Bamyan’s cave-dwellers in a grim battle for survival
BAMYAN CITY (Pajhwok): Thousands of cave-dwellers near the Taliban-dynamited Buddha statues in central Bamyan province are wallowing in abject poverty and unemployment.
Unable to make ends meet, the troglodytes have to struggle to keep their bodies and souls together. Their children and family members have to be content with eating breadcrumbs and unhygienic leftover food collected from restaurant rubbish.
Around 3,000 caves are dotted around the famous Buddha statues, inhabited by 250 families from Bamyan and other provinces. Caught up in grinding poverty, the people living here do not have other shelters.
Some of the caves at the base of the statues were used by the Taliban for storing weapons. Later on, destitute civilians used the rock structures as their abodes. For nearly, three centuries, the Buddhists lived in the caves.
Looking the excruciating living conditions, one could not escape the feeling that the hapless individuals are stuck in a time warp, isolated from the modern-day world. To them, hand-to-mouth living is more than a luxury.
Braving subzero winter temperatures and other day-to-day privations, the cave residents do not have blankets -- much less other home appliances. Starvation, illiteracy and backwardness appear to be their destiny.
Dawlat Hussain, a troglodyte who has to support an eight-member family, calls survival his biggest challenge. Faced with perennial food shortages, his children happily eat dried bread and discarded eatables.
“I personally visit restaurants and ask for bread. I tell restaurant managers the leftover food is meant for feeding domestic animals. In fact, it is consumed by my children,” he tells Pajhwok Afghan News.
There is no work to do in the dust-blown town. By chance, however, you can be hired as a daily wager for a day or two.
A cavewoman, introducing herself as the mother of Mehdi, peels timbers for 50 to 100 afghanis a day in the spring. She has been supporting her three children since her husband’s death a decade ago.
The winter is pretty harsh for her family, as the cave is discomfortingly cold. Her children struggle to collect firewood to heat their abode.
Hussain Dad Ahmadi, a Bamyan-based civil society leader, acknowledges the situation of cave dwellers is terrible. He wants the government to urgently alleviate their plight on a priority basis.
Unemployment is on the raise in the country, where educated and qualified individuals can hardly find jobs. Subsequently, the population of cave inhabitants is increasing. No one would like to live in a cave, he says.
Mohammad Hassan Asadi, a member of the provincial council, confirms thousands of Bamyan youth have migrated to European countries due to growing unemployment and poverty.
The government’s inability to generate jobs, negligence of the agriculture sector, lack of long-term development projects and insufficient foreign investment are the main reasons behind poverty and migration of youth.
He views life in caves as a last resort or those who are bereft of shelters. Most residents come to the Bamyan City in quest of work, but they return disappointed, the public representative comments.
Mohammad Alim, a father of two sons and a daughter, has built a wood-and-metal door to his subterranean residence. There is an old carpet and some blackened utensils inside his home of sorts.
“I pin no hopes on assistance from a government that itself is reliant on international assistance,” he says stoically. I the government really wants to help them, it should build houses and provide jobs for cavepeople.
Abdur Rahman Ahmadi, the governor’s spokesman, says: “We don’t want our citizens to live in caves in the 21 century. Plans have to be devised and implemented by the central government to put an end to cave life.”
The local administration can execute only small projects in coordination with donors but they cannot meet the requirements of such a huge pauperiped population, he explains. He suggests a budgetary allocation for building houses for these people.
Ahmadi verifies most of these people area jobless. The provincial authorities, having provided the housing facilities for 21 households because, cannot do more than that, the spokesman maintains.
With the advent of the winter, the Abraham Lincoln Cultural Course launched a campaign to collect clothing for cave dwellers. The drive was initiated amid threats from frosty conditions to the lives of children.
Mohammad Afzal, a resident of Bamyan City, blames the government for failing to create employment opportunities. He said only the well-connected and qualified people could get jobs.
The man alleges the poor, who stand no chance of finding work, are forced at times to sell their belongings to arrange money to feed their families.
Labour and Social Affairs Director Rahmatullah Alawi says only 208 people from Bamyan were employed in provincial government offices this year. He has no statistics on private-sector appointments.
Alawi adds more than 80 people apply for a single vacancy in Bamyan, showing 80 percent of educated people are jobless in the province. The government has no funds to create jobs. Only 20 women living in caves have been selected for tailoring courses.
Based on a survey conducted early this year by the Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Afghanistan Human Rights Commission and the provincial government, 146 families are currently living in caves. But the number of cavepeople has since increased.
Many Bamyan statues are carved into the sides of cliffs facing the provincial capital -- home to the world's oldest oil paintings. The city, with a population of 39,915, is known for its cave dwellings.
A hub of trade for much of the second millennium CE, it once served as the meeting ground between the East and West. Its remarkable archaeology is a blend of Greek, Turkish, Persian, Chinese and Indian influence.
The city was part of the Buddhist Kushan Empire in the early centuries of the Christian era. The area was conquered by the Ghaznavids in the 11th century. In 1221 the city and its population were completely wiped out by Genghis Khan.
Famous all over the world, the Buddha statues were blown up in March 2001 by the Taliban, who called them un-Islamic. At one point in time, 2,000 monks meditated in caves among the sandstone cliffs -- a huge tourist attraction.
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