By Mureed Hussain Ahsan
The shrines in Sindh will open tomorrow on June 28 following Sindh government’s orders. What residents of Shrine towns suffered, that is untold story.
Whether it was a festival or a public holiday, this small town of Sindh would be decorated with lights and lamps. The people of different walks of life across Sindh as well as Pakistan would flock to the mausoleum of the great poet of Sindh, Shah Abdul Latif.
This city used to remain closed only on Ashura- the 10th Muharram. For the first time after the martyrdom of Benazir Bhutto in 2007 it was closed for three consecutive days.
Throughout the year, people of all ages, classes, statuses and schools of thought from all over the country used to come here. But many stories of misery can be read.
This was COVID-19, which pushed this city to closure. That too far over four months.
The shrine and related tourism are the only source of employment for the people of this city.
This small city has over 2000 different shops which around 400 are of food stalls, hotels, dhabas while some 300 shops from Danbora Chowk to Dargah are of spiritual gift related items and souvenirs.
Besides, from pilgrimage and tourism point of view there are separate shops for cultural items, Jundi, Kashi Khadar, Susi and other cultural items and gifts.
There were 150-200 Changchi rickshaws ply in the town to facilitate the visitors particularly for those passengers from the National Highway to the Dargah. The other necessities of life and the necessities of the local population were shops and markets.
Before beak out of corona here the situation was different. These food stalls, relic and gift shops were open 24 hours throughout year. The relic shops employed 1000, 1200 people.
On stands housed hundreds of small and large stalls traditional thread necklaces, pendants, flowers, water and sweets were sold.
Hotel workers worked in three shifts. Changchi rickshaws used to ply round the clock. No rickshaw who was seen without passengers. The smiles they needed for business dealings with pilgrims and tourists were now part of their lives.
But after corona, all was changed. Shrine was closed, SOPs were imposed. Everything was changed. Pilgrimage was closed. No spiritual visitor or tourist was coming to shrine.
This rendered the hundreds of people jobless. Entire economic activity went to standstill.
Later, the government allowed to open business under SOPs and so are the shopkeepers of Bhitshah. But economy of this shrine town did not move. When the shrine is closed, there is no reason for any tourist or devotee to come to this city.
Changchi rickshaw driver will take ten laps a day to pick someone up !? Whom will this florist sell flowers to, who will buy this spiritual souvenir, who will come and stay or dine in hotels!? These are the traditional “Awtara” where the lower class people used to scarify goats and came back after a night of wandering and pilgrimage. Here some Paapar seller, soft drink hawker a child used to earn a living.
A week back the lockdown was over, the shrines are closed, the shops are open till 6 or 8 pm, but in this city where there is no other source of employment, hunger and poverty have put a damper on it. Those who have their own shops may take some more time, but for those who spend their time in rented shops, it is becoming more and more difficult to keep the illusion of white cover.
This is Bhat Shah who used to close only on Ashura to weep for the martyrs of Karbala. Now it is weeping over his condition. This is Bhat Shah where Shah Latif used to observe fast but now it has no source of employment.
Photos by author.
Mureed Hussain Ahsan is freelance journalist and blogger