Two accounts of Dalits in Pakistan and the demand to make caste bias a criminal offence.
A visit to the city of the 'Dead': Yoginder Sikand
South-central Sindh isn’t quite a favourite holiday destination, but I spent a fortnight there while on a vacation in Pakistan. My host was the amiable, 70 year-old Khurshid Khan Kaimkhani, a noted leftist activist, author of the only book on Pakistan’s almost 300 million Dalits. Along with a friend, he edits the only Dalit magazine in the entire country.
Khurshid met me at the railway station in Hyderabad, Sindh’s largest city after Karachi. We drove to his small farm, on the outskirts of his hometown of Tando Allah Yar, a two hour bus-ride ahead. Several Bhil families live on the farm. “They are like my own family,” Khurshid says as Baluji, a tall, handsome Bhil man, manager of the farm, welcomes us in with a tight embrace.
Later that day, Baluji takes me around. A dozen mud houses are scattered across the farm, humble structures, neatly painted. In a corner is a little shrine of Jog Maya, a Bhil goddess, in the form of a conical-shaped stone wrapped in red cloth and placed in a cradle. Pictures of various Hindu deities, some of which Khurshid has brought with him on his visits to India, grace the walls.
As darkness falls, Khurshid suggests that we have a bhajan session. Baluji and some young men bring along musical instruments. They sing songs in praise of Krishna, Mira Bai, Nanak, Kabir and various Sindhi Sufi saints. I can recognise only some words, but the music is powerful and soul-stirring.
The next morning Khurshid has a surprise for me. He has asked Baluji to drive us to Mohenjo-daro in his new pick-up truck. ‘The Mound of the Dead’, the major settlement of the five-thousand year-old Indus Valley Civilisation. A 10-hour journey by road. We drive past Hyderabad, through miles of suburban squalor, cross the mighty Indus at Kotri. The river appears placid, and country boats gently move with their sails billowing in the breeze, as they have for thousands of years, from the heydays of Mohenjo-daro. The countryside soon turns stark, stony and sandy. Stark poverty hits one in the face, as does the virtual absence of the state, the only visible presence appears to be roads, streetlights in some places and tower-like police stations. As darkness falls, we reach Larkana. We cannot go ahead, for fear of dacoits.
Before day breaks, we are up and about. It takes us two hours to reach Mohenjodaro.
A giant mound, pictures of which every Indian child has seen at school, dominates the ruins. The bricks are still intact, remarkable as these ruins are over 6,000 years old. The mound was later used as a Buddhist stupa. Built around the mound are tiny cells, paved lanes lined with covered drains and a great bath. A well-maintained museum boasts a large collection of artefacts culled from the ruins — jewellery, pottery, toys, statuettes, seals and even something that looks like a chess board.
After brunch, we head back for Hyderabad. Some hours later we reach Udero Lal, one of the popular pilgrimage centres for Sindh’s Hindus. The shrine houses three chambers. One contains a Hindu temple, with a large portrait of Uderolal. He bears a large white crown on his head and sports a flaming red tilak and a long, bushy beard. He perches on a large fish in the middle of a river.
“Udero Lal is the saint of the Indus,” says a Hindu pilgrim. “He appeared at a time when Hindus were being forced to become Muslims. He saved us from forced conversion by showing a Muslim ruler many miracles.”
In an adjacent room is a grave-like structure built in the Muslim fashion. A Muslim, who claims to be the descendant of a disciple of the saint, tells a different story. “He was a Muslim fakir. Because he was such a devoted man of God, the Hindus, too, venerate him.” I do not know which story to believe.
I ask Khurshid, who is famous for his knowledge of Sindhi folklore. “Both stories are probably fiction,” Khurshid chuckles. “In any case, if Hindus, Dalits and Muslims all worship here together in peace, who needs to know anything more?”
KARACHI: Call to make caste bias a criminal offence
KARACHI, June 3: Speakers at a workshop on Sunday demanded that a national commission be set up to solve the problems being faced by the scheduled castes and that caste-based discrimination be declared a serious crime.
They were speaking at a national workshop on “Caste-based discrimination in Pakistan,” organised by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) and the Thardeep Rural Development Programme (TRDP).
The workshop was part of an international research project being conducted in Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh, sponsored by the Denmark-based International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN) and Indian Institute of Dalit Studies (IIDS).
The speakers demanded that a constitutional package and protection for scheduled castes be provided. They said steps should be taken to stop forced conversions of scheduled caste girls and an independent commission should be formed to investigate the conversions.
They demanded that special scholarships be provided to Dalit students and steps be taken to end the discrimination in schools against them, along with reforms in the curriculum. It was further demanded that the Dalits be given due representation at the decision-making levels so that they could protect their rights.
Earlier, researcher Zulfiqar Shah presented the initial findings of his study carried out on 5,000 households. He focussed on four districts – two in lower Punjab and two in lower Sindh. He said that about two million scheduled caste people – belonging to the Kolhi, Meghwar, Bheel, Balmiki, Oad, Jogi, Bagri and other communities – were the poorest of the poor and were discriminated against in day to day life, despite the fact that the country’s constitution promises equal rights to all citizens.
The survey revealed that the worst form of discrimination — from both upper caste Hindus and Muslims — came in the shape of untouchability, which means they were denied access to public places like restaurants, barber shops, etc.
In some places they were served in separate crockery and in other areas they were even denied entry to certain restaurants and shops.
They had segregated housing, while the situation is worse in rural areas as 95 per cent of Dalits living in Rahimyar Khan reported untouchability as compared to 35 per cent living in Multan. Sixty-nine per cent of those surveyed said that their upper caste Hindu and Muslim neighbours either do not invite them to their social gatherings like weddings, or if invited they are served food separately. This attitude was relatively more prevalent in Rahimyar Khan (87 per cent) than in Tharparkar (60 per cent).
The study claims that only one per cent of scheduled caste people were in government service, that also in the lowest tiers like primary school teachers. The illiteracy level in Dalits stood at 73 per cent against the national literacy level of around 50 per cent. The majority of these literates are educated up to the primary or secondary school levels, while only one per cent were graduates.
Approximately 56 per cent of Dalit families live in single-room katcha houses, while 35 per cent reported the death of a child under 5 years in their families. The data showed that they were ignored by the political groups and government; hence they were unable to reap any benefits from the devolution plan. They also faced economic exploitation and the majority of bonded labourers in Sindh are from the scheduled castes.
The research, conducted by Mr Shah and his team, revealed that very little information was available on the status of issues being faced by marginalised groups like the scheduled castes. Also, there was no legal protection or affirmative action policy to combat caste-based discrimination in Pakistan, unlike in India.
The research presentation was followed by a discussion in which about 40 participants, including Dalit community representatives, political leaders, academics, researchers and activists, took part. At the end of the workshop the participants decided to form a Pakistan Dalit Solidarity Network.
Former MNA Dr Khatumal Jewan, former MPA of Punjab Lala Mehar Lal Bheel, Rochi Ram Advocate, Dr Sono Khingharani of the TRDP, journalist Surrendar Valasai, Dr Aly Ercelawn of the Piler and others also spoke.
A number of representatives of the scheduled castes from Sindh and Punjab attended the workshop.
Courtesy: The Dawn