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Friday July 12, 2024

The lost voice of journalism

By Mushtaq Rajpar
June 23, 2024
Slain journalist Nasrullah Gadani. — Facebook/@hazrat.bahai
Slain journalist Nasrullah Gadani. — Facebook/@hazrat.bahai

Journalism has become a dangerous profession in Sindh. Out of the 11 journalists killed in the past few years, seven of them were from upper Sindh. Most recently, a vocal voice, Nasrullah Gadani, was gunned down in broad daylight in his home city, Mirpur Mathelo. A few months ago, journalist Jan Mohammad Mahar was killed in Sukkur – the police are yet to find who killed them and why.

The crime rate and the hype surrounding it is high in upper Sindh, where dacoits roam free to pick who they want to abduct, release, torture and kill. Some analysts claim that these dacoits have access to weapons left over by American forces in Afghanistan. Many of them produce videos for social media, widely shared in shock.

How does this work? While there are multiple theories, there is little from law-enforcement officials whose only job is to protect citizens and maintain law and order across the province. I think one of the obvious reasons for these killings is that journalists do not keep silent on the prevalent lawlessness. They report on it, and if their newspapers and television channels fail to run their stories, they post them on social media platforms.

Take the example of Gadani; he had over 44,000 followers on his social media page. This is the kind of reach they have in society, and this is perhaps why they are silenced. These journalists, by speaking truth to power – to local tribal chiefs, sardars, etc – risk their lives, and some of them pay a heavy price.

Per the details shared by different people, on Gadani’s motorcycle’s plate is a phrase that challenges ‘bhotar’. In Sindhi, the word ‘bhotar’ describes a rich landlord wearing several caps of tribal chief with political connections who uses every means to maintain his hold over his territory. Since he remains loyal to the state, state machinery does not come after him, and the long arms of the law and the justice system do not catch him.

While people in Sindh, particularly civil society members, are still mourning these losses, another renowned journalist, Ishaq Mangrio (1955-2024), died at the age of 69 years of natural causes. Like lawyers and politicians, journalists too do not retire. Mangrio’s story is no different. He kept working, mostly research-related work, in Sindhi newspapers for the last many years. He was a regular columnist for ‘Sindh Express’. In his early age, like many of us, Mangrio was a progressive political activist. After the Soviet Union collapse, he joined the media and left a huge impact on Sindhi print media.

His journalism career was spread over four decades, from reporting to writing to being a regular columnist. On any issue in Sindh, or the country, if one is to look for a good read on the subject, it will be his column. For those of us who live outside the country, Ishaq provided a deep dive into issues of Sindh without playing with or firing up readers’ emotions.

One of his distinguishing factors as a journalist was that he hailed from the southern district of Sanghar. Thus, his focus remained on the socio-economic issues of the region – from Thatta, Tharparkar and Mirpurkhas to Badin, Umerkot and Sanghar, a region that does not have effective representation in the political landscape of Sindh as the province’s political scene has been dominated by northern regions.

Southern Sindh too remained backward, impoverished and neglected. Most of the editors, reporters and columnists in Sindhi media come from northern regions, what we call upper Sindh. Ishaq was a true voice for what we call Larr region.

I am not suggesting that his writings and reporting work were confined to the southern parts of the province; I am only reiterating that a gap existed, which he filled. With his departure, a bold, loud and clear voice is gone – a gap hard to be filled.

One interesting characteristic of Sindhi journalism is that it remains predominantly a profession for working-class and lower middle-class segments of society. It is rare to see the Sindhi elite choosing journalism as a career. Many reporters who went on to become editors and famed writers hailed from working-class backgrounds and left a mark on society, exposing injustices and providing visibility and voices to people in the peripheries. Ishaq was no exception.

Ishaq himself was a big story given the participation of his family in the ‘Hur Movement’ in the early 1940s against the British Raj in Sindh, even women of his family were imprisoned by the British for joining Pir Pagaro’s Free Sindh movement. According to two prominent historians in Sindh, Dr Mubarak Ali and UK-based Dr Sarah Ansari, “[The] Hur Movement was the most powerful resistance to [the] British Raj in their later days”. In one of the live sessions with these historians, Ishaq shared a seat with the speakers, and he brought historical notes which no one else could introduce.

Ishaq’s quote on Sindh’s resistance to the British occupation in 1943 is worth mentioning: “[In] 1950 when Mir Sher Muhammad Talpur took up arms against the British forces, he was on the run and took refuge in Achro Thar (desert in district Khairpur) in the homes of Pir Pagaro’s Hur, and it was one of the reasons Pir Pagaro’s Hurs started almost a century-long armed resistance against the British occupation.

Ishaq’s passing away leaves a big vacuum for people in Sindh’s southern district, whose voices are not reported. This is a region that is facing sea intrusion, water shortages, population explosions accompanied by poverty, and government neglect. These factors threaten the social fabric of villages and towns. Unfortunately, Ishaq is not here to report and write on these issues anymore.


The writer is a master’s student in public policy at the George Mason University, Virginia, USA. He can be reached at: mrajpar@gmu.edu