A town in the Khyber district of northwestern Pakistan is home to hundreds of caves where women and their families live in grim conditions.
Jamrud, a town in the Khyber district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in northwest Pakistan, is home to hundreds of caves where many families dwell – some of whom have been living there for three decades. They don’t get to enjoy any creature comforts: no gas for cooking, no drinking water, no electricity.
“I’ve been living in this cave for 8 years. I have three daughters, unfortunately my husband is mentally challenged but he is engaged in a daily wage job as a labourer. My sister-in-law is also living with us in this cave. She has five kids,” said 50-year-old Shan Bibi, who lives in Gudar, a village only a few kilometres away from Jamrud.
With no gas or electric heaters, many women end up trekking over to far-flung mountains to gather dry wood to be able to cook.
60-year-old Hairan Gul has been living in the caves since childhood.
“We have been living here since our forefathers lived here. I have two daughters and a son. Due to non-availability of electricity, we use solar panels which enable us to light up bulbs so that our kids can study.”
Mashranga, 55, keeps goats and hens to sell their milk and eggs to earn a living.
“As there is no other means of earning in these dry mountains of Gudar. As I have three sons and two daughters, my animals are the sole reason they are getting an education,” she said.
Hailing from Tirah, a sub-district of Khyber, the 72-year-old Bilaoro has been living in caves since she was a child. Her daughter and daughter-in-laws live with her.
“We don’t have a water facility in the surrounding area, so even at this age I used to go to get water from a nearby stream. It takes a minimum of one hour to reach there by foot. On a daily basis it takes two to three trips to have enough water for the family,” she said.
60-year-old Jumaikhaila has been living in a cave for 29 years since she got married to her husband, who is based in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, for work. She has five children and lives with her in-laws, and believes that education will be their ticket out of there.
“My children are getting education in a local government school. Sometimes it is hard to see your children being bitten by mosquitos and other insects, but I strongly believe that education will change my children’s fate and one day we will be able to live in a home where every basic facility of life will be available,” she said.
Zarghuncha, 73, has been living with her kids in the caves for 36 years. Her story is not so different from the rest of the women living in the area.
“I had to shift to this cave after I got married. We are poor people but to help my husband in family’s financial burden I opted to keep animals outside our caves to sell their products and earn something,” she said.
“We cave ladies aren’t weak, we know how to live and how to survive. This area was once hit by militancy, but now peace is restored and I believe this will change the fate of our area too.”