The summarized version of this research report is published in the Social Science and Policy Bulletin LUMS Winter 2011.
This research project was to examine national policy discussion on poverty and social policy in Pakistan. This study has largely overseen the conjunction of class and caste as a dimension of social marginalisation and states’ housing policies for those who are marginalised and poor in Punjab. The project was part of a programme of research on social protection in Asia, funded by the Ford Foundation, and coordinated by the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex UK.
A homestead land intervention called the Punjab Marla Scheme, which was first launched in the early 1970s, remains one of the few, perhaps the only, government programme which self-consciously targeted at the conditions of the most marginalised segments in the class-caste hierarchy of the Punjab village. This paper presents primary evidence from qualitative research in a number of villages in central Punjab to illustrate the continuing salience of the class-caste conjunction in rural housing and the impact of the Marla Scheme.
A mud brick house in Rural Pakistan
The village plan in Punjab included particular plots of land for non-cultivator service providers and casual labourers. In both cases the traditional arrangements for residential land were premised on the continuation of a largely agrarian economy dominated by cultivating peasants or landlords. Market transactions had emerged in the rural fieldwork sites in two different domains: for cultivable land, and for land specifically developed for residential purposes. These too, were constrained by formally endorsed customary rights of first refusal of neighbouring owners, thus tilting the market in the favour of incumbents. It was highly correlated with caste – virtually all households belonging to the traditional ‘cultivating’ castes owned some land, even if it was a small plot, and virtually none of the traditional ‘worker’ and ‘servant’ castes owned any land. Special plots had been designated in the original village plan for the latter, but access to these was regulated by the traditional landowning group, even if such control had loosened over time. The most striking feature in this regard was the prevalence of individuals and families belonging to the historically marginalised castes who worked as farm and domestic servants of landowners. Many of these lived on plots provided by their employers and were virtually at their beck and call. Other people from these castes who lived on village ‘public’ land were also subjected to demands for unpaid labour from time to time
At our research sites, extreme cases of social marginalisation were present in the form of bonded labour arrangements between employers and workers. There were significant numbers of families who worked as bonded labourers (as farm and house servants) for their employers.
In the sites migration was seen to have preserved hierarchy even more strongly, as a majority of the landowning classes were themselves migrants from elsewhere, and were allotted land for cultivation and residence.
The rural Punjab individual moments of change were often connected with government sponsored access to residential land. This group-based change was related to political enfranchisement. The scheme was initiated through legislation by a populist government and implemented with the involvement of local committees made up of political activists. The overthrow of the populist government in a military coup in the late 1970s led to an amendment of the law, and then eventually to the effective winding up of the scheme. No records of scheme implementation were maintained by the provincial government, and the Punjab Marla Scheme must be one of the rare social policy interventions in Pakistan which has left a bigger impact on the ground than on paper.
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