A solid gold crown for the scion of an empire long gone

Hafeez Tunio May 23, 2010

KARACHI: Rose petals drifted down on him all the way to the stage, where the gold crown awaited amid a bright-hued crowd of turbans and lungis. Rana Hameer Singh was crowned the Rano of Dhat at a ceremony on Sunday.

And while the post has become near obsolete with no legal weight anymore, the crown he received in reverence to history and tradition was made of real gold. Hameer Singh was nominated as the 26th Rano of Dhat after his father, Rana Chandar Singh, chieftain of the Pakistan Hindu Sodha Thakur Rajput clan, passed away a few months ago. The process of nomination involves all the tribal elders who gather to decide on a successor. Around 36 tribes of the Sodha Rajput went to Mithi to crown their Rano of Dhat, one of the Rajput chieftains, Noor Singh Sodho, told The Express Tribune. “It has been our tradition for centuries,” he said.

The ceremony was held in the grounds of the Mithi High School, Thar, which was abuzz with families dressed in their best and wearing deep red or blue turbans. The Rano of Dhat is a post from the subcontinent’s past, when the Maharaja of a state would select his representatives in different parts of his constituency. These men would be elected by a legislative body and had supreme authority in their areas, or dhats as they were called. More often than not, the elder son of the predecessor would be crowned the next Rano.

It used to be a grave, royal affair. The burden of responsibility would be felt in the weight of the sword that was handed over to the chieftain’s successor and the significance of history and lineage would be felt as the new Rano’s forehead was anointed with drops of the predecessor’s blood. The Rano received all taxes and oversaw crime and punishment in his area. He was the problem solver and supreme arbiter as well. However, even though the Rajputs continue to select their next Ranos, the title barely has any practical significance anymore. “Now every tribe has its own chief and the influence of the Rano is shrinking with each passing day,” said Arbab Naik Mohammed, a noted writer of Thar.

According to Aakasha Santori, a local journalist, the Rano family still feels that they are superior to others and cannot help but discriminate against people of lower castes. “They cannot shake hands with them [people of lower Hindu castes] and they avoid looking at them in the morning,” Santori said. The Rajputs also keep their women to themselves. “I have not seen any Rajput women at the hospital,” he said, “They prefer to keep them in the houses even if they fall ill.” On the other hand, Naik Mohammed said that the rule of the Ranos has had its positive impacts.

Rano Ratan Singh, grandfather of Rana Chander Singh, fought against the British in 1943. He was arrested and later impaled. Although the British decided to pardon him at the last minute, Singh chose to be killed rather than take a favour from them. Hameer Singh’s father, Rana Chander Singh, was a close friend of former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. He was also one of the founding members of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). He was elected a member of the provincial assembly six times and served as a minister for several portfolios.

In 1990, he left the PPP and formed his own political party called the Pakistan Hindu Party. Rano Hameer Singh has also been elected a member of the provincial assembly and has enjoyed the status of a minister as well. In the last local district government, he was the naib nazim of Umerkot District.

Published in the Express Tribune, May 24th, 2010.