The changing sociology of rural Sindh

Published: August 27, 2012
The author is an architect in private practice in Karachi. He is a recipient of the Hilal-i-Imtiaz and is a founding member of the Asian Coalition of Housing Rights

The author is an architect in private practice in Karachi. He is a recipient of the Hilal-i-Imtiaz and is a founding member of the Asian Coalition of Housing Rights

The media, print and electronic, are full of very important news and its analysis. Pakistan-US relations, the judiciary-executive conflict, the Karachi killings, sectarian strife, the Balochistan “insurgency”, and similar issues are regularly written about and/or discussed by well-informed experts.

Meanwhile, civil society organisations identify the victims of these and related conflicts and support them in fighting their cases in courts of law; through public demonstrations and media campaigns; by operating physical and social infrastructure programmes for the “poor”; and by promoting legislations that can, if enacted and effectively implemented, create a more equitable society over a couple of generations.

Some of these civil society organisations lament the absence of secular values in society, while others aggressively promote the values of the Salafist interpretation of Islam. Meanwhile, all the actors in the above drama, including the “silent majority” and the working classes, have access to television, mobile phones, and increasingly to the internet as well.

What is not discussed in the media, “civil society” literature and academic research, is how the various conflicts in Pakistan and the expansion of trade and commerce are changing socio-economic relations in both urban and rural areas. These changes and the emerging societal values they are promoting will determine the future structure of Pakistani society to a far greater extent, than say, the issue of strategic depth in Afghanistan.

From the early 70s to the late 90s, I have worked in rural Sindh and documented and published on the processes of change taking place in different areas of the province. After a lapse of 10 years, I visited a large number of rural areas with which I was previously acquainted. These visits were made between 2010 and 2012 and involved meetings with village communities, transporters, arhatis, real estate agents and local NGO staff and Community Based Organisation activists.

The change that I have observed and which has been articulated by the groups I interacted with, is enormous and that too in 10 years. The most visible and important change is the presence of women in development and political discourse. They are employed in NGO offices, they manage development programmes, they are social activists and the majority of them are from the rural areas. In some of the remote villages I visited, there were private schools and beauty parlours run by young village women. Blocking of roads to protest against the “high handedness” of the local landlords, bureaucratic inaction, and/or law and order situations, has become common. Women participate in these demonstrations and in some cases these blockages have been carried out exclusively by them.

Discussions with groups on the issue of free-will marriages were also held. The vast majority of individuals were in favour of such marriages even if they violated caste divisions. However, they felt that it is the parents that have to change so as to make such marriages conflict free. The non-availability of middle schools for girls was also discussed. Surprisingly, the village communities had no problem with the girls studying with the boys in the male middle schools. In addition, discussions with the Sindh Rural Support Organisation’s (SRSO) women groups, which consist of the poorest women in a village, revealed that about 20 per cent of them had mobile phones and almost all of them watched television although around 30 per cent households actually own a TV.

The other major change that has taken place is in physical mobility. The number of transport vehicles has visibly increased manifold. The desire to migrate to an urban area is second only to the desire to get children educated. In all the areas visited, many families had members working in Karachi. Previously, people were scared to go to Karachi because of the violence in the city. But now they have friends and relatives over there and protection as well. This partly explains the rapidly increasing numbers of Sindhi speakers in the city. In addition, it was constantly stated that those haris who had relatives in urban centres and received remittances were better off and were able to send their children to the cities for better education and hence a better future.

Many of the above changes are related to the changed landlord-hari relationship. Unlike before, the haris spoke openly against the local landlord. In most cases, they also stated that they did not want to remain haris but to get regular jobs, operate rickshaws and do small businesses. Their perception of the landlord has also undergone a change. He no longer comes regularly to the area. He has a city wife and his children have little or no link with the land. Given his changed nature, he can no longer effectively settle “disputes”. His absence and changed nature has provided the hari families with opportunities for physical and social mobility. Dr Sono Khangharani of the SRSO also made an important observation by pointing out that an increasing number of  “low caste” young men and women were studying with the children of powerful rural families in the elite universities of Pakistan.

