55-year-old Gulshan Bibi is a resident of Qasaban Wali Street in Narowal city. She has no children, and her husband is sick. She spends her whole day at home cooking for people. This is how she gets medicine for her husband and the household expenses are managed.
She says that her relative Raziya Bibi advised her that the government had started a scheme for financial assistance to women. She suggested she also talk to someone to get her name included in the scheme.
She said she took her identity card and went with Raziya Bibi. When they reached Girls College Chowk, they found women collecting payments in a shop.
Hundreds of women stood in the scorching sun, inside and outside the shop.
Gulshan Bibi says that she was told after three hours of suffering in the queue that they would have to fill out an online form to get their names included in the Ehsaas Kafalat Program.
"I told the officer I don't know how to do it. Can you guide me?" During this time, a veiled woman standing nearby gestured to me and took me to a corner. Another woman was also there. They took my identity card, scanned my thumb on the machine, and signalled to remain silent.”
Gulshan Bibi said the veiled woman told her to take the form to her house and fill it out there. The verification will also be done on the spot. She happily brought both women to her house.
Upon reaching home, the unknown woman told her that it would cost ten thousand rupees to complete the file, and the following day, she would receive the first instalment of government assistance, which would be fifteen thousand rupees. After that, she would start receiving the money every month.
Gulshan Bibi says she had taken a loan for her husband's treatment. The unknown woman took the money from her, made her put her thumbprint on some forms, and left without saying anything.
The next day, when the unidentified woman told her to go to the bank to get the money, it became clear that she had been scammed. Gulshan Bibi said that she had submitted an application to the police station in Narowal for action. Still, nothing happened.
Fifty-year-old Asia Bibi is a resident of Mohalla Vijan in Narowal and she also works in people's homes. For ten years, she has received financial assistance under the Benazir Income Support Program.
She says that she went to the distribution centre to collect money. There, two masked women told her that Ehsaas lottery was also coming for the women who had taken aid. “Check with your ID card; maybe you have won a prize too,” they said to Asia.
She says that unknown women took her identity card, put her thumb on the machine and smiled.
"When I asked what happened? They told me to be quiet. Then they took me aside and told me that you won 70 thousand rupees in the Ehsaas lottery."
Asia Bibi was delighted and asked the women how she would get the lottery money now. Masked women accompanied Asia Bibi in a rickshaw to her house to show her how to collect the prize money.
She says that these women took out the papers from the file, filled some forms and put their thumbs on them, charged a fee of ten thousand rupees to send the money and left, saying to reach the bank at nine in the morning the next day. When she reached the bank, she discovered she had been defrauded.
Deputy Director of the Benazir Income Support Program, Ali Hussain, says that financial assistance is being provided to 38,742 eligible women in the district. Sometimes, incidents of exploitation of women are also reported.
Unfortunately, these impoverished women are being exploited at the Benazir Income Support Program offices and distribution centres.
An official of the scheme, on the condition of anonymity, said that the low-level staff posted at the support program and funds distribution centres advise the women who come for assistance to take the help of the scamming women. This makes the job of these women easy.
He says that the extortion incidents mostly include men and women who sell mobile phone SIMs, against whom the FIA and other security agencies have been informed of the action.
The data on the total number of incidents of fraud is not available. However, District Police Officer Narowal, Rana Tahir Rehman Khan, confirms that four FIRs have been registered in the district.
He says that if the affected women give an application about the scam to the police station, then legal action will be taken.
Ali Raza, District Officer of the Social Welfare Department, says that in 2009, the federal government started the Benazir Income Support Program for financial assistance to poor and widowed women. At that time, women were paid Rs 2,000 per month.
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He says that in 2019, along with increasing the amount of aid, the program's name was also changed and online applications were started to clean the Ehsaas Kafal program from corruption. Under the program, assistance is currently being provided to 7 million deserving women.
Sajida Parveen, Deputy President of the Association of Human Rights, says 90 per cent of eligible women cannot read. Therefore, it is easier for them to be exploited compared to men. Secondly, women easily believe the words of other women.
To solve this problem, she suggests that the government close the entry of unrelated women at the centres to distribute support money and instruct women daily on the speaker at the Ehsaas Kafalat Program offices to protect themselves from exploitation.
Narowal Deputy Commissioner Muhammad Ashraf says that the security at the centres for distributing money under the Kafalat program will be increased, and efforts will be made to apprehend the exploiters of destitute women.
Social worker Kamran Shahzad says that submitting an online application is not a difficult task. Women can also fill out the Ehsaas Kafalat Program form on their Android phones themselves, and if they encounter any difficulties, they can also seek help from a trustworthy person.
Published on 8 Sep 2023