Our history as well as mainstream media talk about and debate only elitist politics, but the working class, peasants, youth and all those without big landholdings or without influence in power corridors are ignored – as if they do not exist.
The majority in our society is poor, deprived, largely uneducated. When do they make an appearance in the media or grab our attention? And how often? Only during times of distress, be it floods, displacement or stories of victimisation.
Who makes the headlines? Who gets the all the air time or print space and prominence? Whose views are sought after on any issue? Only the political elite, the rich affluent class. Those who were not born with a silver spoon, politics helped them to get their own. The newly-rich – who have had a change of ‘class’ – show off their newly-acquired prestige more that those considered to be from ‘noble families’ (rewarded by the 100-year British rule in the Subcontinent, including Sindh in Pakistan).
Sindh’s political elite has played it very smart, making sure it gets its share in power. Many top Sindhi politicians have served during the worst dictatorial regimes when middle-class Sindhi activists were behind bars, from ZA Bhutto’s times under Gen Ayub Khan to Mohammad Khan Junejo, representing Pir Pagara’s Muslim League. When the rebellious Pir Sabaghtullah Shah Rashdi (father of the late Pir Pagara) led a guerrilla movement against British rule back in 1939-1942, the Sindh Assembly had an elected government but would not speak for, what the common Sindhi would call him, ‘Soraih Badshaah’ (the brave king).
A Sindhi intellectual had once remarked: ‘All injustices with Sindh were upheld by the Sindhi political elite, the elected ones’. More has come to the surface with some excellent research work by indigenous writers such as Khadim Soomro and Naseer Aijaz, with profound work on the Hur-Tahreek. Thousands fought against the British occupation of Sindh. Pir’s Hurs lost their leader, lands and homes. A large number of settlers from other parts of British India were brought into the Sanghar district, where Pir Sabaghtullah Rashdi had a devoted following. Sadly, Pakistan’s history books will teach us about Tipu Sultan and other heroes of the Subcontinent but not a man like him.
Recently, the Sindh government’s culture department inaugurated tourist villas in Nanghar Parkar, Thar, naming them after Rooplo Kolhi, a young Hindu-Sindhi man who fought bravely against the British occupation and died at their hands. I doubt young students in Quetta, Lahore, Multan and in Peshawar will have even heard his name. These are the unsung heroes of this land. Had Kolhi belonged to a powerful rich family his sacrifices would have been proudly owned by Pakistan’s textbooks and the state’s narrative.
However, in the grassroots of Sindhi society I doubt workers, his villagers, poets and writers would have let his anniversary pass by without remembering him. From Rasool Bux Palijo to comrade Visho Mal, Abdul Wahid Areesar to Shaikh Ayaz, everyone draws lessons from Kolhi’s brave struggle. The Sindh government’s effort to name a resort in his name in his native home is appreciated. It would be good if they also put up some background information on his life and movement, as Thar has recently witnessed a large number of tourists after the recent rains in Sindh. Two districts, Tharparkar and Umer Kot, both in Sindh, are the only Hindu-majority areas in the country; their culture, heritage, language and stories of bravery must be protected and honoured. Let not religious bigots deprive us of our beautiful diversity, which is not imaginary, but grounded in our sand and folklore.
The late Iqbal Ahmad once noted: “Feudals ... the last thing they would lose is political power’. He was so right. The post-colonial structure of Sindhi society, dominated by Sindhi Pirs and feudals, continues to maintain a hold over its politics, with the old and new landed aristocracy. I was amazed the day former president Asif Zardari on a visit to Nawabshah, his hometown, took time for a ceremony where he was awarded with the title of ‘Raees’, head of the Zardari clan. I failed to understand what ego has to be satisfied. A man who was husband to an elected PM of the country, a man who headed the country’s largest and most popular party, and who was president (read: head of federation) – why would such a man need this title? It is the value system that one grows up in a typical rural society where the landed aristocracy draw their power from the lands and from heading their clans.
The politically educated Sindhi youth, university teachers, activists and people inspired by modernity have rejected the old socio-political order. Disappointed with nationalist movements and mainstream power-politics, some new political voices are in the making in Sindh. One such group, based in Karachi, has been active for the past few years. The Awami Raj Tehreek (ART), started in Karachi University, has been attacking the feudal hold over politics and power, and is a new political voice that is determined to contest elections. The Sindhi diaspora, through social media platforms, supports their cause.
Another working class party, with an active participation by women, some university professors with doctorates from foreign countries, is the Awami Jamhoori Party (AJP), perhaps the only party in Sindh or maybe in Pakistan which exercises democracy within the party. Fed up with the traditional family hold over Pakistan’s political parties, the AJP’s constitution requires elected presidents to give up office after two years, so that new people can lead the party.
Sindhi society deserves a party that is not led by self-proclaimed charismatic-all-knowing leaders who in the end make fortunes for their families. It, instead, deserves a party that holds internal elections and encourages a democratic culture within its rank and file. The AJP and the Awami Workers Party (AWP) were the only two parties that defeated traditional power centres in Larkana, Naseerabad and Warah, winning four seats in the local elections.
Sindh’s changing socio-economic structure is craving for a change, a change that is slow but needed. The energy and passion among these new forces is unmatched, showing that human society is never static; and only change is permanent.