The changes described above are the natural outcome of new technologies, expanding trade and commerce and the media revolution. But more so, they are the result of the Government of Pakistan’s education system, in spite of its bad quality. Young men and women have returned from universities and colleges in the larger cities armed with new experiences and knowledge and a vision of a new world. Peasant women have gone to the village school and learnt to read and write. It must also be noted that in many cases, the village elders and a new breed of politicians are also responding to this change. Recently, an elder from a very small and conservative village visited me with CVs of three village girls who had done their BA with the request that I should get them jobs with some NGO or government programme.

However, according to the people we met, the system is fighting back. They are of the view that the tribal conflicts that are taking place are being created to break the unity of the people; that problems are also created so that the chiefs and their representatives can assert their power in the process of solving them; that the law and order situation in the rural areas is created to drive away ‘genuine’ activists; and that much of the migration to the urban areas is the result of such violence. Land is also being acquired by the powerful at all costs so as to consolidate their power further. It is felt that they are sending their children and relatives into the bureaucracy and the police so as to both acquire and control this land. The mullahs meanwhile, preach against minority Muslim sects, women’s studying and working and against the “fahashi” of free-will marriages. And, everyone from the wadera to the hari is armed.

It is obvious that the old order cannot come back for the change is too big to be contained. But what will the new order be and how will it come about? How will the forces of retrogression affect its form and shape? What relationship will these changes have with the urban politics of Sindh? In the absence of more knowledge and understanding, one can only speculate.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 28th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (38)

  • Indian Sindhi
    Aug 27, 2012 - 9:46PM

    Sindhis were always progressive………There was little bloodshed by Muslim sindhis on fellow Hindu sindhis…………They unfortunately lost there educated flock due to partition……..Hence the oppurtinities were taken by Mohajirs………… sindhis in India and across the world are very rich………..

    Let the land of my ancestors prosper………..hope to wisit one day……..

    Jai Sindh!!!!!!!


  • Indian Wisdom
    Aug 27, 2012 - 9:50PM

    Excellent article. I read the entire article with a smile and a sense of joy from within!!! May god give this kind of change to all the villages and regions of Pakistan!!! Lets hope that more and more news and analysis of this sort come out from Pakistan instead of depressing news of regular explosions and massacres!! We don’t expect Pakistan to become secular but at least they can practice the true philosophy of Islam. It reminds me of the changes which I witnessed in Bihar, one of the poorest states in India, during the past 7 years while working with different international NGOs there, and during a short span of time the land of conflict (between armed groups belonging to higher castes, Ranwir Sena and weaker castes, Male, ) underwent metamorphosis into a progressive land with the arrival of a visionary leader Nitish kumar, with GDP of the state growing at continuous rate of more than 13% per annum for the past several years. What i can infer in the article is that in absence of good political leadership the communities and civil society are taking initiatives by themselves to improve their living condition. May god give strength to their initiative and increase their tribe!!!


  • Raw is War
    Aug 27, 2012 - 9:53PM

    what garbage


  • unbeliever
    Aug 27, 2012 - 10:17PM

    @Raw is War:
    can you explain, how?


  • Ch. Allah Daad
    Aug 27, 2012 - 10:27PM

    Dream or reality? Not sure..


  • naive
    Aug 27, 2012 - 11:29PM

    Sindh shining! Great


  • irfan husain
    Aug 27, 2012 - 11:50PM

    At last, a reason to be optimistic.


  • antanu g
    Aug 28, 2012 - 12:05AM

    @Raw is War:
    obviously you dont like to read about anything pisitive reported from pakistan. i think you should get education to learn to appreciate good thingsRecommend

  • antanu g
    Aug 28, 2012 - 12:07AM

    @Ch. Allah Daad:
    i knew you would not appreciate any sign of progress coming from pakistan.Recommend

  • Sindhi_Pakistani
    Aug 28, 2012 - 12:57AM

    The tolerant and Sufi culture of Sindh is source of great strength in Sindhi society. Whole Pakistan is burning with extremism, the least affected province in terms of religious extremism is Sindh. Based on state policies, Center and their crony Feudals have kept Sindh less progressive but more the atrocities and injustice, more the reaction is law of nature. PPP-MQM Govt has also failed to deliver to people of Sindh, rather they have created more divisions and hate. If MQM ever become genuinely and sincerely part of Sindhi society, whole province will become violence free and welfare.


