Aneesa Andrabi ’16: My Summer with the Butchers of Pakistan — Part 2

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

This is the second article in a two-part series detailing Aneesa Andrabi ’16s work this summer in Pakistan. Her experiences were funded by the Summer Social Action Award (s2a2) from the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility. The first installment can be read here.

Midway through my internship, I was sent to Lahore to interview more butchers, beoparis (middle-men) and slaughterhouses in order to understand another urban market, different and larger than that in Rawalpindi. FMFB has several operational branches in Lahore, so I went to the one by the Shalimar Gardens, a bazaar area that is very poor. My driver picked me up and had the hardest time parking the car amidst rambunctious ladies selling scarves and loud rikshas guzzling gas. I went to the branch in the early morning and met with the Punjab Area Manager, a man wearing a toupee (my boss had told me about his wig beforehand), with a large mustache and pot-belly. He called one of his assistants (who was really just a chai-getter) and told him to take me to a butcher nearby so I could get started on finding and interviewing some butchers.

Unfortunately, because it was a Monday, butcher shops were closed due to government mandated Meatless Days because meat supply is limited. We ended up finding one butcher who pointed us in the direction of one of Lahore’s government-owned slaughterhouses. We drove to the slaughterhouse, through the alleyways in the backwaters of Lahore. We arrived at a building in a large yard filled with cows, cow poop, and intestines on the floor–the works! I saw a few men sitting on dusty plastic chair who looked like they had some sort of authority, and began a conversation with them. They were laborers at the slaughterhouse and agreed to be interviewed.

Shehzad, a laborer, told me that the Lahore Cantonment Board slaughterhouse was working at full capacity and that the government is constructing for more space. He told me about another aspect of the beef value chain– the contractors, or takaydhars, who buy animals from meat markets, drop animals at the slaughterhouse and then sell wholesale to butchers. At the end of the interview, he gave us directions to the actual mandi (meat market) in Sharpur, outside of the city of Lahore.

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We drove for a long time and eventually, after making several u-turns and asking many strangers for directions, we found a dirt path filled with huge trucks stuffed with live buffaloes with huge nostrils staring at me with wide eyes. Masses of trucks, live animals, and beoparis — men in shalvar kameezes (tunic and pants) selling their animals to each other—occupied this large field. I was nervous to get out of the car; there were thousands of males screaming at each other, and I did not know where to begin interviewing. I asked one man where the beoparis were. He said they were everywhere. I began asking him questions and was quickly became swarmed with men encircling me, most who thought I was from the media.

The driver, Asghar, shy, timid and a little bit sassy, made a snide comment to me about his dirty car. On the way back, Asghar and I became good friends. We chatted about his kids and his job at the rent-a-car company which he hated. His children were in Multan, a completely different city, and he wanted to take one of his sons out of school to make him a hafiz — someone who memorizes the Quran. I told him he should send his son to a formal school for as long as possible so he would have a stable job and a bright future; he promised me he would try to have him finish primary school.

When he dropped me at home, he told me something I’ll never forget. He told me that none of his clients had ever spoken to him in this way, as if they were one in the same, not from drastically different backgrounds. Asghar only gets paid 10,000 Rs. a month, roughly the equivalent of $100. He is the only working member of his family (whom he rarely gets to see), and works non-stop. We are different genders and from completely different social classes. I went home to a nice part of Islamabad, to my grandparent’s large house with a flat screen television and air conditioning, in a country with a disastrous electricity issue. But I always talk to everyone I meet in Pakistan, because I strongly believe that with every conversation with a stranger, a child, a driver, or a cow-trader, I learn something new–about them, about society, about life, and about Pakistan’s issues.

The next day, I interviewed several butchers, most with the same issue. Pakistan is exporting much meat to Middle Eastern countries, and as a result, prices for animals are high; however, the government has set a price control, so lately these butchers are rarely at a profit and usually at a loss. After a full morning, we went back to the mandi. We found a few beoparis, sitting on a charpai (a lawn bed), who gave me the best interviews! Besides telling me about the different villages they buy cows from, how much they sell cows for, and other details, they described to me in detail their beopari dilemma. They carry large amounts of cash, and every week, outside of this mandi, a beopari is stopped at gunpoint and shot for their cash. I thought what they really needed was mobile banking, so they could deposit their cash and move freely without fear.

I ended up creating a long report for my department, describing the beef value chain and its differences in structure in Rawalpindi, Islamabad and Lahore as well as the most important financial needs of the actors. The bank is taking seriously many of the conclusions I came to as a result of this research, like the idea of mobile banking for beoparis who currently have no form of depositing. The stark difference between my work life and my home life was shocking and sometimes difficult to come to terms with. Yet sometimes when I would come back from my field interviews sweaty, and hungry, only to parade around Lahore’s fanciest restaurants with my family friends, I couldn’t help but feel excited that I knew the inside scoop. I knew exactly where our meat was coming from, and all the issues and nitty gritty details of the work and life of a butcher, a beopari, and a slaughterhouse laborer.


Images courtesy of Aneesa Andrabi ’16/The Daily Gazette.


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