After losing all his property in the fight for the rights of ordinary citizens in Sindh, Ghulam Rasool Sehto is now fighting for his life after braving more than 120 days of hunger strike in the federal capital.
Hailing from Khairpur district in Sindh, Comrade Sehto, the president of Sindh Hari Committee, has been on the hunger strike to protest the water shortage faced by small farmers in his native district and in the province.
“The irrigation department is so corrupt that the water management in Sindh should be handed over to the Rangers,” he said, adding the other issue that is eating the future of our next generation like termite is 41,000 non-functional primary schools in Sindh and the issue of ghost teachers due to corruption in the education department.”
According to Mr Sehto, both the issues have been deliberately created to keep the ordinary citizens at the minimum level of social status.
Dehydration and weakness due to lack of food intake landed Comrade Sehto, as he is commonly known, at Polyclinic Hospital on Sunday night after he fell unconscious at his protest camp outside Islamabad Press Club.
Incidentally, he was taken to the hospital and admitted to the private ward by the persons against whom he has started the struggle – the large landlords and the power brokers of Sindh - as a PPP MNA from Sindh came forward to have him admitted to the hospital after Mr Sehto refused to take food.As a matter of fact, if his demand to end water pilferage in the province, particularly Khairpur, is materialised, it would end the benefits enjoyed by the influential of the province.
Lying lifelessly at the hospital bed, Mr Sehto, 60, told Dawn that the water shortage in Sindh had been created artificially in some 30 canals because influential feudal lords and elected representatives steal water through their own diversionary courses.
Contrary to the general notion, he said there were two water-related issues in Sindh – water theft by Punjab and the influential who steal water meant for small farmers.
A life-long campaigner for the cause of ordinary citizens, Mr Sehto has already lost all the 27.5 acres of his ancestral land in the district of Khairpur in a bid to finance the newspapers, Daily Sindh, that he launched with the help of his friends in 1995.
While doctors struggled to recover his health, a small group of his supporters still manned the protest camp established by Sindh Hari Committee.
Incidentally, limited support is visible from the quarters concerned for the cause taken up by Comrade Sehto and President Awami Tehrik Ayaz Latif Palejo, who was recently in the federal capital, did not bother to visit him.
However, talking to Dawn on the phone, he expressed sympathy with Mr Sehto and his cause, saying: “Sehto is not demanding anything for himself, and the tyrant rulers are not listening to him.”
Similarly, the ever vocal nationalist parties have been rendering only lip service to Mr Sehto.
Mr Sehto has described the nationalists as people on the ‘payroll’ who are present only to distract the masses from the truth and real issues. “The poor masses of Sindh are still not out of the slave mindset – how can we blame such a destitute for not standing up against the nexus of feudal, dacoits and bureaucracy.”
Accompanying him in the hospital are his son and a close relative who narrated that there was some serious unrest in many areas of Sindh when Comrade Sehto initiated a hunger strike unto death some four years back in front of Sukkur Press Club against unavailability of water to the poor farmers.
“But I was deceived by Dr Nafisa Shah, PPP MNA and daughter of the Sindh chief minister. She persuaded me to end the strike promising that the issues would be resolved by the elected government,” said Mr Sehto, adding: “but nothing has happened.”
After the broken various promises on three occasions by the provincial and district level officials, Mr Sehto started his hunger strike in Khairpur some three months back.
He said he had called off his previous hunger strike after Khairpur’s district commissioner promised him a hearing in the Sindh High Court (SHC) but the court did not even hear the case.
“These bureaucrats and influential know how to play with the law,” he said and added that the SHC case was a “drama” staged by local officials and feudal lords to prevent the Supreme Court from following on the issue.
He moved to Islamabad over Eid in August after seeing no response from the local authorities.
“The Supreme Court is the only hope I see now,” Mr Sehto said from his hospital bed.