Interfaith harmony and peaceful coexistence are the defining elements of life in Thar
harparkar and Umerkot are regions where there are many examples of religious tolerance, peace and interfaith harmony. People in these areas respect one another’s norms, customs, traditions and beliefs. People of all religions living in Tharparkar have one culture; their language and way of life are similar.
Thar, the land of sand dunes, is a great symbol of interfaith harmony and brotherhood. Thari people live a conflict-free life. If a region is known for peace, future generations will respect all religions, maintain tolerance and follow in their ancestors’ footprints.
The temple and imam bargah in Choorio village are examples of religious harmony. The village is close to the Indian border and 40 kilometres from Nangar Parkar.
During the rainy season, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and people of other religions from across Sindh and the rest of the country come to this village for peace and relaxation. During worship at the temples, some Muslims respectfully join Hindus. The Imam Bargah Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) and the Hindu temple are prime indicators of peaceful coexistence in the area.
Whenever there is a religious festival or fair in the temple, people of all religions visit, share food and eat together. Whenever there is a Muslim festival, the entire Hindu community joins in. At the imam bargah, all communities come to pay respect to the martyrs of Karbala and commemorate the greatest of tragedies. During the first ten days of Muharram, members of the Hindu community arrange a sabeel and offer niaz in their temples. People of different faiths feed pilgrims; children, women, and differently-abled persons from nearby villages/ areas also visit and are fed with equal respect.
Extremism and hate-mongering are not known to the people of Thar. Thari people uphold the traditions of religious tolerance, rely on local wisdom and take care of one another. Their Thari identity unites them in difficult times and brings them together to relish in their neighbours’ festivities.
In the Hindu community, if a boy is born in a house, the birth is usually celebrated by beating the thaali. However, locals refrain from celebrating with music and pomp if a child is born during Muharram.
The locals are familiar with one another’s customs and norms. They have been sensitised to be respectful of other’s traditions and beliefs.
Extremism and hate-mongering are not known to the people of Thar. Thari people uphold their traditions of religious tolerance, rely on local wisdom and take care of one another. Their Thari identity unites them in difficult times and brings them together to relish in their neighbours’ festivities.
Pundit Madan Brahmin says, “even today in Choorio, if there is a death in any house, the whole village does not light their stoves (choolha) until after the funeral and burial.” He explains, “our village is close to the border. We have suffered the horrors of war in 1965 and ‘71. The army took care of us. As a community we protected and supported one another.”
People even from distant areas come to the village around the annual festival/ fair at the Choorio temple. The fair lasts for nine days, and people come from far and wide to cook and feed poor children. Some philanthropists send truckloads of rice, wheat, sugar etc. The temple administration, i.e., pundits and some notables, do not always know who is sending the supplies. Most philanthropists/ supporters make anonymous donations.
At the temple, lunch is prepared for 200 school-going children of different religions from villages around Nangar Parkar who come and eat there. In 1967, Ms Sheila Desmond from New York shared an idea to maintain peace. “We can only maintain peace at the dining table, and we learn to solve many issues by sitting together through sharing of food and respecting one another,” said Desmond.
Apart from feeding the needy humans, there are arrangements for birds at this temple. Every day 30 kilograms of grains are given to birds. Peacocks, pheasants and pigeons are fed daily at 6am and at 4pm.
There is no grid electricity in many villages of Tharparkar. In Choorio, moonlight and the lights from the other side of the border, shining through the rocks, make for a mesmerising sight.
Many people come to visit Nangarparkar to experience the peace. Apart from the Choorio temple, people from the Hindu community also come to visit Salhdaro, where the ashes of the dead are immersed in water.
As per SDG 16 Peace Justice and Strong Institutions, the Strengthening Participatory Organisation is working hard through the Faith in Action programme to sustain peace through a participatory win-win approach by engaging various religious leaders and social actors.
The SPO has set some good examples in Umerkot, as Muslim clerics have planted trees in temples and some pastors attend sermons in mosques. Hindu and Muslim women support one another in repairing their houses and actively participate in Muslim festivals.
In the world we live today, it is important to share these stories of peace, communal harmony and religious tolerance. Protecting and maintaining the traditions and customs that harbour love and support will only benefit us in the long run. Besides, these tales of harmony are a reminder of the lessons we can teach our coming generations by telling them of communities that have perfected the art of peaceful coexistence.
The writer is based in Umerkot. He has more than 12 years of experience in the development sector. He can be reached at shewaramlive.com