The untapped natural resources buried under the Tharparkar desert and the plight of its dwellers has been the theme of an age-old debate, recently brought into the limelight due to the ongoing drought.
Zulfiqar Halepoto compiled the book, ‘Thar: Khushaal Dharti, Badhaal Manhoon [Thar: prosperous land, destitute people]’, a collection of essays, news stories, investigative reports and columns on the crisis in Tharparkar. It was launched at a ceremony on Tuesday evening at Indus Hotel.
Sindh education minister Nisar Khuhro, senator Moula Bux Chandio, Sindh Taraqi Pasand party chairperson Dr Qadir Magsi, Qaumi Awami Tehreek president Ayaz Latif Palijo and activist and teachers’ leader Dr Arfana Mallah were among the speakers at the event.
Halepoto explained the rationale behind the compilation of the book. “An issue remains in the public eye as long as the media keeps its focus on it. The moment the focus changes, the issue gets consigned to oblivion.”
According to Halepoto, the book will act as a reference document entailing how intellectuals narrated the drought situation. He hoped that readers will be able to empathise with the citizens’ misery and that the book will be used as a reference to map out a path for the area’s development and prosperity. For his part, NGO Hisaar Foundation’s Dr Sono Khangarani, who hails from Tharparkar, expressed relief that the desert’s plight had been made a political issue and that books were being written about it.
The event provided a platform for a debate where most of the speakers lambasted the government for allowing corruption and bad governance to play havoc with human lives.
“The book’s title reflects the condition of the whole province,” said Palijo. He ridiculed the chief minister for his remarks about dais [traditional birth attendants], with whose help the babies are delivered in the area. “How many of the Pakistan Peoples Party’s leaders were born in the hands of gynaecologists?” he asked, reprimanding the CM for trying to cover the government’s failure of responding to the famine by blaming dais.
Dr Arfana Mallah said that the appointment of only 181 government doctors for a population of 1.5 million Tharis was reflective of the Sindh government’s negligent attitude. She complained that the voices criticising the PPP’s government were always termed as a conspiracy against democracy. “After having been in the government for six to seven years, the PPP should now come out of this conspiracy syndrome and start taking the problems seriously.”
Meanwhile, both the ruling party’s stalwarts, Khuhro and Chandio, tried their best to shift the blame on people and past governments as well as the armed forces, which they claimed prevented development till 1993. “What we see in Tharparkar and other parts of the province depicts irresponsibility on the part of all Sindhi people, including doctors, engineers, politicians or bureaucrats,” said Khuhro. He lamented that Sindhis had not yet emancipated themselves completely from cultural evils.
Dr Khangarani pointed out that Halepoto’s book lacked content on the economic migration of Tharis. “Livelihood of Thari people is dependent on rain. They migrate to find work in other parts of Sindh whenever there is low rainfall.”
He said that the meteorological record of the last 100 years showed seven years of low rainfall in each decade. According to him, barter trade remained the mode of business until the 1970s. “While some Tharis changed their primary modes of sustenance, the majority remained heedless and detached.”
He feared that the said instance would repeat itself if the local people were not educated and trained to avail benefits from the coal-led development of Tharparkar.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 8th, 2014.