Oct 12, 2011

Sindh: Marginalized Groups Refuse To Accept Disenfranchisement

The 23rd International Conference on Sindh gathered scholars and activists to discuss religious extremism in Pakistan and its effects on the local population.  One of the twelve resolutions passed by conference participants demanded that adequate aid be given to victims of the region’s recent flood.

Below is a press released issued by the World Sindhi Congress:

Sindhi people are facing unprecedented challenges to their survival and continued existence. Combined, the last two years of mega-floods, continued discriminatory policies of Pakistan, rising fascism of MQM, one of the ruling parties in Sindh, have created the extreme political, economic and social disenfranchisement and marginalization among all sectors of the Sindhi Nation. The international community must pay its due attention towards the plights of Sindhi people in Pakistan. This was the consensus view at the 23rd International Conference on Sindh, organized by the World Sindhi Congress (WSC), a human rights advocacy group, held in London on 8th of October 2011.

Several distinguished scholars and activists from Sindh, EU, USA and the UK gathered to present speeches on the theme of ‘Rising Religious Extremism in Pakistan - Implications for International Peace and Role of Sindhi People.’

“[The] International community should address the demands of Sindhis and support their peaceful message of secular values, traditions and culture. This is the effective way to defeat fundamentalism and terrorism compared to the militaristic approach adapted to date,” said Dr, Hidayat Bhutto, Chairman of the WSC. He further emphasised that “Pakistan must be held accountable by the international community if the aim is to achieve world peace, since Pakistan has been constantly engaged in war mongering with its neighbours and systematic suppression of its own peoples. Dr Bhutto pleaded to the International community to recognize the right to self-determination of the oppressed nations of Pakistan.

Dr Safdar Sarki, President of Jeay Sindh Tahreek, who travelled from Sindh and was invited as a key note speaker, said that the recent floods have made our people extremely vulnerable in the hands of establishment. He sees that time has come for a united struggle against all the injustices being committed against Sindhis. “Pakistan’s parliamentary system is the complete hostage of military establishment and officially recognizes the hegemony of Punjab and is inherently limited in securing rights for Sindhis,” said Dr. Sarki.

Mr Abrar Kazi, another key note speaker from Sindh and the leader of Awami Jahmoori (People’ Democratic) Party highlighted the Sufi and secular heritage of South Asia. The current fundamentalism in Pakistan was born during General Zia Haq’s regime in 80’s and was deliberately nurtured to counter the progressive self-determination movements of oppressed peoples in Pakistan. He underscored the need for unity among various groups of Sindhis and the need for high moral leadership of in Sindhi nationalist movements.

Dr. Naseer Dashti, a Baloch intellectual and journalist based in the UK, read a paper on the history of the rise of militant fundamentalism in Pakistan. He demanded that the rights to self-determination of Sindhi and Baloch nations are pivotal and would serve as an antidote to fundamentalism.

Professor Fateh Mohammad Burfat, a renowned sociologist, talked about how Sindhis have been systematically discriminated against in their own capital, Karachi. He mentioned that in 1948 more than 1300 Sindhi medium schools were closed. He reiterated that Sindhis have to make advances in education for social change and development.

Dr Rubina Greenwood, the Vice Chair of the WSC said discriminatory treatment of Sindhis by the ‘so-called’ democratic government of Pakistan during, and after, the recent flooding in Sindh demonstrates that things can never change unless or until Sindhis have the right to decide their own destiny. Dr Greenwood said that change cannot be achieved without a number of concentrated efforts at a grass root level for mass mobilization and alliance building. “We need to work together to develop a ‘Road Map for a Sovereign Sindh’ supported by a strategic action plan on which all parties/ groups will work together in alliance without compromising their individual organisational identities,” said Dr Greenwood.

Ms. Ingrid Stellmacher, President and CEO of Le Menach Foundation spoke on the need for empowerment and entrepreneurship of small and medium enterprises which will help to counteract the religious fundamentalism in the region. She also spoke on the importance of popular media in raising awareness and aiding in the resolution of conflicts.

