A DECADE earlier the human rights situation in Sindh used to be extremely grim: the police after arresting the accused would often, on trumped-up charges, tie them in chains and hanged them upside down on trees. The feudal lords too would ill-treat their haris/peasants. But now the situation is a lot better.
Now with the emergence of human rights organisations like the HRCP, DCHD and Amnesty International-Pakistan Chapter and the presence of the media and the democratic setup in place (though disrupted and derailed from time to time), the situation has improved to some extent on the above mentioned fronts.
However, domestic violence, discrimination on the basis of gender, caste and creed are still in place and rampant.
More alarmingly, if we have got some respite on the above-mentioned counts, another more dangerous threat has raised its ugly head and is growing and expanding its tentacles rapidly. This is religious extremism and sectarianism.
Two decades ago religious and sectarian tolerance was unmatchable. People and religious scholars would debate on most sensitive issues at public places and with different religious schools of thought.
While rural Sindh and most of the urban Sindh hadn’t seen sectarian violence as witnessed in other parts of the country with horrendous results from time to time, here too the atmosphere is gradually becoming highly charged. People remain extremely cautious while speaking on the issues related to faith.
The fear of being declared heretic or of being accused of blasphemy is in the air. The mystic trappings of Sindh which would keep it highly tolerant are on the verge of being undermined as a majority of the so-called religious scholars, nay hate-speakers who continue to pollute the tender minds, particularly of the youth, are abusing other sects and religions harshly.
Human rights, enlightened political activists and journalists are at high risk of being targeted.
There is an urgent need to train and educate the youth on tolerance and bring the old trained cadre of human rights activists and the new generation of human rights defenders on one platform. This would be a great barrier against the threat of violence which is a direct result of intolerance.
GULSHER PANHWER Johi