  • Sajjad Ali
    Aug 28, 2012 - 1:40AM

    It feels good to read such an optimistic article on Sindh and no doubt people in the interior Sindh are progressing day by day and education is an important factor in their progress. But I don’t agree on some parts of the article like the situation in villages has hardly changed due to increasing power and control of Landlords. Apart from that, these landlords are also in power so they hardly encourage people in their villages to send their children to local primary schools. I still see that many schools are used for other purposes like for marriage ceremonies, innocent villagers keep their livestock there even teachers don’t come to those schools or if they come they hardly stay for 2 hours. Therefore it would be better to say that small towns are evolving rather than villages but the people in villages have more awareness now then before due to the media.
    I would appreciate the Mr. Arif Hassan for highlighting the good side of Sindh.


  • Canuckistani
    Aug 28, 2012 - 2:19AM

    Hailing from Punjab I am so glad to read that Sindh is improving at the grass root level. Education will change everything.


  • Mirza
    Aug 28, 2012 - 2:19AM

    This is called progress and evolution. Sind has always been the land of tolerance, love, culture, rich traditions and Sufis. During the partition when the rivers in Punjab (both sides of the border) were red with human blood there was no thirst for blood among native Sindhis. Let us hope this progress and peace continues in Sind.


  • Aug 28, 2012 - 3:26AM

    land reforms are the most effective way to change the power dynamics of rural Pakistan specially Interior Sindh!


  • Asif Ali Zardari
    Aug 28, 2012 - 7:02AM

    Uh oh… this isn’t good…


  • Karachiwala
    Aug 28, 2012 - 7:24AM

    So good to read this article about my Sindh, education is the key for any nation, group or community to prosper. Born in sindh is always a sindhi, all the prayer to this land.


  • Asif
    Aug 28, 2012 - 9:42AM

    A welcome article, our social scientists need to conduct such deep analysis of whole rural Pakistan. Change is inevitable and taking place everywhere but with different pace and results. Rural Sindh is also in process of change. The key factors are: increased agricultural incomes, which also caused marked increase in daily wages, high number of women doing jobs, this started during 2nd BB government when thousands of rural girls from poor families were inducted as Lady health workers and it was made easier for a matric pass girl to find job than a boy. Due to this reason, in many areas now girls outnumber boys in middle schools. Another reason is shifting of people from villages to towns and cities. But this change had also its share of chaos: bad law and order, tribal fueds. Days have gone when we felt proud of Sufi traditions, now Sindh too is in grip of religious extremism, though bit less than other parts. Financial Corruption is also at very high in goverment agencies, which resulted in poor delivery. Another big development challenge is provision of basic civic amenities in small towns and big villages, where non availability of clean drinking water and non disposal of garbage and swearage is causing serious health problems. If our big urban centers particularly Karachi remained peaceful as it is for last 10-15 years and no major ethinic violence to the likes of late 80s takes place, am sure Rural Sindh will positively change for better in next 10-15 years.


  • Haris
    Aug 28, 2012 - 9:57AM

    Arif Sahib, thaanks for this excellent piece! Coming from an urban background, I too have been working in interior Sindh for the last ten years. I would like to add two more changes here. Village people have diverted their attention to seeking jobs and business from multinationals such as oil & gas companies. Previously, they were scared of asking due to the tribal heads’ strong personal connections with these companies. Secondly, those Haris who have their own piece of land are keen to sow it as well as stand up to the landlord to ask for just compensation. I hope this continues with a strong sense of voting for the ‘Right’ People.


  • Naveed Jatoi
    Aug 28, 2012 - 10:09AM

    Make me feel Proud to be part of this Sindh after reading this article. But as a responsible citezen we need to unite and do more for every province of Pakistan in our own capicity. let their be tolerance, role of women in walk of life in our whole society. let we be unite to achieve our goal to spread education and awareness, where ever we can. please write this article in Urdu too, as lot more people can see the changing face of Sindh and learn from it.


