Civil Society in Thar under attack

By Gulsher Panhwer
HRCP was alarmed and took notice of the threats to local NGO in Tharparkar, reportedly made by men of a minister told media on February 12,2015.
About 12 men stormed our office, and issued harsh threats to close the office within 24 hours otherwise your office would be ransacked and set on fire’, this was shared Jan Muhamad Samoo the manager of the local organization office at Chachro with this writer next day of the attack. The gang of bullies was lead by Mumtaz rahmoo, the cousin of Sindh provincial minister, Dost Muhammad Rahomoo who got enraged after knowing that the issue of land grabbing involving local leaders of ruling party was highlighted on February 5, 2015 at the forum called Voice of people. It’s very unfortunate that some “elected representatives” have let loose their men to harass the civil society in Thar for raising their voice against official highhandedness. Thar with the population of nearly 2 million is suffering poverty, drought, food insecurity and other pressing basic issue. Hundreds of children died due to malnutrition. Majority of the people don’t have access to clean drinking water.
Thar is unique from rest of the country and Sindh province; despite being most backward and abject poverty infected District, outsider visitor would be surprised to see hardly any beggar in the towns of the Tharparkar. More surprisingly, crime rate is nearly zero. Most of homes in villages are without compound walls are any protective barriers. The cattle in big herds is wandering day and night without its owner or keeper. Despite extreme want, majority of the people would not share their miseries even with their immediate neighbor as this would injure and comprise their self esteem. This is why the officialdom as well elected representatives don’t face any complains and protests from the stoic people of Thar. And allegedly plunder of natural resources is going on without any resistance or complain by people.
Media has no access to most of the fearful area, local media reports are hardly taken seriously by powers that or unless picked up by mainstream national media, as happened in the case of deaths of children in Thar.
There are score of NGOs, big and small but majority of theme due to expediency did not want to raise voice against government related blunders because they don’t want to risk their project being wounded up. Or most of the project of the NGOs requires government coordination and even collaboration. Therefore such NGOs remain mum on the suffering of the Thari people due to government’s negligence.
In such circumstance sincerer and bold leadership of NGO stood up and resolved to continue their voice because its present ED is a Thari who had himself suffer thirst and faced other hardships as majority of Thari face . ‘When decaying governance started to impact all field of life and majority of the journalists in Chachro, due to harassment and other reason could not report about the miseries of the Thari people who with grievances rushed to press but either journalist belonging to leading media groups were not available in Chachro, The taluka headquarter of Tharparkar, enunciated Ali Akbar Rahmoo on phone to this scribe on the day when his office was stormed. ‘Thus real issues of the Thar and Thari were not addressed. people felt frustrated and lost their lost hope i.e. the media. Association for Water, Applied Education and Renewable Energy local NGO based at Chachro was observing the situation with bated breath and it was decided that an alternative forum must be put in place to give voice to the voiceless. Explained Mr Rahmoo
This the dream of the NGO team was realized by selecting a space in front of the press club and first voice of the people forum was started there. Only 5 persons sat in open sky to protest overall problems of Taluka Chachro. To make the forum free from any tag of any NGO or avoid controversy, the forum voice of people and requested the citizen of Chachro to run the proceeding of the forum themselves. From first “voice of people” held on 05, 2014 till to date the 14 main collective issue were highlighted including drought, education, health encroachments. Resultantly after the highlighting of the two encroachment in peoples voice forum (one by men of local MPA on a private land and other involving a historical cemetery of Hindu minority in Chachro) were got vacated by active citizens. Apart from rising collective issues of Thar, the forum also provided access to the individuals belonging to far-flung areas of Thar to come and raise their individual issues. During one people of voice forum issue of 62 schools in one small village were identified and got solved. Gradually the forum was proving very effective in bridging gap between government functionaries and people of Tharparkar having their abodes in very remote parts don’t have access to mainstream media. And issue of polio vaccination, animal vaccination such other issues started to be dealt with some efficiency. But at the same time the local leaders of ruling party saw this forum as a threat to their misdeeds and inefficiency. Instead of improving their performance and take advantage from this forum to address the grievances of Thari marora they opted to use threats.
Local NGO facilitating common people of Chachro to get organized and convey their problems to the concerned quarters and stand against the very grave issue like exclusion, crime, illiteracy, unemployment, tribal conflicts, lack of potable water, poor transportation etc.
According to an earlier media report people objected and protested against the callousness of the elected representatives that while children are dying and the rulers are engaged in celebrations. Government is responsible for protecting the Human Rights Defenders but irony is that stooges of the minister are threatening the HRD organization. Although there has been widespread protest by civil society in Thar and other parts of the Sindh provinces against the threats from the men of the minister but there is need to widen the scope of the protest. The vulnerable HRD organization should also be provided security. And the protest in Sindh still continues. But neither protest of civil society the sindh nor HRCPs notice in strong words, the Sindh government seems unmoved. As suggested by HRCP Government should immediately held a probe, provided security to the vulnerable staff of NGOs. If government preferred to show its inference and lethargy, the perpetrators might get more emboldened and they may expand their threatening spree to more NGOs. This might prove discourage to the rest of NGO and donors who are playing key role in working for the amelioration of the problems of Thari people.