The very mention of Tharparkar conjures up images of abject poverty, hunger and malnourishment. This desert district in Sindh might be the most impoverished in Pakistan, but at the same time it’s perhaps the most peaceful place in the entire country. Tharis keep their doors unlocked. Their only wealth, their cattle are seen grazing in the fields without herdsmen. There are hardly any police pickets and no concept of police patrolling.
“In Tharparkar district, the crime rate is 2%. Out of a hundred cases in judicial, civil and sessions courts, only two criminal cases of robbery have been pending for the last five years,” says Pir Mudasir Sarhandi, the public prosecutor at the sessions court Mithi.
About the remaining cases, Sarhandi says most of them are civil lawsuits involving petty land disputes and matrimonial feuds. “In my eight years in this service, only one person was kidnapped for ransom in the district. And all the suspects involved were from upper Sindh, not Thar,” he adds.
Thar, which has been plagued by a drought for a second consecutive year, has a population of 1.5 million in six Talukas, namely Chachro, Mithi, Diplo, Islamkot, Nagarparkar and Dahili. Abject poverty is writ large on the withered and famished faces of the people of Tharparkar where famine has claimed over 500 lives – mostly of children.
Generally, it’s believed that poverty and unemployment breed crimes – but Tharis have seemingly debunked this theory. “Crime cannot be linked to unemployment or poverty, but social disintegration. When the traditional social support system lapses, it creates problems,” says Muhammad Siddique Dal, an anthropologist who runs an English-medium school in Mithi.
“Hindus and Muslims are socially and culturally connected with each other in Thar, which is why peace and tolerance exist among the Tharis and this discourages the crime,” he adds.
Unlike elsewhere in Pakistan, Tharis have not penchant for weapons. “After the 1971 war, I bought a rifle, which is now rusting because we use it only for celebratory firing at wedding ceremonies,” says schoolteacher Allah Bux Rahimoo. “In a population of 50,000, hardly few people own guns, but I’ve not seen anyone displaying it,” Rahimoo adds. “Recently, an arms shop opened in our town, but there is no trend of purchasing weapons.”
Of late there have been some cases of theft – but these were attributed to ‘outsiders’ who have started pouring into Tharparkar after the development of road infrastructure.
“I had lost my cow in 2012. A couple of months ago, I suddenly heard someone shouting outside my house. As I came out, to my surprise an elderly man and his grandson were standing outside with my missing cow,” says Rasool Bux Arisar, a resident of Bhodesar. “The old man traced me because of the traditional mark of our surname on the back of the cow,” Arisar says, adding that the elderly man candidly demanded Rs500 he had spent looking after the cow.
SSP Ashiq Bozdar, who assumed his charge two months ago, says that there are six police stations in Tharparkar district, but not a single robbery or kidnapping case has been reported so far in his tenure. “I’ve looked into the last one year’s criminal records. Five women have lost their lives by jumping into wells with their minor children. These suicides were attributed to poverty,” he says. “In my 20 years in police service, I’ve never seen such a peaceful area in Pakistan.”
In 2001, the then judges of the Sindh High Court (SHC), Justice Sabihuddin Ahmed and Justice Zahid Kurban Alavi, had started a survey of lower courts in the province in order to inquire if justice was being provided to people at their doorsteps. Recalling the survey report, Alavi says, “There were only four pending cases before the sessions court Mithi as compared to 8,000 cases in Larkana. The judges used to sit idle in their courts in Mithi.”
Published in The Express Tribune, December 21st, 2014.