By Sanjay Mathrani
Bagri is a nomadic tribe. Although there has been a trend of permanent settlement in the last fifteen to twenty years, the vast majority still live in slums along major highways, towns, and cities. The facilities available to them can be well assessed.
In Karachi, their settlements can be seen on Lyari and Malir rivers’ banks, underpasses, and in various vacant plots.
The accent and lifestyle of the Bagris settled in the area from Sukkur to Daharki is slightly different from the rest. Punjab also has a significant number of people who call themselves Bagri, but they are Muslims. They also have small settlements in Quetta, Chaman, Kharan, Khuzdar, and Balochistan.
Bagris are considered gypsies, and due to the unfortunate prevailing caste system, they’re categorized as ‘scheduled caste.’ The caste system divides Hindus into four main categories: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and the Shudras. Many believe that the groups originated from Brahma, the Hindu God of creation.
Vesaki Mal Bagri said that he conducted a survey. As a result, he found that around 400,000 ( 4 Lac) people live in Sindh from the Bagri community and in every district of Sindh, and there is a significant number of registered voters.
The majority of the community is engaged with agriculture, so their seasonal-based migration is based on crops.
When approached, Arjun Bagri, a youth activist and a law student from the Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto University of Law and belonging from Mityari, said, “I am pursuing my career in the field of Law, and I got early education from my native village, and then I moved to Hyderabad for high school and college. But I don’t know why I faced challenges, hate, unethical behavior, and bigotry just because of my identity when I didn’t even have a choice to grow, such as in the Bagri community”.
He added, “when I created my Facebook account, I was suggested by family and friends not to put Bagri after my name. But it was my dream to represent my community and improve their status in society; I always proudly revealed my identity”.
“I thought education was essential, so I went to a law college, and I want to achieve the same position and status as other communities in this society,” Arjun added.
With tears in his eyes, he said, “would you believe in this 21st century a Muslim barber would refuse to cut your hair just because of my caste? And you’re scared of revealing your name because people might treat you differently? People have different plates, glasses, and cups in their houses and hotels with a mark of nail paint on them for the people of our community. Commonly found in Sindh, these golden cups, glasses, and plates are symbolic and highlight the current discrimination level against the lower-caste Hindus. What do you think how a child, who grew up in such an environment, would conceptualize the notions such as interfaith harmony, peace, tolerance, and acceptance?”
Vesaki Mal Bagri, who has been working for the betterment of the Bagri community for the last 25 years, said, “it is alarming that children are pushed into work that endangers their health such as animals, farm equipment, grain bins, heights, ponds/water, chemicals/gases, and all-terrain vehicles. Rural Health Information Hub, an organization that supports healthcare and population health in rural communities, has shared that exposure to farm chemicals, such as pesticides and fertilizers,” and highlight as well as toxic gases which may be produced from standard farm practices like manure decomposition and silo crop storage, exposure to high levels of dust, which can contain mold, bacteria, and animal droppings, among other things, pose further challenges. He encourages parents of growing children from his community to allow them to go to school and enroll them for a better future; enforcing them for farming is not a way forward.
When asked about the financial status and general revenue source, he said, “the major source of revenue and income is based on agriculture. They are called gypsies because they are not settled in one place; their migration is based on the crop. They go where the crops are growing no matter how far it is”.
Indra Bagri runs her free/self-funded educational tuition center in Gulshan-e-Mehmar, Karachi, where hundreds of students come for education. She provides all the services voluntarily.
But she is disappointed that people in her community are not willing to study. “The reason for children from the Bagri community for not going to school was the hatred they face in schools. They face discrimination such as other children would not sit with them or share water with them”, Indra Bagri shared.
Eshwar Lal, a fruit seller from the Bagri community at Rado Bakery, Gulistan-e-Johar, Karachi, said that “this hate is not new, it has been there for long. In the past, people from the Bagri community used to eat lizards and other wild animals, but they don’t eat them now. So why do people still dislike them?”
The Prime Minister of Pakistan claims that religious minority communities in Pakistan are celebrating liberty. However, it’s saddened to see that the Bagri community still faces caste-based discrimination and seeks social status.