Published in Dawn on February 8 2015
“How many crooked, out-of-the-way, narrow, impassable, and devious paths has humanity chosen…” — Nikolai Gogol (Dead Souls)
While Karachi remains sunk in its turbulence and political convolutions, the rural citizenry of Sindh has its own woeful tales to tell. They are hidden from urbanites, different in contours but similar in theme — extortion, abuse of political power, violations of laws and procedures. What makes these stories different is the undercurrent of rebellion and a quest for the straight path instead of succumbing to the crooked and devious.
Rebellion against the injustice and cruelty of landlords is not new for peasants and agricultural labour. The Sindh Hari Committee, founded in 1930, spearheaded the peasants’ struggle, led by Hyder Buksh Jatoi from 1946 onward, culminating in the Sindh Tenancy Act 1950, a watered-down version of the draft law that he wrote. With the balance of power heavily tilted against the hari, the law was hardly implemented.
News of exploitation, debt bondage and private jails began to appear in the media from 1980s onward. Half-hearted amendments in the act in 2002 pushed the activists for a sustained campaign initiated in 2007. The draft amendments were put together in 2009 through a consultative process. Parliament rejected all amendments in 2010. The Sindh government passed the Sindh Tenancy (Amendment) Act 2013 but the law still has many gaps: the feudal-dominated provincial assembly succeeded again in killing the spirit of the amendments.
Along with the haris’ struggles, the landlords’ abuse of tenants is on the rise. Since 2007, an increasing number of cases of evictions, non-payment of batai (shares), violence against and murder of tenants have been reported from different Sindh districts. The tenants, assisted by activists, approach the judiciary and relevant government departments to register their complaints. District Sanghar stands out for both the brutality of its landlords and the tenants’ refusal to take it lying down.
One significant case from rural Sanghar is that of Issa Khaskheli Goth. When evicted forcibly by the landlord, the tenants sat for weeks in front of Karachi Press Club till civil society intervened and facilitated them in accessing the land deeds of their abodes.
A recent case to emerge is of Ghulam Ali Leghari, a tenant-activist, tilling 10 acres of a prominent landlord’s land spread over 70 acres. Ghulam Ali filed a petition in December 2013 against the landlord for settlement of long standing dues in the Tenancy Tribunal Sinjhoro. In September 2014, a tribunal gave a decision restraining the landlord from evicting the tenant and instructing him to settle dues.
The landlord stopped cultivating the land. The tenant and his family stayed put in the thatched abode they had built 32 years ago. Earlier last month, the landlord’s guards allegedly attacked the tenant’s house, hurled abuses, ordering him to leave or face dire consequences. The station house officer refused to register an FIR. On Jan 26, reportedly 45 armed men attacked the tenant’s compound, evicted all the members, confiscated his meagre assets, documents and livestock and set ablaze the houses. Ghulam Ali has approached civil society organisations to facilitate him in accessing justice.
Under the Tenancy Act, the landlord cannot evict the tenant forcibly. He is legally bound to settle dues of the tenants and follow the rules given in the Tenancy Act to get his land vacated. But the landlords flout all laws, remain unaccountable and revert to hiring other batches of tenants under similarly exploitative terms and conditions, due to an endless supply of landless, poor peasants, while the evicted tenants end up toiling for other landlords and thus exploitation is perpetuated.
In rare cases when an FIR against the landlord is registered, it is still next to impossible for haris to get justice due to the influence of the landlords with the district administration and judiciary.
According to a human rights activist working in Sanghar, all 23 districts of Sindh have been distributed (in terms of political power and administrative control) by the PPP leadership among various landlords who are sitting or former MPAs and MNAs.
In each district, key postings and lower-tier recruitment to the land revenue and district management offices, government departments, judiciary and police stations are done at the behest of the favoured zamindar through devious, crooked ways. If by default an officer does not listen to the wadera, he is transferred. In Sanghar district, I was told, 15 assistant commissioners have been transferred since 2013 till today.
Extremely skewed landholdings in Sindh, very low human development indicators, economic deprivation and strong resistance to land reforms make you wonder what PPP has done and is doing to its own people.
To view the article on Dawn’s website, click here: http://www.dawn.com/news/1162190/tenants-in-sindh