Pakistani Dalits: Children of a lesser God
By Muhammad Akbar Notezai
In South Asia, Dalits are considered to be a lower caste; they have been facing discrimination and violence in South Asia, particularly in India, for a long time. In mainstream Indian newspapers, human rights abuses against the Dalits frequently take place at the hands of the upper caste Hindus. Despite constituting 16 percent of India’s total population, they (the Dalits) are oppressed culturally, politically and economically in the South Asian country. This is why they are immensely impoverished, illiterate and uneducated to this day. Moreover, in order to escape persecution and discrimination, many Dalits converted from Hinduism. Despite converting, persecution and discrimination against them did not end. After converting, their old co-religionists treated them as second grade citizens, too.
Before the partition of the Subcontinent, it is said that Dalits did not support the INC (Indian National Congress), because it was dominated by upper caste Hindus. One of them was Jogendra Nath Mandal. He himself was a Bengali politician; he also belonged to this class of so-called “untouchable Hindus”. Being a critic of the Indian National Congress, he was inclined towards Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s Muslim League. After the partition, he agreed to serve as Pakistan’s first minister for law and labor.
Unfortunately, Mr Mandal was oblivious of the fact that the caste system was/is not only deeply entrenched in India but also in Pakistan. If Dalits are being traditionally regarded as “untouchable” in India, then in Pakistan, due to their status of being “non-Muslims” as well as of a “lower caste”, they have been facing discrimination and persecution, too. This is why he (Mr. Mandal) was shunned by his own cabinet colleagues after the demise of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, massacring the face of Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s secular Pakistan.
Subsequently, in 1950, he fled to Calcutta, India. After fleeing to Calcutta, in his letter of resignation to the-then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Liaquat Ali Khan, he mentioned the deliberate policy of discrimination against the minorities.
Moreover, in recent years, Bhuro Bheel, who belonged to the Dalit caste and was killed in a traffic accident, was buried in one of central Sindh’s places called Pangrio. (Remember, the Dalits have a long tradition of burying their dead ones). On the very next day, a mob dug out the body and desecrated it. Dalits are not even spared after their deaths, in Pakistan.
In Pakistan, beside other places, Dalits are abundantly populated in Thar district of Sindh. At the time of partition, 80 percent of the Thar population constituted of Hindus (mostly Dalits) and 20 percent was of Muslims. But their number decreased due to India-Pakistan wars, which were fought in 1965 and 1971. The reason: Thar is situated on India and Pakistan’s border, which compelled them to leave the district.
Even so, they continue to live under the worst circumstances. For example, they are victims of a drought over there, which has caused famine and diseases. Hundreds of children have died due to severe malnutrition, pneumonia, diarrhea and other diseases. According to a report published in a national daily, 311 children under five years of ages have died between December, 2013 and November, 2014. But, according to local sources, the number was higher than the abovementioned report. Though the government officials have claimed to have the issue tackled to a greater extent, the children have been dying in 2015, too. Even today we come across news of deaths in Thar.
It is interesting to note that Thar is one of Pakistan’s largest districts, which is scattered over 21, 000 square kilometers along the Indian border. On the other side of the border is the Indian desert state of Rajasthan. In Thar, villages are scattered, and its communities are also caught up in numerous economic woes. In its rural areas, the people are more agonized. That is why in those rural areas of Thar, to which journalists and reporters do not have access, the death toll of children is also increasingly on the rise over there.
Furthermore, the residents of Thar depend upon livestock – goats, sheep, camels, buffaloes and cows – to earn themselves a living. But, unfortunately, livestock is also adversely affected, and animals have also been dying due to famine. This has also compelled the people of Thar to leave their ancestral places and to settle somewhere else.
In recent times, despite attracting unprecedented attention of the government authorities and media personnel, the manifold issues of the Dalit in Thar are still on the rise. As mentioned above, the children of hapless Dalits in Thar are left in the lurch. They have been dying due to various diseases. Other than the governmental authorities, the NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) received millions of funds in the name of Thar. Yet, they have failed to take any substantial steps to resolve the woes of the people living in Thar. Instead, they embezzled the funds. This is why the people of Thar have been suffering, and mothers have been losing their children.
To cut the long story short, Dalits are caught in no man’s land. They, in the South Asian region, have increasingly been facing injustice, discrimination and violence. Also, they are the worst victims of sexual abuse, abduction and forced conversions, particularly in Sindh. Due to their low status, they are plagued by a plethora of problems at the hands of not only the upper caste Hindus but also the Muslims, who are either silent against the atrocities of Dalits or are themselves involved in these in human crimes. In these circumstances, they are moving from pillar to post to find safe places for themselves and their children.
(The Nation: July 04, 2015)