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Friday July 19, 2024

The wonders of Thar

By Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani
August 18, 2017

The mere mention of Thar automatically evokes the image of an under-developed, backward, remote and deserted place where newborn children are dying due to famine, hunger and the lack of food. While this is true to some extent, the Thar Desert also has the potential to become the regional hub for peace and prosperity.

For hundreds of year, Thar has fostered a rich civilisation, strong cultural values and interfaith harmony. It is one of the world’s largest deserts and is the only fertile desert across the globe. Around 85 percent of the desert is in India while the remaining part is in Sindh.

I belong to Tharparkar and can say with pride that the people of Tharparkar are pure at heart. Though they belong to different religions, sects and castes, they are driven by the spirit of peace, love and brotherhood. The sense of unity with which people live in Thar can be gauged through their rich, multifaceted culture. Their heritage, folk music, poetry and dances all are unique. Thar is the only part of Pakistan where Hindu and Muslims have been living together for hundreds of years without any religious prejudice and intolerance. Even in 1947, when a wave of bloodshed initiated by both Hindus and Muslims in the Subcontinent, life in Tharparkar region remained largely unaffected.

The word ‘Thar’ is derived from Thul, which is the general term for a sandy region while ‘parkar’ means to cross over. The region was known as Thar and Parkar in the past and both words have now merged. The Thar Desert has long historical and cultural ties with Hinduism as well.

The ancient religious literature, including the ‘Ramayana’ calls this region Lavanasagara (the Salt Ocean). The Ramayana narrates that when Rama was going to attack Lanka with his army, he used an Agniyashtra-amogha (a fire weapon) to dry up the sea called Drumakulya, which is situated to the north of Lavanasagara (today’s Thar Desert). Similarly, the Sarasvati River is one of the main Rigvedic holy rivers mentioned in the Rig Veda. The river has been identified by modern scholars as flowing through the North-Western regions of India and the Thar Desert in Pakistan. There are also a number of temples that are a testament to the importance of the Thar Desert in the eyes of Hindu followers.         

Under t British rule, the Thar Desert was merged into the Kutch Political Agency in the Hyderabad Collectorate in 1843. This resulted in the area becoming part of Hyderabad.      Two years later, it was renamed the Eastern Sindh frontier with its headquarters in Umerkot that was controlled by the political superintendent. In 1882, it was declared as a district. In 1906, the headquarters of the district was shifted from Umerkot to Mirpurkhas. In 1990, Mithi became the capital of Tharparkar by separating it from Mirpurkhas to form a new district. Mithi is one of the few towns of Pakistan where Muslims are not in a majority.

According to the previous census, the population of Hindus and Muslims in the country was almost the same. However, the recent national census will reveal the true facts as there were reports in the past years that an average of 5,000 Hindu citizens are forced to migrate towards the Indian parts of Thar on an annual basis. The main occupations of Thar’s people are agriculture and animal rearing. The scarcity of water is a major challenge. Improper health facilities are the main reason why the region makes headlines every now and again.

Rain is a major source of joy for Thar’s people as it breathes life back into the desert areas. Owing to climate change and global warming, Thar’s climate is also changing rapidly and has resulted in a prolonged spell of dry weather. According to a census report, the number of registered schools in the region stands at 4,045, the total number of teachers at these schools is 5,230 and the number of children who attend schools is 164,974. But the reality remains that thousands of children are unable to even read their name in Sindhi. Much has been reported on ghost schools and ghost students in the media. I personally informed Sindh CM Murad Ali Shah about the ghost schools in my area. Unfortunately, no action has been taken so far. The Pakistan Hindu Council is running 13 schools in Tharparkar.

The people of Thar have so many hopes aligned with the Thar Coal Energy Project, which is associated with CPEC. They believe CPEC will serve as a fortune-changer for them. The coal reserves located in Thar are sufficient to meet the energy needs of the populace for the next 400 years. The people are looking toward the government to provide prosperity in Tharparkar so it can become the regional hub of peace.

The writer is a member of the National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.

Twitter: @RVankwani