UMERKOT: “Voice of people” a platform for depoliticized and helpless people of Thar is gaining momentum through attracting media, politicians and other stakeholders jolting the state-run-institutions.
Traditionally Thar was administered by Panchayat system; later on Rajput Thakur and its local and non-local allies were dominant. After migration of mighty Thakurs to India, local political communities, who allegedly deprived people of their rights, covered civic amenities, like health, education and other development processes.
The change was found tangible in 2013 general elections when the indigenous classification of managing issues was wrapped and replaced with a new one. The political power structure was not only changing but the traditional sources of income also started to modify. The indigenous people who were part of bringing change by choice or controlling were dominated and handled by other actors, spiritual leaders (Pir, Maharaj) and agents of corporate sector/multinational companies etc.
In 2013 the spiritual leaders (Pir and Maharaj) contested election as well as some spiritual leaders supported different candidates and got benefits. First time in history, a case of spreading hatred on religious basis was identified but was coped with amicably, because there was no truth in it, someone had attempted to ignite the fire on the basis of religion.
Owing to this situation the economy is being shifted from barter to cash, new forces/ multinational companies and corporate sector has entered in this area with lust of natural resources. All these factors have jeopardized the social classification as well as the peace and pluralism of Thar.
“Voice of people” has been identified as the only platform for deprived and indigenous people of Thar to echo their voice to politicians, international communities and media.
Tharparkar district is arid district spread over around 20,000 square kilometers. This year Tharparkar district and arid area of Umerkot are facing third consecutive drought, due to which people have lost their assets including livestock, crops, no fodder and water is also unavailable. Their children have been dying of malnutrition and lack of health facilities.
Majnoo Bheel, a local native, told News Lens Pakistan that they were excluded from relief work, as relief wheat was distributed on the basis of cast, creed and political affiliation. He added, “Tharparkar was formed by keeping in view the political interests of one group and it’s headquarter was in Mithi that is not an easily approachable area by majority of people in this district. These areas face so many issues but sufferers find rare opportunities to raise their voice.”
According to Ali Akbar Rahimoo, “Peoples’ Voice” is a silver lining for people living in deep desert of Thar. “It was an initiative of our organization taken in the first week of January 2014 to facilitate common people of Taluka Chachro to get organized and echo their voice on a platform,” he said.
He further said, “The screams of suffering people are rarely noted by concerned authorities. AWARE – Association for Water, Applied Education and Renewable Energy initiated this innovative approach to give a platform to the deprived people to assemble, share sorrows and start a registered protest in a better manner to get heard in power corridors.”
Adding to that he said, “When state institutions have failed to deliver civic amenities and other public issues go unheard. Police, politicians, judiciary and media are not in easy access of the people of Thar. There was dire need to create a platform for people to facilitate them so that they can narrate their plights.”
This event has been organized on 5th of every month in front of Press Club Chachro of district Tharparkar where people gather on their own along with the activists of his organization. They call media and note down list of their problems and stakeholders to approach.
This forum has provided a platform to common men and women of the area to raise their voice relating to exclusion, crime, illiteracy, unemployment, tribal conflicts, and lack of potable water, poor transportation, unattended health facilities & occupation of lands. This practice has been continued for the last 14 months.
This platform has not only helped them to raise their voice, but it has facilitated the people to get their issues resolved. Fatah Ali Rahimoo, a local native, told this News Lens Pakistan that in the month of January 2015 he raised the issue that Tharparkar district can’t develop without quality education and the current monitoring system is a flop. This was responded promptly and 108 schools re-opened in this area and were made functional.
Another inhabitant, Gotam Rathi while talking to News Lens Pakistan said that he raised an issue of environmental degradation due to chopping of trees, which has not only affected the typical weather but the wind patterns have also changed. Resultantly they have been facing third consecutive drought. The state has not shown any concern towards this issue, but it needs to be addressed at the earliest.
Issue of encroachments on natural water reservoirs by ruling party local leaders was highlighted in Awam Jo Awaz on 05 of February 2014. Encroachment on the graveyard of Hindu Community at Chachro by ruling party local leaders was also raised in Voice of People. This has been possible because people were united on one platform. Their gathering and sharing strengthened them.
People who attended the Voice of People forum shared that in these modern times different forms of exclusion and deprivation still exist in Thar. Other Hindus and Muslims exploit Hindus in the name of upper and lower cast. The electoral process in Thar is based on cast and creed system and unfortunately now it has been tilting towards religious sentiments. Therefore, minorities have not been getting their due share in pose politics as well as resources distribution.
This forum offers equal opportunities. Anyone can come up and share his or her issues with facts and figures. There is no presiding chief guest or honorary guest and only one moderator gives opportunity to everyone to come and share his/her views.
The echo of this program had a huge impact on certain politicians that they attacked and threatened the organizers to put up the shutters. According to them, this program has harmed their political career as the people accused him of patronizing the land-grabbers.
The dominant castes in politics of Thar include Nohri, Rahimoo and Samejo communities. These powerful locals are losing their grip because of increased awareness. Moreover, even the minorities are frustrated and tired of their behaviors.
During and after the 2014 drought in Thar, religious groups (especially extremists) are entering this area. It is feared that next elections in Thar will be contested on religion basis.
According to people who kept on participating in the voice of people and its organizers shared that they were unaware that this event will jolt the politician, influential land-grabbers, and state-institutions. They believe that it will help the people to grow as a strong voice for change.