  • aslam khwaja
    Aug 28, 2012 - 10:34AM

    just one comment on Arif Hassan’s the old system can not be back and new system is emerging so the result will be in favor of later though as my observation and experience suggests that it might be with bloodshed but not to extent of the pashtoon society as the sindhi society after some initial laziness reacting immediately to acts which can harm its norms and development path.
    one more point for consideration. in my opinion the floods of 2010 and 2011, political stability of last four years in the province and new poverty elimination programs like BISP, Watan card and Pakistan card too had contributed in what Arif Hassan calls ‘the changing sociology of rural sindh’.


  • Aug 28, 2012 - 12:45PM

    When all the news coming out are filled with violence regression this article is a pleasant one to know that much is not lost and there is certainly hope for a better nation.

    In democratic set up land reforms are bound to come In due course and the process of economic development of rural people will accelerate…


  • manzoor
    Aug 28, 2012 - 2:00PM

    Indeed Sindh is undergoing sociological, economic, political and cultural change. Kudos to Arif Hassan for writing such nice piece.


  • Muhammad Ishaq
    Aug 28, 2012 - 2:29PM

    Good article. But still Sindh is far behind of its potential. I, belonging to the area, feel it is contribution of different Political forces including PPP and Nationalists. Also media contributed. Still most of Sindh is sleeping and they should open their eye and send their children for professional education in Big Cities like Karachi. Urdu-speaking are our brothers but if we ownself are sleeping no one will come out and help us.


  • A2Z
    Aug 28, 2012 - 4:32PM

    Land reforms will solve lot of problems automatically. Nobody should own more than 50 acres(100 max). This will change the fortune of haris who are suffering due to injustice of landlords.
    Land reforms should be the slogan of change.


  • Kashif Shaikh
    Aug 28, 2012 - 4:48PM

    Good Article Arif Sahab. We need more of these analysis on actual situation happening in Pakistan.

    Sindh I feel is evolving but at a slower pace than required. Education, Employment and Health are the main issues still facing our Sindh. But hopefully with time and some involvement from all of us, things would improve.

    Sindhi’s are generally very tolerant people are are close to Sufism way of living. This is good not only for Sindh but for Pakistan in these days of war with extremism.

    I also request to publish a copy of same in Urdu and Sindhi, so that more people read and appreciate things happening in Sindh of Pakistan.Recommend

  • imran
    Aug 28, 2012 - 4:53PM

    Change is lurking in the skies.


  • mystreeman
    Aug 28, 2012 - 5:19PM

    Rural sindh is changing, no doubt and it is changing for positive things. another point is that internet has also brought the change. access to net has opened avenues of progress.


  • sattar rind
    Aug 28, 2012 - 5:19PM

    I am surprised and I should be that I living in that Sindh but not knowing that great change have been cropped up without my realization? – For the writer has observed in two different periods in the rural Sindh. This is typical NGO culture and the writer must be NGO oriented. Otherwise a change – that is very natural always take place with space of time but not that level it has been mentioned in the article. I am anthropologist and author I am ready to challenge it.


  • Irfan Baloch
    Aug 28, 2012 - 8:33PM

    @Mohammad Bilal Aslam. 100% in agreement with u. Land Reform and the ppl will do the rest.


  • mystreeman
    Aug 28, 2012 - 8:50PM

    @Indian Sindhi: …They unfortunately lost there educated flock due to partition…
    You mean to say only Sindhi Hindus were educated and sindhi Muslims were not?


  • Ahsan
    Aug 28, 2012 - 9:05PM

    @sattar rind:

    i agree with you. The author of the article seems to have either less access or superficial observation or typical NGO mindset. A school here, a beauty parlor there and a negligible percentage of BA degree carrying girls does not mean change. The fact of the matter is that Sindh has moved seven centuries back in time since 1947. The common observers who are highly educated when they return from Sindh they have nothing to tell but the terrible neglect that Sindh is facing in all fields, roads, buildings, education, health care etc. Sindhis are not even recruited against low skill jobs. Earlier till Bhutto assumed power the Sindhis were not taken in central services because they were traitor; they were demanding Sindhu Desh. Nothings did not change much with Bhutto, Benazir or Zardari coming into power; but all three are symbols of a hope that some day Sindh might change; some day rural Sindh will have some of the facilities that the Urban Sindh has been enjoying since 1947. When will that some day come, I will not speculate, I am sure it will not come within this century if Sindhis kept on becoming martyrs. For the Sindhis to have their rights, they should act as one tribe; as central Punjabis, northern Punjabis, Mohajirs and Pukhtoon of Karachi have become.


