This is the story of Bushra, a 37 years old domestic worker who is a mother of two and expecting a third one. She belongs to the class which takes pride in having a large number of children. Despite the fact that they don’t have resources to feed their children they keep on increasing the number in the hope of having a son.
Forced by poverty, these people also end up sending their children to work at an early age. Bushra is no exception.
Three decades ago, she was leading a carefree life in her ancestral village in Okara, with her parents and four siblings, when all of a sudden life took a sharp turn. Her father eloped with a married woman. Afraid of dealing with the woman’s family and the police, her mother took refuge in a relative’s house. For about a year they lived like gypsies going from one relative’s house to the other since none of them was in a position to feed them for long.
Eventually, Bushra’s father came to terms with the other woman’s family and they all returned home. A few months later he married that woman.
Bushra wanted to go to school but her mother had no choice but to send her children to work to run the household. After all, they had to pay for their existence since their father was busy with the other woman — squandering both time and a small fortune that he had made from selling a small piece of land in his village.
Bushra, seven, came to Lahore with her elder sister to work for the Chaudhry of her village. Barely able to reach the sink to do the dishes, she now shared her mother and elder sister’s burden. Stepping onto a stool, she struggled to maintain balance while doing the dishes, knowing well that she would be reprimanded and punished physically if she broke something or failed to complete the assigned task.
While learning to cook, the little Bushra would often clumsily cut her fingers using knives and once even spilled hot oil over herself. By this time she had 8 siblings, two of them from her father’s second wife. Her insouciant father couldn’t care less about his children’s survival let alone a good upbringing. Her mother, having lived a rough life, died when Bushra was only 22. This brought more financial pressure on the entire family.
One of Bushra’s brothers became a drug addict. He has been missing for the past eight years.
Just like every other girl, Bushra had dreams. She wanted to get out of this poverty trap but didn’t know how to break this vicious cycle. She thought marrying a well-to-do man would bring an end to her miseries. At age 29 she went against her family and decided to become the third wife of a man who already had eight children.
This man was a distant relative from her village, a supervisor at a factory in Lahore who drew a reasonable salary and had an 800cc car. After marriage he stayed with her for a couple of months, then left his job and went back to his village saying he couldn’t live without his eight children.
Bushra went back to work. She had to pay the rent of the house that her husband had rented for them. She went back to her family to live with them. Her husband would visit her occasionally, disappearing during last months of her both pregnancies. That saved him from paying for the hospital expenses. Each time she expressed her desire to have a boy. She has two daughters.
Now eight years after her marriage she has again conceived in the hope that it would be a son this time. She keeps asking her little daughters and other people to pray for her. She says that she wants a son because he would support her financially in old age. She doesn’t even have resources to feed and educate her two daughters. How will she raise her third child?
This is just one story. There are millions of Bushras out there struggling to keep their families alive and trying to bring more lives into existence despite having no resources. There is nothing to cherish in the past and the present. The worst is that the future too looks bleak for them.
As we move towards elections, I haven’t seen any political leadership to even pay lip-service to create any opportunity for them.