The poor souls of Sindh who cannot afford to sit idle, even in a heatwave

The province's labourers and daily-wage workers, who must toil in the heat to earn food for their families, have no choice but to brave oppressive conditions.

Imtiaz Dharani, Zulfiqar Memon, and M.B. Kalhoro

Imtiaz Dharani, Zulfiqar Memon, and M.B. Kalhoro



Labourers pave a road with asphalt without any protection from the sun in Nawabshah. PHOTO: DAWN

May 28, 2024

LARKANA, NAWABSHAH, MITHI – The ambient temperature in Larkana has been above 50 degrees for three days now. During the day, the heat is such that even “mad dogs and Englishmen” (as the old saying goes) would not dare to venture outdoors.

Jiles Bazaar, Anaj Mandi and Resham Gali — the main commercial hubs of the city — remain deserted, with only a few shops and hotels staying open.

Meanwhile, on Station Road, a profusely sweaty Ali Muhammad kneads dough into balls, flattens them with his hands and then and claps them into his blazing tandoor.

It feels like his perch is hotter than the gates of hell, but he has no other choice. “I feel like I’m burning here,” he tells Dawn as he swoops in and out of the mouth of the raging tandoor.

“If I want to escape this unbearable heat, then who would feed my children?”

His plight is echoed by Arif, a push-cart vendor selling rice and Haleem near Jinnah Bagh. “I am burning in this heat, but I have no other source of income,” he laments, relating that he makes a mere Rs400 a day, which has to go a long way if he has to feed his family.

While there are many who can afford to put their life on hold and wait out the heat of the day, people like Ali and Arif have no such luxury.

Akhtiar, who drives a donkey cart delivering sugarcane to juice shops, responds sarcastically when approached for comment. “Are you asking me about my life, which becoming more miserable by the day? It is very difficult to feed my 10 children and other family members with just this donkey cart.”

In his own words, his focus is to earn a livelihood for his family, come rain or shine. “I am ignorant of it. If I tried to escape the scorching heat, who else would come to my aid?”

Thar becomes ‘a furnace’

Life in the desert is no easier. In Tharparkar, the relentless sun has turned the sandy Thar desert into a furnace, leaving locals with little shade and no respite.

Here too, labourers like 45-year-old Chandomal from Islamkot have to brave the oppressive sun to eke out a living.

“No matter how hot it is, we have to work in order to feed our children,” he says, wiping the sweat from his brow.

To provide some relief to the heat-stricken residents, the district government has set up cold water stalls at different points in the area. Tents have also been erected to provide shade and shelter from the scorching sun.

Madan, a vegetable vendor at Mithi’s Kashmir Chowk, echoes the sentiments of many in Thar. “The sun is abundant, but labour has to be done. I wish the sun would have mercy on us and rain would fall on the sandy desert of Thar so that the weather would be pleasant.”

It is a similar story for Sadoro, a labourer working in Nawabshah. Each day in his life is a fight for survival, and his work is a never-ending battle against the elements.

Being a construction worker, he has no way to escape the heat of the scorching sun, whether it is 48 degrees or pouring with rain. He tells Dawn he begins at daybreak, rising from a makeshift bed to face another grueling day on the construction site, where he has been working for the past two months.

“My body sometimes aches from the previous day’s labour, and my skin burns due to constant exposure to sunlight. But I know that I must earn for my family.”

Sadoro never went to school and started working as a labourer at the age of 18.

Working under the scorching sun is very challenging, he says, relating how sometimes his colleagues and he feel faint. But the thought of his family and three children pushes him to bear it all.

“Sometimes I have to carry heavy weights, like bags of sand or bricks, and climb multiple floors. All of this is under the open sky, as there is no structure around to provide shade.

At times, he says, the labourers will run the water motor and take a shower to beat the heat.

He relates how he and and his fellows have suffered heatstroke multiple times, but have to suffice with a thaili — the local term for a glucose drip — to regain their energy before going back to work.

One gets the feeling that it’s not just a physical, but an emotional one as well; trapped in a cycle of poverty and hardship, people like Sadoro have little hope of escaping — both the heat and their circumstances.

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