"Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people."
- Universal Declaration of Human Rights
To paraphrase Nehru, on midnight of 14 August 1947, while South Asia was having a "tryst with history," Sindh was engulfed into the deep darkness of internal colonialism, pillage and loss of identity, land and resources. In 1947, the British "handed over" Sindh to the "Brown Sahibs", that is to the Muslim League and rulers of a new country - Pakistan. The dark clouds of "internal colonialism" descended in earnest and Sindhi people's right to self-determination was squashed under the heavy boots of Pakistan's fascistic military and its "partners" - the British-trained bureaucracy (almost exclusively non-Sindhi), rising capitalist class, and feudal lords. The Sindhi language which was the "first language" of over 90 percent people living in Sindh before 1947, was taught in schools and had an extremely rich literary tradition. By 1950, teaching of Sindhi language was deemed a crime; by 1952, several Sindhi writers and intellectuals were thrown behind bars; by 1954, Sindh even lost its provincial status and was amalgamated with the other West Pakistani provinces. So much for freedom. The make-shift "barbed-wire" prisons created by the British during the first three decades of the 20th Century were "dismantled" 11 years after the so-called liberation of Pakistan in 1958.
In July 1970, Sindh regained its provincial status but by this time the damage was done. A majority of refugees who migrated from Muslim minority provinces in India to Pakistan were settled in Sindh. Although an exchange of population took place in Punjab and Bengal as well, these entities experienced the least linguistic or cultural damage. Essentially Punjabi-speaking Sikhs were replaced by Punjabi-speaking Muslims in Punjab and Bengali-speaking Hindus were replaced by Bengali-speaking Muslim in Bengal. In Sindh, Sindhi intellectuals and literati, who happened to profess a unique brand of Hinduism(3) were replaced by Urdu-speaking Muslims. These refugees were neither spiritually, culturally nor linguistically compatible with Sindhis. But they were allied to the ruling parties and formed the core of the military-bureaucratic oligarchy that came to rule Pakistan.
In the recent years, hundreds of Sindhis have been brutally killed by the fascistic gangs of Urdu-speaking fundamentalist Muslims whose activities are somehow unnoticed by the successive Pakistani governments - military or civilian. Currently, although prime minister of Pakistan is a Sindhi woman - Ms. Benazir Bhutto. She has demonstrated very little understanding of the dreams, desires and aspirations of the Sindh people. Ms. Bhutto has also proven to be an outright opportunist who would much rather curry favours from John Majors or Bill Clintons then to worry about people of Sindh or other dispossessed Pakistanis.
General Yahya Khan's military rule was short but saw the birth of Bangladesh after the attempted genocide of Bengali people by the hands of the Pakistani military. His period also provided an opportunity to Mr. Bhutto to build a strong relationship between the PPP and the Pakistani military.
General ZiaulHaque's period coincided with serious global changes. The United States came to be ruled by the ultra-right wing Republican President Reagan; a fundamentalist religious group came into power in neighbouring Iran; and, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. General Zia established a fascistic state. The 1972 Constitution was put "in abeyance', all civil liberties were "suspended", academic freedoms were dismantled, and Islamic Shari'a law became the cornerstone of the Pakistani judicial system.
During this period, Pakistan had no constitution. A Governor General and then a series of prime ministers ruled this new country and presided over a Constituent Assembly whose mandate came from the elections held in 1945 under the British rule. A large number of the members of the Constituent Assembly were elected in the areas outside of the newly created country - Pakistan. The military influence on Pakistani politics became evident from early 1951 when the then "General Officer Commander" of Pakistani army Ayub Khan travelled to Washington and signed a bilateral agreement with the United States. Neither his trip to Washington nor an agreement were "pre-approved" by the Prime Minister. The agreement nevertheless was ratified by the Prime Minister. Soon after, Pakistan became a fully fledged member of the Western "collective security" arrangement of SEATO and CENTO.