  • aghahakeem
    Aug 28, 2012 - 11:04PM

    thoughtful piece. People might be getting more aware of their rights and potential but feudal system is only changing its color. fractured, shambolic almost non-existant government system only adds to grip feudal lords wields in rural society. previously the nefarious tentacles of oppressive, denigrating feudal system that earlier only remained confined to villages now have enveloped town as well. Almost entire social structure prods your to negotiate through this wadera dominated feudal system, education comes of no use in this. Forces of retrogression are firmly in command thus far in rural society. Only great social change can off set the wadera/pir/mir/sardar dominated system which i don’t see shaping up in near future.


  • fehmida
    Aug 28, 2012 - 11:20PM

    really very nice article,i appriciate the writer of this article


  • Muhammad
    Aug 29, 2012 - 6:14PM

    How does Hasan look at the almost daily reported incidences of Karo/Kari? Is this what the sufis of Sindh preached: cut a woman’s throat to protect the man’s honor. Until this barbaric practise is dealt with is severely, I for one will never think of Sindhis as a progressive, peaceful people. Sorry, land reform et al do not make a society progressive. It’s how they deal with the disadvantaged that is the main criteria.


  • Shamoon Saleem
    Aug 29, 2012 - 10:22PM

    I’ve read, along with the usual nationalist rhetoric, strongly critical remarks also. But I don’t read Arif Hassan saying anywhere, ke Sindh mein inqilab aa gia hey.

    No one is blind enough to deny that the things are gravely wrong deep in the social fabric of Sindh.

    To me the value of this article lies in his attempt to diagnose the elements of change which may omen a bigger change in a saner direction. Nothing more and nothing less! NGO or no NGO.


  • Just Manners
    Aug 29, 2012 - 11:43PM

    But you have failed to point out that the waderas still dominate the land of Sindh and are most influential politically and socially. Also, you did not mention the necessity of genuine land reforms to rescue Sindh and Pakistan from the clutches of feudalism.


  • Syed Moazzam A
    Aug 30, 2012 - 4:06PM

    @Indian Sindhi:

    Good observations. No one can stop evolutionary process. There has emerged a remarkable middle class in Sindh. They are challenge to the old system. And the fuedals are trying the same old tactics “divide and rule”. They are trying to divert the youth of Sindh towards politics of hatred on the name of “nationalism”. They are despartely trying to make the youth of Sindh believe that its not the fuedal system of Sindh that is the biggest enemy of the people of Sindh and their progress but its all about being Punjabis, Mohajirs, Pashtoons etc. etc. They want to save their feudal system at the cost of dead bodies of people of Sindh. Be careful dear young educated Sindhis…..Identify the real enemies of Sindh….the feudals who do not like you to be educated and get freedom of choice…though their children have education from the universities abroad and most of them do not even know Sindhi language but still claim to be the “leaders” of Sindh and Sindhis.

    People of Sindh, open your eyes and hearts for all Sindhis of Sindh. Join hands with each other for the progress and prosperity of the land of Shah Lateef….Sindh is for the people of Sindh having different identities. Respect all the identities and shake hands with each other for the development of Sindh. Do not let the enemies of the people divide you on the name of race, language, religiion and sects.

    Jeay Sindh. Jeay people of Sindh.


  • Rauf
    Sep 1, 2012 - 6:29PM

    Primary education in Sindh has deteriorated to the extent of non-existence. Higher educational institutions in Karachi are forbidden for Sindhi students. Sindh government is the most inefficient and most corrupt govt probably in whole of South Asia.. Feudals who control rural Sindh find their interest in keeping the masses uneducated and ignorant. How under these circumstances has the rural Sindh progressed. I don’t understand. Would anyone explain.


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