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‘Feudal lords are blocking land reforms’

November 07, 2013
landlords were politically strong in their respective districts due to which the same people got elected every time which gave them more power to block any struggle against the feudal system.  — File Photo
landlords were politically strong in their respective districts due to which the same people got elected every time which gave them more power to block any struggle against the feudal system. — File Photo

KARACHI, Nov 6: The present landowning system being ‘feudal’ in nature is blocking the way for a review of land reforms. A recent research has shown that farmers in South Punjab have progressed towards ‘corporate farming’ while their counterparts in Sindh and Balochistan remain underprivileged, backward and poor.

This was stated by experts speaking at an event titled “Responding to the development deficit in Sindh: a dialogue on land and resource rights” at a local hotel on Wednesday.

They said that for years feudal landlords in Sindh and Balochistan had owned vast swathes of land with farmers owning a very small share.

Also, the same landlords were politically strong in their respective districts due to which the same people got elected every time which gave them more power to block any struggle against the feudal system.

Technical adviser to the chief minister of Balochistan Dr Kaiser Bengali said that his previous tenure of working with the Sindh government taught him that “politicians who own land, back in their villages, are not in favour of any development or education related projects”.

He said that people made fun of him when he tried to initiate a debate on land ownership and rights of farmers. “I was told that Sindhis are happy being where they are, until the floods in 2010 made people migrate from parts of Sindh to Karachi.”

He said the Razzaqabad camp in Karachi was congested with people, mostly farmers, who did not want to go back. “Watan cards were quickly distributed to tempt people to go back to their villages. In one case, a girl was kidnapped to force her family and other people to go back because these people were peasants and completely dependant on their masters,” he added.

As compared to Sindh, Dr Bengali said that the peasant culture had diminished in South Punjab. “There are young graduates of the Sialkot University managing rice fields and orchids properly like a business. In that part of the province, farmers are salaried workers, working in a corporate style environment, with all of their needs being met in an organised system,” he added.

Sadiqa Salahuddin from Indus Resource Centre said that the 2010 floods brought to the fore the “poorest of the poor in the province, turning our focus towards the often glaring examples of neglect.”

For one, there was no legal documentation between tenants and owners, she said. “The relation of farmers, either with their landowners or law enforcers is very weak. They do not know their rights. Those who are assigned the task of taking care of them claim that the farmers are satisfied and do not want to pursue cases where they have been slighted.”

Executive director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) Karamat Ali said that the nexus between feudalism, religion and politics needed to be done away with.

“Land reforms were initially introduced by former prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1972. The reforms were formally passed by the national assembly as a Land Reforms Act in 1977. The act was eventually challenged in the Federal Shariat Court, which dismissed the petition stating that land reforms were not un-Islamic. Around late 1980s, the Federal Shariat Court judgement was appealed against through the Shariat Appellate Bench of the Supreme Court by a man named Qazalbash Waqf. The court comprising three SC judges and two clerics held that the reforms were indeed un-Islamic,” he said.

Karamat Ali pointed out since that time on the reforms were under debate. “The PPP leadership that introduced the act is unfortunately not owning the act, nor speaking up about its consequences in Sindh.”

Former PPP senator Taj Haider said while responding to the comments that the “Supreme court can make a decision by itself without consulting any political party”.

Quoting the Quaid-i-Azam’s speech of 1943, where he spoke against feudal landlords exploiting farmers, Karamat Ali pointed out that “sixty-five years is a long time to be taken for a ride. We need to start asking who owns the land and why.”