking to the kids, I realized that while their means are scarce, their aspirations are limitless.

For instance, Fatima here wants to become a doctor when she grows up, Her mother told me that she wants her kids to study as much as they are willing to but, only her daughter attends school her siblings aren’t that interested in it. But eventually, Fatima won’t be able to carry on with her studies because it is already difficult for her family to afford her education.

Source: Mubasshir Ijaz

As much as I looked around and talked to these kids, I realized how badly this community is cut off from the rest of the world surrounding them. Hardly any of these kids attend school and even if they do, it’s not for long.

Source: Mubasshir Ijaz

Most of their day is spent playing, begging for money, or helping around the house. So whether they like it or not, their future seems to be sealed by faith – to carry on with the gypsy legacy like their forefathers before them, simply due to a lack of opportunities.

Source: Mubasshir Ijaz

There was a lot that I took away from this entire experience. Not only was it an eye-opener – for really, I did realize that we take the opportunities and basic necessities we have for granted – but it was also a way to meet a community filled with optimism and hospitality, even in the face of adversity.

That being said, the community is in dire need of help. Usable resources like water and clean food, and a means to provide their children with basic education are the two most pressing needs for this community at this point in time. Their parting message was a plea for help, asking people to spare a glance towards this oft-neglected community.


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Cover image via Mubasshir Ijaz

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