Op-ed writer: Janib Ali Sheedi is from Larkana, Sindh in Pakistan. He is currently working as a self-employed academic tutor. He is simultaneously preparing for the Central Superior Service exam, also known as the CSS exam. Candidates who pass this exam are eligible to apply for civil service jobs with the federal govt. He is also a writer, with a keen interest in culture and international relations. He hopes to complete a graduate program from a university abroad some day.
Being black in a South Asian society means one has to go through several challenges on a daily basis. I myself, being a student from the marginalized Afro-Pakistani Sheedi community, face unpredictable and constant hardships. I personally believe skin colour shouldn’t have anything to do with a person’s reputation. People are defined by their own deeds in society. Unfortunately, there are some unnatural stereotypes about the caste, color and creed of particular communities.
My community in Pakistan is not free from such stereotypes. I hail from Pakistan’s second largest province, Sindh, where our Sheedi community lives in the thousands. Judging from the Sheedi community’s social, financial and political status, they appear to be second-class citizens. We have inherited a colonial legacy, from a time when members of the African diaspora were enslaved and treated as anything but human.
Ongoing systematic discrimination against the Afro-Pakistani community has created a vacuum for us due to limited access and opportunities. One of the most common challenges is abject poverty. It is said that poverty is the mother of all evils. This evil has consistently prevented my community from attaining an education. Owing to this, a majority of young Afro-Pakistanis work as labourers, drivers, house keepers, cooks and entertainers to earn a living. Levels of poverty and illiteracy among the Sheedi community are higher compared to other ethnic groups in Pakistan.
I remember when I asked my family to let me pursue a higher education from the University of Sindh, and they refused. At the time, they could hardly afford two meals a day. My father was unemployed, even though he was literate. My life was really tough between 2011 and 2017. I had no choice but to start earning for my family. I used to work at a brick factory, as a daily wager building houses. I sold vegetables on a rented cart, and even grew crops in our small field.
Despite all this, I kept reading historical and general knowledge books at home. I was also a teenager, a phase that is known to be an emotionally vulnerable time for young people. The opportunities I had to give up, and the uncertainty about my future, made my teenage years even more difficult. Even though I had to deal with personal and financial setbacks, I told myself these struggles would make me stronger.
In 2016, with the help of my family’s financial contribution, I got admitted to a Masters programme at the University of Sindh. I was pursuing a degree in the university’s Department of Psychology. However, after two months of regular classes, I realized that semester fees, combined with the personal expenses that come with university life, would add up to more than what my father could afford. I eventually had to withdraw from the program for financial reasons. Then, I started preparing for the country’s competitive Central Superior Services (CSS) exam.
I have not been able to clear the CSS exam so far. This isn’t a reflection of my competitiveness, but more to do with long-standing material obstacles that keep getting in the way. I am preparing for my third and final attempt to pass the exam. I am also working as a self-employed tutor to ease my personal financial situation, which has been an ongoing issue.
To keep my morale high, I continue to learn about history. I also read autobiographies and biographies of great personalities. These activities allow my heart and mind work in coalesce and conformity.
I still believe in the beauty of the future. Even if things are not going as planned right now, sooner or later, I will come out of this critical juncture. Mine is not the only story. There are thousands of young and passionate Afro-Pakistani students who are looking for help to pursue an education so they can have a better life.
I believe the federal and provincial governments of Pakistan need to give young people in the Sheedi community more access to education through material and moral support. If the government can spend billions of dollars on defence, it can allocate more money to educational initiatives as well. The 21st century is the age of access, and our young citizens can play a vital role in building the nation. Young Afro-Pakistanis should also be given a chance to do this.