The Langar: People’s History of Hunger


  • Noman Baig Dr. Noman Baig, Associate Professor, Social Development & Policy, Habib University, Karachi.


charity, development, dastarkhwan, langar, food security, poverty alleviation


Offering free food at sacred spaces is a unique ritual in South Asian communities. In recent years, langar in residential and commercial areas marks a radical shift in food and charity distribution. Within this context, hunger emerges as a paradigmatic visceral reality, articulated and managed in varied ways at the local and state levels. It solicits emotional response in gift-giving from the wealthy and shapes the collective imagination of development and progress. Although the state efforts to incorporate langar in the gambit of the developmental program may have a national appeal, the spirit of feeding the hungry exceeds governmental reason of ‘food security’. This paper investigates how the lived experience of hunger of the indigent and downtrodden fits the broader nationalist historiography.

‘The langar khana (food banks) make daily wage earners lazy’. A middle-class person often complains of charities feeding the destitute in the city. Set up at almost all the major street’s intersections and roundabouts, local welfare organizations, often faith-based, operate makeshift roadside dastarkhwan to feed hundreds of thousands of poor people who can barely earn a daily provision. Saylani Welfare International Trust, the Karachi-based charity, recently joined hands with Prime Minister Imran Khan to inaugurate the country-wide Ehsaas-Saylani Langar Scheme. For the first time, langar now makes its way as a state-driven national program in poverty alleviation.