Self Help: An Alternative to Foreign Aid
The people and governments of almost all the so-called underdeveloped countries have one very important tool—the beggar's bowl. These countries look to the more productive countries to give them aid, to spoon-feed them. Interestingly enough, there is a tribe in Pakistan, known as the Toors, who have been experimenting with self-help for nearly a century and a half, in the face of unimaginable political hurdles.
Who are the Toors? Where do they live? How do they manage their affairs without government aid? Why do they refuse government handouts? These and similar questions are the subject for this brief article.
The Toors are a branch of the White Huns who ransacked the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent in the fifth century A.D. They are known as the Rajputs in this part of the world and the Toors are a subdivision of this mainstream of Rajputs. Some of the Toors became Moslems, others fell under the influence of Hinduism and Sikhism. I'm not a professional anthropologist or historian, but this is briefly what I have been able to gather about their historical background.
The most interesting thing about the Toors is this: they have refused to accept government aid as far as possible, despite the fact that they live in the heart of a government-administered area and have been living so for over a century. The homeland of the Toors, numbering about 2,500 people (in 1968, when I visited the area), consists of 1,500 acres. It is situated on the Jaranwalla-Shorekot railroad, some 35 miles south of Lyallpur, Pakistan. The area is known by the local people as Jogdadu Toor. The Toors are an honest, simple folk, their chief occupation being farming. Each individual tries to be as productive as possible.
For centuries the area now occupied by the Toor tribe was a forest, completely uncultivated. Most of the members of the tribe had camels and earned their livelihood by transporting goods. Then the British conquered the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent and offered the Toors "free" lands, which now comprise their area of approximately 1,500 acres. This was a sort of reward in lieu of the camels they placed at the command of the British colonists for transporting various items.
Since land which the Toor tribe got from the British colonists was completely barren, they worked many years to make it productive. Among the leaders of the Toor tribe two personalities stand out: Shah Muhammad and Mian Baqar. Shah Muhammad fought hard to prevent the Toor tribe from coming under the influence of the British colonists and their formal government. The other personality, Mian Baqar, was a religious divine.
As Shah Muhammad was dead, I called on Mian Baqar, age 80, in 1968. A man with a high arched nose, deep penetrating eyes, red hair and beard, Mian Baqar is a slightly built man. He looks every inch a revolutionary and scholar. He is the head of a private school.
"We thought a school was most necessary for our tribe," Mian Baqar said to me, "because when education is controlled by the government, then the people become mere pithus (stooges). The bureaucrats have been making repeated efforts to build a government school at Jogdadu Toor, but we have refused it. After tremendous pressure, the government has built a school but nobody patronizes it. We wanted to have our own public school, free from bureaucratic interference, so that our tribe is saved from official brainwashing. So we decided to buy some 12 acres of land for the school and appointed a committee of seven members to collect funds and decide about the way the funds were to be spent. Sufficient funds were collected, the premises were purchased, and the school was built," Mian Baqar said to me with a twinkle in his eyes.
When I visited the area, the school had 11 teachers and over 100 students, who came from all over Pakistan. Food, clothing, and shelter were being provided to all students without charging them a penny. The school library had some 3,000 books, some costing over $100. The teachers at the Toor tribal school are more dedicated than teachers in government schools in the adjoining areas.
Mian Baqar said to me repeatedly and emphatically, "We thought of having our own private school just to avoid becoming tools in the hands of corrupt politicians whose only objective in life is to use our people for their own personal benefit."
So much for the educational side of this community. The Toors also provide funds and charity for orphans, cripples, the blind, poor students, girls who cannot find husbands, poor widows, for the poor needing medical aid, for wayside wells for travelers, for roads, bridges, pathways, irrigation channels, mosques, etc., etc. All these facilities are provided without a penny in aid from government!
EVEN A PRIVATE POST OFFICE
A post office is a very important thing, and the government decided to provide this facility to the Toor tribe. The Toors welcomed the idea but insisted that a member of their tribe, a private individual, would run the post office on behalf of the government; that this man, holding the rank of postmaster, would be paid by the tribe and would not accept any salary from government. The leaders of the Toor tribe reasoned that a post office run by a private individual belonging to their own tribe could provide their community with the following benefits: the members of the Toor tribe could get envelopes, postcards, aerograms, etc., on credit, a facility not offered by the usual government post offices; the privately paid postmaster would see to it that he had always regular supplies of envelopes, postage stamps, etc., unlike government post offices; the privately paid postmaster would maintain secrecy in correspondence and not censor mail as do official postmasters; the privately paid postmaster would keep stocks of postage stamps, etc., at his house and would supply to members of the tribe even at midnight should they need it.
