Will any government solve gypsies’ housing problem?


Islamabad, the federal capital, seems a combination of the rich and the poor as on one hand there are high-rise buildings and palaces with the wealthiest inmates and, on the other, gypsies settled along the roadsides of the city, are struggling for their survival.
Some decades ago these gypsies migrated from various cities of the country to the federal capital in a bid to earn money. As the capital city expanded, the land for these gypsies shrank and created many problems for them. Most of the gypsies belong to Sargodha, Multan, Lahore and Gujranwala. They are earning their livelihood through jugglery, car washing, scrap picking and sale of balloons.
“We have no permanent place to live, but the government is paying no heed to ameliorate our lot. We have been appealing to every ruler since the tenure of late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to meet our demand for a permanent place to live, but no government tried to solve our problem,” said Ashraf, who lives in one of the gypsy cottages in Sector-9. He said as they have to live in the open, mosquitoes and other insects pose serious health hazards to their families, adding that they did not have enough money for medical check-up.
Ashraf complained that representatives of the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) came to their small town several times, but to no avail. “Some BISP officials assured us several times of providing us with some aid, but we were not given even a single rupee by them,” he added.
Sharing their plight, other gypsies said some four years ago, a massive fire erupted in their cottages located in Dhoke Ali Akbar of Rawalpindi after which they had to move to Iqbal Town. They said the then federal minister Sheikh Rashid assured them of providing some financial assistance, but he too failed to meet his promise.
Meanwhile, many residents of the nearby areas complained that gypsies were creating problems for them. “Women and children living in gypsy cottages swarm traffic signals in evening for beggary,” said Hamid, a resident of G-9. He added that their male members often accompanied them, harassing commuters, particularly women.
Police often take action against them over beggary, but to no avail. Some of the residents also complained that several gypsies were involved in theft. “The security risk has increased after the gypsies set up a colony in front of the residential sector. The CDA should allocate separate land for them,” said Muhammad Hassan, a resident of G/9 flats.
However, the gypsies denied all the allegations against them, saying poverty compelled them to beg. “We are not involved in any theft and the members of gypsy families beg to meet their needs,” said Ishaq, a gypsy, adding that beggary was better than theft.
Several gypsies settled along Pattarian Bridge have adopted the business of jugglery. They catch snakes from the forests of the federal capital and sell them at high rates.
The officials of the Capital Development Authority (CDA) inspect the gypsy cottages on regular basis. However, no government department has ever tried to find a permanent solution to their problem. As a result, gypsy cottages have spawned all across the city.