On the outskirts of Islamabad, near Tarnol, there’s a small road that leads to a village of 70-80 houses. From outlook, it appears like any other village of Punjab with typical houses and shops. However, the phenomena that distinguish it from the rest can only be observed at night when the bethak of every house is lighted up and people are seen doing embroidery and stone work on the wooden frame. This village, known as Dhook Paracha is one of the largest suppliers of bridal and designer clothes in Pakistan, and is unique in the sense that every resident, regardless of gender is working. The average per person income here is Rs360000/year, almost double to that of an average Pakistani.
I came to know of this village last year when my family was making arrangements for my cousin’s wedding. Someone recommended us to visit this village for a cheap bargain. Our contact, Hafiz Ali Sher told us to visit after Maghreb to have a look at bridal wear samples and the workshops.
After dusk, the village was quite a view. Shops, workshops and display centers were all open. People were working in groups; men in bethaks – while women in rooms. Hafiz Ali Sher, Moazan of the local mosque was also a gifted artisan of embroidery and stone works. He took us to his house adjoining the mosque and showed us the stone work embroidery he was working on.
“An average piece like this costs around Rs 6000 including the fabric” he pointed to a dupatta with striking embroidery. “A skilled person can make it over night and is given Rs 700-1000 depending on the work” he added.
The village has three display centers, amongst them, one is run by a women. These centers not only grant orders but also provide raw material to the workers.
“The technology has become quite advanced,” Bakhtawar Khatoon who runs one of the display centers said while proudly showing off the latest designs on her whatsapp. “The typical bridal work is replaced by modern Indian and sleek Rajhistani work. My son gets the latest designs on whatsapp from Lahore and Karachi and then we make the exact duplicate.” She said, that her son takes printouts, gives to the people and the design gets ready in matter of days.
While giving particulars about her work, she revealed a startling detail. “There has not been a single robbery in the village in past one decade. The reason being is that almost every person works and earns well.” She added.
Although a role model in coping unemployment, the village is not all exemplary. The state of education is quite appalling. There’s only one middle school and the majority kids drop out early to help their parents. Since there’s no formal training center, the skill transfers from parents to their kids.
A further issue effecting the villagers is the cartel of brokers.
An average bridal wear in city costs around Rs 90000 whereas here, it costs Rs7000 max; why don’t you sell it yourself? I asked Sher Ali while going back to his house. In reply, he revealed a sad truth. “Sir, like every other business, there’s a monopoly here. There are 3 main buyers who also arrange the raw material. We tried selling the stuff ourselves but no one bought it. The material has a life span, it starts crumbling after a month, so we had to sell it on cheaper cost. It’s not easy to work all night on one piece. Sometimes, it takes 2-3 nights to complete one piece and that affects our sight. However, the pay is better as compared to the rest of the work and everyone earns a handsome amount in the end.
Technical and vocational education, although a viable alternative, has been in neglect amongst the Pakistani youth. As compared to general education, technical education is deserted. According to a recent report by UNDP, South Asia is about to face the worst calamity of unemployment in few years, as a billion job seekers are estimated by the year 2050. For a country like Pakistan, where unemployment rate is 8 %, villages like these can be a way out to cater this crisis. A little support from the Government to promote such ventures, and to protect them against the cartel can generate a business activity on large scale that can uplift thousands of families and pool in money in the tax net. To cater the needs of tomorrow, we need a wake up call now, along with a heartiest effort for training and skill development. Currently, we have a market and scope for skilled workers – but not enough trained ones. This situation is to be ratified by adjusting our curriculum according to the latest skill sets to prepare ourselves for tomorrow.