The Toor tribe settles all sorts of disputes by private arbitration—even murder. Only one percent of such cases now go to the formal courts, but those who take their problems to government are looked down upon by the Toor tribal community. As the police and formal courts prosper on crime and bribery, the peaceful Toor tribal community is a cause of much concern to the bureaucracy. The police and bureaucrats refer to the Toor tribe as buzdils (cowards) because they do not indulge in crime often and so are not a source of income to the magistrates, lawyers, and their hangers-on.
When the Toor tribe was originally given their present land in exchange for their transport services to the British colonists, it made no difference to the British because the land they offered to the Toors was totally barren. For many years thereafter the British collected no taxes or revenue from the Toors for the lands were not a source of much income. But over the years the Toor tribe worked hard and made the land productive. This attracted the British revenue officers to the area, but they reasoned that if they directly collected revenue from the tribe, it would cause much resentment, so they gave high-sounding titles and other benefits to some of the Toor tribal chiefs and in return expected them to collect revenue from the tribe on behalf of the British government.
The members of the tribe paid the revenue without any fuss as they thought this was some sort of nominal rent to the British colonists who had provided them with land gratis, and also as payment for irrigation facilities. Of course, the usual system of taxation would have been resented had it been collected through official channels, as the Toor tribe has always been suspicious of government. The British rulers made desperate attempts to corrupt the Toors and make them dependent on government political handouts, but the tribe and some of their honest leaders tried to keep away from all this fraud.
But it was in the time of Field Marshal Ayub Khan, a former president of Pakistan, that the Toor tribe was advised to elect their member to the basic democracies. The membership entitled the elected person to political benefits. As a result, a rift took place in this peaceful and self-respecting tribal community, for who doesn't want to get easy money and importance.
At present the Toor tribal system still continues along almost the same lines as I witnessed when I visited the area in 1968, but for how many years, it is difficult to predict. The politicians and bureaucrats are making efforts to break up this system of self-help and to institute helpless dependence on government handouts. The politicians and bureaucrats fear that this system of self-help might spread to other areas and thus interfere with their power, income, and glory.
How do the Toors, a small community of hardly 2,500 souls (in 1968) manage to run so many projects within an area of hardly 1,500 acres—and without a penny from government?
PHILANTHROPY, NOT WELFARE
Yes, they have a way—perhaps the most novel method in the world devised by people to solve their economic problems. In every home in the Toor community a cloth bag hangs from the ceiling. Twice a day the women put a handful or more of flour (depending on their economic standing) into the cloth bag, in the process of baking bread. But all this is voluntary and done in the name of Allah.
After a week, a representative of the bait-ul-mal (common treasury) collects this flour. During the year thousands of pounds of flour are collected, converted to cash, and spent on projects of common interest such as roads, bridges, education, health, irrigation, orphans, widows, those who can't afford medical aid, etc. Additionally, one-tenth of the whole produce of cotton and food-grain, known as ushur, is also voluntarily deposited in the treasury to be employed on projects of common interest.
And if funds run short for any project which is of general interest to the tribe, the elders or chieftains have only to set a reasonable target and announce it by loudspeakers. Then the productive elements of the tribe (eager to donate in the name of Allah and win for themselves a place in paradise or janat) come forward and donate generously, either in cash or kind, and this is over and above what they offer in the shape of flour, food-grains, or ushur. Some of the members of the Toor tribe donate camels, cows, goats, horses, buffaloes, sheep, etc. Women contribute by offering ornaments, jewelry, etc.
Once, I learned, funds were required for a certain project, so the members of the Toor tribe cut one tree from every square of land—and the average price of a tree being $10, this came to a pretty good amount.
The Toors are staunch Moslems and religion provides a tremendous incentive in this social order. Each Toor tribesman tries to be as productive as possible so that he may contribute to the common treasury. Each Toor tribesman also hopes to provide as much charity as possible so that he may have the blessings of Allah and a rich life in the hereafter. For instance, Chaudhri Sanatte Khan, a Toor chieftain, donated some five acres of his personal land to the school in the hope that Allah would reward him in the next world.
"I am surprised to see your small community, confined within a tiny space, undertaking so many projects without any government aid," I told Chaudhri Ishaq Toor, a youthful member of the tribe.
"Not surprising at all," he replied. "What actually surprises the Toor tribe and myself is the financial difficulties the government faces all the time, despite all the taxes, etc., collected locally, not to speak of huge foreign aid. Maybe some wicked jinn is busy stealing all this colossal money from the khazana (government treasury)," he chuckled.
Copyright © 1975 by Aslam Effendi
Aslam Effendi is a publicist and advertising copywriter. He resides in the Pakhtun region of Pakistan. His writings on peace have been highly praised by Bertrand Russell and Sir Norman Angell, critic and adviser to late U.S. President Woodrow Wilson.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Self Help: An Alternative to Foreign Aid".