The stories that we read and hear about the Indus delta, generally known as Kacha in the Seraiki region and upper Sindh, are stories of crime. These areas get brief attention when ‘encounters’ between the police and robbers occur, or when the police launch operations to ‘clean up’ the region. Having walked through and travelled extensively in this region for about half a century, I find, regrettably, the stories to be half-truths and one-sided. There is some inconvenient truth about the region that needs to be told and simply, it is in three words: injustice, neglect and inequality.
True, there are gangs of dacoits who have presence here and might be involved in crimes. The question is: why is this the case? It is unfair to talk only about the robbers — who are not good enough to hide their crimes and commit them in the open — and ignore the very respectable power holders of the past and present who have plundered the country beyond imagination. We are too weak to talk against the extortion mafias in the big cities, the land grabbers and the very corrupt elite that have continuously pushed up the ranking of Pakistan among the most corrupt countries in the world. The point is that as long as they continue to dominate our politics and power system from the local to the national level as they do, injustice in society will continue to produce gangs around the Indus and up to the mountains of Balochistan.
Take justice as a broader term — giving people their due rights, privileges and facilities as citizens. The most basic need and very important to their existence as a civilised people is education. Everything else tails this basic public function of the state which is meant to give every child an opportunity to make the best of his or her talent. The populations in the Kacha areas are one of the most neglected ones in Pakistan. Very little has changed in their lives. Basic facilities like roads, schools and basic healthcare centres either do not exist or are just ‘ghosts’. One may spot some of these generally empty structures serving as guesthouses for locally influential persons. There is no evidence of even sporadic action against ‘ghost’ teachers and their bosses in the district education offices. They are the real dacoits, along with their political bosses, who extend patronage to them.
I wish to quote from one of my stories I wrote three years back, “The dacoit’s dream”. A social mobiliser from Lahore had the task of travelling to the delta, talking to people and setting up a school. On one of his first trips, one of the notorious dacoits of the Ghotki area stopped him on his way. A fearless and devoted person to the educational cause, he was not deterred by the presence of the dacoit or dissuaded by the fear of being kidnapped while in the proverbial hornets’ nest. In that moment, his only thoughts were whether this was the end of his mission and maybe his life.
“The dacoit asked him questions about what he was doing in his domain — the Kacha areas. When he learnt about a school being conceived in the nearby locality, he began to beg the mobiliser for a school for his community. In a beseeching tone, he said he wanted his son to go to school, to be educated and to never follow in his footsteps. The dacoit received the promise of a school and a facility was built for his community and many surrounding communities to share. Education and development are the keys, and not just ‘encounters’. And so, what about the big robbers?”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 13th, 2015.
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