64 and counting: Farmers refuse to take the bait on their fourth hunger strike

Published: August 1, 2012
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Their main demands included shutting down illegal water courses set up by feudal in the Kacha areas and reopening tube wells.  PHOTO: FILE

Their main demands included shutting down illegal water courses set up by feudal in the Kacha areas and reopening tube wells. PHOTO: FILE

KHAIRPUR: Comrade Ghulam Rasool Sehto, popularly known as the Anna Hazare of Sindh, has been on a hunger strike with his friends for the last 64 days to bring attention towards to the issues farmers face.

Sehto, who is over 60 years old, is known for his loud laugh. He was an active member of the Communist Party and was the owner and editor of a Sindhi newspaper.

Comrade Sehto has been active in participating in several other movements to support the poor and bring attention t their plight.

He began to campaign for the rights of farmers of his district, Khairpur, in 2004 when he and some of the other farmers organised on a hunger strike. It continued for 17 days and was called off after the then provincial minister, Nadar Akmal Laghari, sent a team to him to assure Sehto that the farmers’ issues will be resolved.

Their main demands included shutting down illegal water courses set up by feudal in the Kacha areas and reopening tube wells. The team also assured Sehto that 12 water courses in Sobho Dero taluka will be given water. But promises remained promises. The farmers organised a hunger strike again in 2006, outside the Khairpur Press Club.

They vowed to continue their protest even if they died from hunger. This protest continued longer than the first – 31 days. A delegation of ministers and MPAs, who included Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah, former home minister Manzoor Wasan, Sindh Assembly Speaker Nisar Ahmed Khuhro, MNA Dr Mehreen Bhutto, Ghinwa Bhutto, the later chairman of Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz, Bashir Khan Qureshi and others visited the farmers and also took part in their protest.

The strike ended when the now president of Pakistan Muslim League-Functional, Pir Saddaruddin Shah Rashidi, sent a some people to request the farmers to end the strike.

The third strike was organised in 2008. It was held outside the Sukkur Press Club and also continued for 31 days. It ended after MNA Nafeesa Shah reassured the protesters that their demands would be entertained.

Finally, Sehto’s efforts bore fruit and over the last three years the government released Rs44 million for the farmers and reopened scarp tube wells – they drain water from water-logged areas. However, not a single rupee reached the farmers.

Protesting again, it has been 65 days since Comrade Sehto’s team put any food in their mouths. They believe that more than 30 water channels are acutely short of water and while over 450 scarp tubewells are closed, turning over two million acres of land barren. The farmers say that such a shortage will destroy the whole district economically.

The chief secretary of irrigation department paid a visit to the farmers in Bhool Bagh, with the deputy commissioner of Khairpur, 16 days ago. He requested them to end the strike. But this time the farmers asked to be provided with water first.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2012.

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