Resorting to songs for happinessMarginalized people denied equality [Archives:2005/839/Reportage]

May 5 2005

Yasser Mohammed Al-Mayyasi
The marginalized and poorest category, people who work as street cleaners and other works which are insulted by other social categories, are deprived from the equalities of life and looked down upon by other higher classes despite the fact that they proved to be more responsible and patient to provide themselves with any minimal standards of living.

Most of the time I tend to question myself about the superiority complex felt by some when dealing with such marginalized people like: “why do many people look down on this category although they offer services that deserves respect?” and “why are they looked down by others when they exert high efforts in collecting wastes to keep our cities tidy and clean?”

The teachings of Islam do not include any social discrimination between classes and so does the Yemeni constitution, but why do these marginalized people feel inferior to others. Their contributions and undeniable efforts compelled me to have a look at their sufferings and the severe circumstances they endure throughout their life.

When I went to one of their residences in the Capital, one of these marginalized people named Hassan, 27, told me that they lead miserable lives and endure difficult situations. He further confirmed that some of these people came by fate from other Gulf countries and that the actual reasons behind their sufferings include poverty, instability, and where no attention is drawn to them by the society.

They came to Yemen several years ago, but over the last few years, the Yemeni government attempted in cooperation with civil society organizations to make changes to their lives.

On the other hand, the World Bank contributes to the construction of social development for these marginalized people with the aim to provide them with basic services such as water and electricity. Houses for these Yemenis were built in Sana'a and Taiz.

At the beginning of the year, the European Union contributed Euro 253 million as a humanitarian support for people who live in small huts scattered in different areas all over the world. The support is aimed at 24 thousand of these marginalized people as an initial step. The issue of these marginalized people deserve to be given more attention by the concerned sides.

Regarding the origin of these marginalized people, many researchers believe that they originate from the historic city of Zabid while many other historians hold the view that they are the remnants of the Ethiopian occupation of Yemen in 525. Afterwards, they became servants of the Zaidia State in Zabid and were led by a president named Najah al-Habashi who exploited the collapse of the Zadia State to form the so-called “State of Al Najah” (407-554, Islamic Calendar) under his dominance.

This State expanded its dominance over the city of Zabid and Tehama Pain and attracted increasing numbers of Ethiopians. The period of Al Najah's rule was characterized by tyranny and oppression as they used to take other people as servants for their own interests.

Later on, locals in Zabid and Tehama could erupt against the State of Al Najah causing its collapse after long wars. After victory, the leader of Zabid swore to make the remnants of the Al Najah Sate servants for the Yemeni society and since then they occupied the lower position of the social ladder and became a marginalized category.

Such historical facts are opposed by Mr. Mohammad Ali al-Qair'e who belongs to the marginalized category and pursues extensive efforts to establish a society to defend their rights.

He said such information is incorrect and groundless since, in his viewpoint, the dark-skinned people are the remnants of Arab dynasties who ruled the coastal parts of Yemen in 4000 BC.

Al-Qair'e added the social tyranny against this category is based on the supposition that they are the remnants of the Ethiopian conquest of Yemen that coincided with the Parisian occupation, though there is a huge difference between the former and the latter, and nowadays one cannot realize any cultural discrimination against the Parisian and Turkish remnants.

The social view of the marginalized category

The social view of the marginalized people is somehow negative since they are looked at as inferior people without any protection. The primary problem stems from the fact that the majority of people see these dark-skinned people as immoral and undisciplined and therefore commit uncorrectable mistakes such as eating the flesh of the dead.

Other research groups hold the view that poverty of such people is one of the reasons that make other social classes look down upon them. The marginalized category endures several economic and social problems that lead a miserable life.

Additionally, the historic oppression and tyranny are among the reasons behind poverty of such people as they have been deprived for a long time of the possession of lands and production tools as well as the other components of social development. All these facts reflect the unjust culture practiced against them until they feel compelled to seek other professions respected by the society.

Poverty, lack of awareness and misery are the primary reasons that hinder such people from getting access to education and make them confined within specific locality.

Living in difficult conditions

Severe poverty experienced by this marginalized group compelled them to live in difficult living conditions. Nowadays they are realized to center on shantytowns and some rural areas where their huts are made of cloths, thatch, hay, empty barrels and bins. Their huts, which usually comprises of one room for over ten people, are subjected to several catastrophes like floods. These housing groups are usually called “Mahawi”. The word “Mahwa” linguistically means a place for dogs to drink, however many studies indicate that this term was historically used in rural areas that surround the city of Zabid. They refer to the housing groups of servants, which lack health services and give out disgusting smells, where their residents suffer from several epidemics.