The government move towards silencing all voices of dissent during 1950's had an eerie resemblance to McCarthyism in the United States. In their quest to silence all voices of opposition, the Muslim league rulers and their "sponsors", banned the Community Party in 1952, promulgated One Unit Ordinance whereby four West Pakistani provinces were amalgamated. During this time, military expenditure constituted over 50 percent of Pakistan's entire federal budget.
Two prime ministers have governed during this period: The Late Mr. Bhutto's daughter Benazir Bhutto leading PPP government and Mr. Nawaz Shareef leading a Muslim League government. Although following a different ideological perspective, both of these prime ministers have shown a remarkable uniformity of "vision" and have tried to "outshine" one another when it comes to quelling public protests, opening up Pakistan to the pillage of the multi-national corporations, limiting civil liberties, appeasing Pakistani military, or denying Sindhi people the right to self-determination. They also have shown a tremendous capacity to allow violence against Sindhi people and have constantly appeased MQM.
The political philosophy, economic goals and social values of Sindhi people are guided by our unique historical, cultural and linguistic experience. We are different within a vast sea of different nations and peoples of the South Asian Sub-Continent. We respect other people's difference and are seeking such recognition for ourselves. We have no desire to impose our language, culture, spiritual beliefs, socio-political values or economic agenda on any other nation, we only aim to be allowed to thrive and develop within Sindh without any threat to our national existence, sovereignty or human rights.
Human rights are not crumbs that ruling classes or entities throw at people to keep them at bay. Recognition of human rights is the fundamental acknowledgement of the existence of an individual or of a collective. As a Sindhi intellectual I am seeking acknowledgement of Sindhi people's collective right to self-determination and their individual right to survival, safety, as well as to cultural, spiritual, political, economic, social and legal freedoms. We want to build a Sindhi society where everyone will have the right to life, liberty and security. Where we will have open and accountable political and economic institutions. The role of the government in Sindh will be to ensure that human rights, as enshrined in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, of every citizen are respected. We would like to build a Sindh where children are recognised as persons and their rights enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child are respected. Our Sindh will provide equal opportunity to all citizens regardless of their gender, age, sexual orientation, religious belief, political ideology, or caste. A society with fair and equitable taxation system and employment rights for all citizens. A society free of fundamentalist and bigoted versions of Islam. A society where Sindhis can dispense education in the Sindhi language and sing verses by Sachal Sarmast or Shaikh Ayaz without fearing imprisonment.
Sindh wants to emerge as a global partner in peace. We need help from all freedom-loving people all over the world. Sindh is screaming for help. Sindhis are begging to be noticed.
- (1) The author is a veteran activist for human rights. His activism earned him several months imprisonment under the various Pakistani regimes when he was living in the Occupied Sindh. He has published several essays, articles and short stories. He is currently working as Executive Director of Ktunaxa/Kinbasket Child and Family Service Society. This agency is owned by the Ktunaxa and Kinbasket people of an Aboriginal Nation in British Columbia, Canada. The views expressed herein are of the author alone and do not reflect the views of his employers.
- (2) The Muhajir Quoumi Mahaz or "Mohajir National Front" is a terrorist organisation consisting of fundamentalist Muslim and economically conservative Urdu-speaking elites. The word "Mohajir" means refugee, referring to the fact that these Urdu-speaking elites immigrated to Sindh from Muslim-minority provinces of India in 1947.
- (3) Sindhi Hindus follow mystic or Sufi thought of Guru Nanak and hold "Granth Sahib" as one of their most revered scriptures. Hindus in the rest of India follow Upanishadic teachings, Bhagawad Gita and other Hindu texts. Granth Sahib is the Sikh text.
- (4) The Ahmadiya people are an Islamic sect. They are mainly concentrated in Punjab. The fundamentalist Muslims do not recognise Ahmadiyas as Muslims. Ahmadiya people have always maintained that they are Muslims.
- (5) The Shari'a laws are at the heart of the Islamic jurisprudence. The sources of these laws are the Qura'an, the commandments and practices of Prophet Mohammed (Hadith) and the works of the four "righteous jurists".
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