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Pakistan: Sindh under assault of obscurantism

by Naseer Memon, 5 January 2013

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The Express Tribune (Pakistan), January 2nd, 2013

The day that Sindh celebrated Sindhi Culture Day — an icon of peace and humanity — a manic mob brutally trampling mores of Sindhi society lynched an accused blasphemer after dragging him out from police custody in Seeta village of Dadu district in Sindh. The audacious crime went unhindered either by any state institution or by any sane citizen. The first of its kind in Sindh’s recent history, this incident has traumatised the predominantly liberal and progressive ranks in rural Sindh. Only recently, the province witnessed the exodus of a large number of Hindu families after they were incessantly intimidated and targeted by extortionists and obscurantist elements. Customary attitudes of denial by government institutions prevailed. Even so-called progressive stalwarts of the ruling PPP from Sindh were obstinate that no migration took place due to any systematic persecution of Hindus.

Recently, half a dozen polio immunisation workers were targeted by extremists within two days. Consequently, Unicef and the WHO suspended immunisation campaigns in the province. According to reports, this has deprived some 1.75 million children in the province of the vaccination, thus making them vulnerable to the crippling disease. A province with governance on a nosedive proffers endless opportunities to lawbreakers, including faith-motivated extremist elements. Sporadic incidents of religious prejudice were also witnessed during relief operations in the wake of recent floods. In some of the relief camps organised by religious parties, supplies to non-Muslims were denied. Although it was not a widespread trend, it was not too subtle, either. The collapse of the law and order apparatus, ubiquitous corruption and the indifferent attitude of the government towards merit and effectiveness of service delivery has left outlaws at full liberty to operate brazenly. Kidnapping, extortion, ransom, street crimes and murders are virtually condoned as the provincial government is seized with other priorities and often busy in appeasing a disgruntled coalition.

Certain districts of northern Sindh bordering Punjab and Balochistan are traditional safe havens for criminal gangs. The same triangle is now becoming a hub of fast sprawling seminaries. In fact, a middle class-led nationalist and cultural movement had been a bulwark against religiosity. The seamless shield protected Sindhi society even in the days of the Ziaul Haq regime. The PPP itself had been a liberal and secular party that dominated the political vista in the provinces for decades. As the party failed to deliver and lost its mettle to govern the province effectively, people’s trust in political institutions is shaken. The grip of the state in every sphere has weakened and the rural areas are virtually rudderless, with power and wealth dominating the course of everyday life. The state vacuum is now being occupied by an accretion of religiosity. In recent years, the secular values of Sindhi society have started morphing into religious sentiments. A stream of recent incidents also testifies to this, yet the mob-lynching was far from imagination in rural areas of Sindh. The pathological trend may manifest in more brutal acts if not forestalled immediately. The sneaking of extremist elements and weapons from other parts of the country is no more a secret. Seeta village is a grim reminder of the fact that egregious faith-based violence is not just an insinuation and can easily proliferate to other parts of the province as well. Reluctantly, one has to admit that Sindh is under assault of religiosity that may intensify further if left unbridled by the government, civil society and political parties.

The writer Naseer Memon is Chief Executive of the Strengthening Participatory Organisation

P.S.

The above article from The Express Tribune is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use