OnIslam.net

Wangaar: A Custom to Help

Muslim Traditions
By Aamir Latif, OnIslam Correspondent
Pakistani Farmer
Wangaar, is actually meant for farmers.

Like any other country, customs and traditions are vanishing with a rapid industrial growth and urbanization in Pakistan. But there is a custom that has not only survived, but has extended its influence from Pakistan’s rural to urban life.

Wangaar, which means “volunteer yourself,” is a centuries-old custom in rural Pakistan, especially in Sindh province. Historians have different views on the inception of this beautiful custom that is aimed at helping the individual or the community free of cost, however they all agree that Wangaar got its roots since people residing along Indus River had started cultivation.

“Volunteerism has always been a part and parcel of Indus valley civilization. Therefore, we can safely say that Wangaar or volunteerism has always been there in the rural society of Indus valley for thousands of years”, Manzur Solangi, a Karachi-based writer told OnIslam.net tracing the historical background of the custom.

Migration of people from villages to big cities has made this custom famous in even metropolitan cities like Karachi.

An idiom “I am running under Wangaar” is often heard in rural parts of southern Sindh province. This idiom is used by one when he is assisting or helping someone free of cost and at will.

This custom is actually meant for farmers. In old days, when small farmers could not afford hiring manpower to help them cultivate or reap their crops, they sought the help of their neighbors and friends. With the passage of time, this custom grew stronger, and became an integral part of the rural society of Indus valley.

As the time for cultivation or reaping comes closer, the community members of a village gather and assign the responsibilities to youths and able men to help their village mates on rotational basis. The beneficiary of today will himself be working on the lands of someone else on the next day.

Generally, one man-one house formula is utilized for Wangaar. However, in case of children or elderly men, those particular houses are exempted.

The men gather early in the morning, preferably, after Fajr (morning) prayer at an allocated spot. They, in most of the cases, began their work journey with mass prayer, and then choose their leader. Mostly, the owner of the land is chosen as their leader of the day or days, however, in some cases, the tribe’s elder member performs this responsibility

Wangaar continues till the beneficiary announces that his work is done. The community, then, takes up the next case.

“Some people mix up Wangaar with a term Baigaar”, Solangi observed referring to a notion that free of cost help is a burden.

Baigaar means when someone is forced to do some work. Wangaar has nothing to do with force. This is all about volunteerism”, Solangi maintained.

“That could be compulsion, exploitation or blackmailing, but not Wangaar as the other meaning of Wangaar is to help someone with love and will”. He said referring to another famous idiom “I am running under Baigaar” that means he has been forced to do some work.

Usually, police or criminal elements force laborers, shopkeepers, or taxi drivers to work for them, or sell them things free of cost; they use the idiom “I did that for Baigaar”.

Baigaar camps, where abducted people are forced to work without any cost, are still operating in some far-flung mountaineer regions.

“Life will be very difficult if customs like Wangaars are vanished in rural Pakistan, especially in small villages”, Imdad Soomro, a Karachi-based social activist told OnIslam.net.

Extended

The custom with the passage of time has been extended to other fields of life ranging from sharing food to crop and vehicles.

Till few decades ago, a villager could not even imagine to sell additional milk, yogurt, and other dairy products. Instead, he used to distribute extra dairy products among his neighbors.

“Still, in many small villages, you can get milk, yogurt and Lassi (a local drink made of milk and yogurt) free of cost because villagers believe that milk is the blessing of Allah, which should be sold but distributed”, Solangi said.

However, with the back-breaking inflation, and price-hike, it is not very common to get milk and other dairy products free of cost in villages.

Wangaar also works in case of natural calamities. In far-flung villages, people still live in mud houses, which are damaged after every monsoon season.

A laborer happily works free of cost for reconstruction of his neighbor’s or relative’s house or farm house, and definitely he is paid back in the same coin by the community in need of hour.

Similarly, if a farmer needs help in irrigating his crops (in far-flung villages, irrigation system is not that developed yet), he again takes the benefit of Wangaar.

From Villages to Cities

Wangaar is one of very few customs that have not merely successfully survived in the rural society, but have also influenced the urban life.

Migration of people from villages to big cities has made this custom famous in even metropolitan cities like Karachi.

One, walking in famous Empress Market or posh Zamzama Street, would not be surprised if he hears someone saying “I am running under Wangaar”. This simply means he or she is there to help his friend or relative shopping.

Similarly, if someone says his car or motorbike is on Wangaar, that means his neighbor or friend has borrowed his car, and will return that when his work is done.

Even lawyers at the City Courts or the High Court use this idiom when they provide legal assistance to some needy clients without any fees.

“Life will be very difficult if customs like Wangaars are vanished in rural Pakistan, especially in small villages”, Imdad Soomro, a Karachi-based social activist told OnIslam.net.

According to Soomro, necessity and returns are the two major factors that have made Wangaar survived in an era when new generations dub the old customs as atavistic and non-practicable. One who is helping another today knows that he would be paid back in the same manner if needed tomorrow.

“ This beautiful custom not only strengthens bonds between people but also helps them avoid heavy costs with respect to their daily life”, Soomro said.

Related Links:
The Culture of Hajj in Pakistan
Pakistani Madrassa: What’s Inside?
Islamic Banking Booms in Pakistan

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