Humble professions

Professions pursued by these people are recognized as humble jobs hated by many and their payment is habitually low. The workers receive daily wages and this makes them live without thinking of shaping their future plans. Their life is characterized by humility and happiness as they visualize themselves as kings on earth.

Majority of these marginalized people work on farms for the rich and sheikhs, particularly in the governorates of Ibb and Taiz with very low wages that cannot meet their basic needs.

The cleanliness sector is the most important profession for these marginalized people. Street and sewage cleaners in the main cities come from this category and since they do us a great service, there is no need to look down on them.

Street and sewage cleaners, compared to other public-sector employees, do not enjoy their rights and social insurances as most of them always complain that their wages do not cover the minimal standards of living. Moreover, they became subjected to extortion by their bosses. All such facts make them experience various problems, which increase their daily sufferings leading them to practice beggary in rural areas and some public markets.

Additionally, some of the marginalized people offer untraditional services in wedding parties and many other different occasions.

Despite suffering, they enjoy singing and dancing

Despite the fact their professions are looked down on by other social classes, they usually tend to enjoy beating drums and performing nice songs by both men and women. In this way they attempt to alleviate their sufferings and tragic situations.

In al-Hegaria, Taiz Governorate, for instance, the existence of these people in wedding parties are one of the main factors for making the occasion a success and due to this they entered the world of their masters.

Cooperation is manifested in their environments and most of their ladies and boys wed at the age of 16 with less wedding expenses. The problem of spinsterhood is rarely realized in their surroundings and some of the marginalized ladies have married men of tribal origin, a fact, which was a taboo in pervious days.

These marginalized people have their own traditions and customs that they enjoy at wedding parties. Both males and females keep dancing and singing together all night through until dawn. On such occasions, they heavily chew qat, which is very important to them as it is the main source of happiness that helps them feel more relaxed and comfortable, enabling them to escape their sufferings.

Marginalization and deprivation

These people's being marginalized and deprived of their rights can be ascribable to a variety of factors, but they themselves should be held accountable for a great part of this suffering. They prefer to live far away from other people and not go beyond their localities which leads to their being marginalized. Additionally, their lack of awareness and lack of interest in education can be one of the factors behind their inferiority complex.

The marginalization of these people magnified when the state and the non-governmental organizations lost the designs of mechanisms of dealing with them. The governmental bodies do not care for this category and enable them to occupy political positions. We realized that over the last few years many strategies were implemented by the government in different areas, however these marginalized people were not included in any. The non-governmental organizations did not play the required the role in protecting the marginalized people.

According to many researchers, some of the non-governmental organizations take the issues of marginalized people for serving their own interests and to be well known to other international organizations. These organizations received financial aids in the guise of supporting the marginalized people, however in fact, they could not provide any effective programs for the sake of integrating this category into the society.

On the other hand, the government tends to pay attention to these marginalized people as they build them houses in one of the suburbs of the capital as well as Taiz. These charitable projects embody the reputation of the state before other countries.

The marginalized are a game of policies for parties

Most of the marginalized people hold the view that they are denied their rights of citizenship and political participation although the constitution ensured the rights of equality and political participation.

The humiliating vision of other social classes toward the marginalized people are one of the primary reasons behind their being deprived of enjoying their rights. The political parties are also responsible for not respecting this category and involving it in the political life. It is regretful to realize that attention is drawn to this category only during the days of elections in order to be exploited to the advantage of a certain candidate. Some of these marginalized people living in cities were forcibly taken by tribal sheikhs to rural areas in order to vote for them.

Some of these marginalized people are found to affiliate to political parties though they do not care for policy, and how it is possible for a hungry person to have a motive for policy. Poverty is one of the reasons that prevents them from being involved in the political representation.

Before the Re-unification, these marginalized people were deprived from enjoying their rights. In 1985 for instance during the experience of local authority, one of the candidates belonging to the marginalized class in al-Higerai, Taiz, was denied the post after he scored an overwhelming majority due to their great existence in his constituency. After he won, he could not pursue his duties since he was not backed by tribal sheikhs and therefore the election committee in the constituency rejected his victory.

The issue of these marginalized people is both terrible and simple as there is no attention drawn to them by the non-governmental organizations and the political and press platforms in the country. These organizations are accused of exploiting the situation of the marginalized for serving their own interests and receiving grants from international organizations to be allegedly delivered to the marginalized category.

It is everyone's duty to help these marginalized people and make them feel equal to others, as well as to break the bridge that separates them from other social classes, in spite of being accused of marginalizing themselves by some university professors.

Recently the government took a positive step in building houses for around 185 marginalized families in the capital. This step is recommended to be followed by different steps to help these marginalized people to abolish any expected difficulties.