Dr. Sarwar Shah, a research scholar based in UK presented a data-oriented multi-media presentation on the changing demographics in Sindh and gerrymandering which indicated systematic efforts by Pakistan to make Sindhis a minority in their own homeland. Violence in Karachi, Dr. Shah claimed, is one such systematic effort to expel Sindhis from the urban centres of Sindh.

Mr Nobit Marri read a speech from Mr Harbiyar Marri.  Marri’s speech reiterated that for Baloch and Sindhi nations there is only one way for peace and dignity and it is freedom from the yoke of Pakistan.

Other conference speakers included Shahzado Wadhio, General Secretary Sindhi Sangat UK,   Mr. Tayab Memon, General Secretary Sindh Doctors Association, Mr Aslam Baloch General Secretary Sindh democratic Forum, Suraiya Makhdoom of WSC, and Sultan Mahar, also of WSC. Dr Lakhu Luhana, the General Secretary of the WSC, moderated the speech session and the Q & A session.

A dedicated session was organized on the ‘Floods and Rehabilitation in Sindh,’ Mr Sadiq Bhambro of WSC informed the audience on the disaster of floods in Sindh in 2010 and 2011. He said that infrastructure in 21 of the 23 districts in Sindh have been destroyed. Close to 10 million people have been displaced and more than 5 million are living in the open air. Mr Sanjay Ahuja of WSC presented the account of the especially vulnerable situation of indigenous tribes such as Meghwar, Bheels, Kohlis, mostly considered Hindus, who are facing discrimination in relief and rehabilitation. Mr Ahuja referenced a few stories in international media such as BBC and asked the Sindhi diaspora to come forward.

Mr Gul Sanai of WSC and Sindhi Sangat UK, presented the summary of the joint fund raising efforts of Sindhi Doctors Association, World Sindhi Congress, and Sindhi Sangat UK. Conference participants also donated for the flood relief efforts in Sindh.

Conference Chair Mr Umed Laghari, highlighted that the event was  instrumental in addressing challenges faced by the region and has made a significant case for the international community to support the demands of  Sindh’s right to self-determination. He thanked conference delegates for their generous donations to the flood relief work in Sindh.

The conference was concluded with a Sindhi Soul Music Concert by Ms. Laja Bhatia of New Delhi India and other local artists.

The conference passed 12 resolutions concerning situations in Sindh and Pakistan.  It demanded that adequate resources and funds to be allocated to the flood victims in Sindh; the international donation shall go directly to people and strict measures be in placed to make sure it does not reach the pockets of Military and Government officials.

The Conference resolved that the Sindh government adopt a system of local government which is acceptable to all the people and not one based on redistricting and bullying by MQM.

The Pakistani government should immediately declare the whereabouts of missing people and release thousands of detained political and human rights activists of Sindh and Balochistan. Pakistan should stop the continued policies of extra judicial killing of Sindhi and Baloch political leaders and workers. In particular it demanded the whereabouts of Sindhi leaders last year, Mr. Qurban Kuhawar, Rooplo Cholyani and Noor Ullah Tunio of JSMM and Haji Ghani and Abu Bakar of Pakistan Fishermen Folks Forum, who were killed last year and earlier this year allegedly by Pakistani agencies.

The conference also resolved that religious minorities are subjected to brutal atrocities all over Pakistan, especially against Christians and Ahmadis in Punjab, Hindus in Sindh and it condemned the cold blooded murder of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian leader, in last one year.

Conference delegates pleaded to the USA and EU that international aid to Pakistan should be made conditional to the restoration of the human rights and to equitable distribution of resources to all provinces of Pakistan.

The conference delegates also called upon Pakistan government to slash its defence budget, including the expenditure on nuclear arms and allocate more funds for flood relief and rehabilitation, education, health and other public services.