Rasib Khan: “unemployment is increasing”

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Rasib Khan: “unemployment is increasing”

"The person who has his own land is very lucky," says Rasib Khan, aged 28, from a family of landless peasants in the village of Akhoon Bandi, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan.

Rasib lives with his mother and two brothers. His father died of cancer when Rasib was a child. His mother, left as sole provider, "was given a sewing machine and she learnt how to do tailoring…". Until recently she has remained a crucial source of income, "but now her eyesight is weak and she can no longer…work as she did in the past", Rasib says.

Although he had 10 years of schooling Rasib failed two subjects in the final exam and was unable to retake them for lack of funds. Since then he has been a day labourer, usually picking up a few days' work each month. But his own and his family's situation has become "very critical" as he has had no work for several months and the family has no other support.

Rasib describes various casual jobs done over the years – weeding, watering, harvesting, transporting crops to market, or sometimes processing them. Often he has worked at night. About one job he says: "We crushed the sugar cane and made molasses. We spent the whole night there." Each labourer received 2 kg of molasses as payment. He has also tried petty trading in a nearby town – "I sold fruit for four to five months at the bazaar. I would buy from the market on credit and repay it from the proceeds of the sale of fruit" – but the local authorities removed and burnt the traders' carts on the grounds of encroachment on public space.

Currently, for no pay, Rasib is helping water a friend's loquat crop, "with the expectation that when the loquat is ready for picking he will give us some work". But a serious water shortage has created fierce competition in the community. "[Some people] block the channels in the fields belonging to others and divert the water to their own fields in the darkness of the night," Rasib says.

Rasib has been engaged to be married for several years, but lacking the money to build a house he remains unable to proceed with the marriage. The family has also been heavily in debt since his sister's marriage seven months ago. Rasib explains: "We borrowed about 20,000 rupees (239 US$)1from [various] relatives… Out of which we paid 10,000 rupees for furniture…[and] another 10,000 rupees to purchase utensils. Groceries such as flour, sugar, tea, cooking oil, etc, we bought on credit." In all the family owes 200,000 rupees (2392 US$).

A friend helped Rasib get a loan from Khushali Bank, which "identifies the poor in a village who want to work or start a business or those that are indebted". He took the loan "…so that my creditors don't harass me too much". His priority is to pay off his debts, to improve the family home and "arrange for my mother to perform Haj (pilgrimage)". He also wants to arrange his marriage by building a house.  But paying off the debts alone "… is very difficult. As time is passing, the situation is becoming worse."

1/ Average exchange rate, (83.58 rupees = 1 US$) November 2009, Interbank rate, source: www.oanda.com