Sarwech Ali Pirzado’s grave stands out in the ancestral Pirzado graveyard in Balhreji, Larkana district. A red Jeay Sindh Muttahida Mahaz (JSMM) flag is spread over the grave. Another party flag flutters beside it. Known as ‘little Moscow’, Balhreji has seen many socialist and communist movements, evidence of which is found on the main entrance to the street where the graveyard is located. There is a plaque here in memory of “social reformer Muhib Hussain Pirzado”.
The area has been in the spotlight in recent weeks, as the venue where families from across Sindh receive the tortured bodies of their relatives — activists of Sindh’s nationalist parties who hailed largely from Larkana district.
Sitting on a charpoy in his modest home, Sarwech’s father Lutuf Pirzado wore an expression of resigned acceptance as he mentioned his son’s affiliation with the JSMM’s student wing, the Jeay Sindh Students Federation (JSSF). Himself an active member of the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy in the 1980s, Lutuf received 15 lashes in prison for wall-chalking and demanding the release of communist leader Jam Saqi.
“A month before his abduction, we had a family discussion. Both his mother and I asked him to stay away from some of his friends. Their activities seemed suspicious to us,” he said. The reason behind the discussion was the news of activists disappearing one by one in Karachi. Soon after, an announcement appeared in Daily Subh, a Sindhi-language newspaper, of Sarwech’s resignation from the JSMM and its student organisation.
The 22-year-old was working as a sales manager in Karachi when on Sept 11 he went missing, “somewhere in Saddar”, his father added.
The incident went unnoticed for over an hour until an employee of a courier service called his office around 6pm to inquire whether Sarwech would be picking up a letter he was supposed to. Search for Sarwech started soon after, with his father and brother going to Karachi, running from pillar to post to locate him. The police refused to register an FIR, so they went to the Sindh High Court.
While waiting for the hearing, they protested in front of the Karachi Press Club on Sept 23. In the meantime, a ‘well-wisher’ of the family sent a message to them through a relative that the young man had indeed been abducted by the security forces for a plot he was accused of hatching with his friends to target security installations. Sarwech’s brother Inayat Ali recalled, “He also asked us to relax, as the man told my cousin that Sarwech seemed like he belonged to a good family. And they might release him because of that. We continued hoping, waiting for his release.”
It took another few days to convince the authorities to register the FIR. But on Nov 30, they learned of his death. “One of our relatives heard it on TV and called from Karachi to inform us that two bodies had been found in Nooriabad, hands tied with gunshot wounds to the head,” said his mother Mehrunnisa, a lady health worker in Larkana district.
Her face remained emotionless as she narrated how she was the one who informed the police that her son might have been abducted due to his past affiliation with the JSMM. “They looked at me, surprised. Then hushed me up for saying the word ‘agency’ out loud. I just want to know whether by abducting these young men are they trying to finish off the movement or bolstering it?”
Many in Larkana do not consider the JSMM as truly representing the poor. Others say that the recent abductions were a result of the separatist movement, mostly underground, gaining strength in recent years. One of the reasons for the recent surge in the ‘kill-and-dump’ phenomenon, earlier associated only with Balochistan, is said to be the growing proximity between Baloch separatists and their counterparts in Sindh.
In 2011, a picture of Sirai Qurban Khuhawar, senior vice chairperson of the JSMM at the time, Ruplo Choliani, Noor ul Haq Tunio and Nadir Bugti, went viral among nationalist groups on Facebook. Soon after, Khuhawar and Choliani’s car was found torched near Sanghar. It was followed by a picture of Balaach Marri and the present JSMM leader Shafi Burfat on the internet. Locals say the proximity between JSMM and Baloch separatists continued till recently, resulting in enforced disappearances.
Another factor, pointed out by a former political activist of the Jeay Sindh Mahaz, Ustad Khalid Chandio, is that the JSMM is getting stronger even while being banned. “You must have heard people shrug off their cause saying their attacks are limited to ‘cracker blasts’. But has anyone thought how the material for making a ‘cracker bomb’ is available to them? How a mere cracker blows up five to six feet of solid steel railway tracks? At the same time, there’s some truth to reports about India’s interference in our region. We may ignore them but there’s some truth there. This nationalist movement is not all black and white; there are many shades of grey.”
Another factor he mentioned was that over the years, with the absence of governance, awami movements in Sindh were gradually being replaced by azadi movements. “Secularism is being wiped out in this country. Stoking a militant movement in Sindh is ideally a good shut-up call for the nationalists, good for creating conflict and confrontation amongst those seeking provincial autonomy and those seeking independence. All of this, in the end, is useful to justify torture against militant groups,” he added. At present there’s no ongoing strong movement for a ‘Sindhudesh’ in the province, Chandio argued, as was once imagined and explained in detail by G.M. Syed in his book about Sindhudesh.
When the question was put to the senior vice president of JSSF, Shehzad Manglo, whether there was a solution to the ongoing kill-and-dump policy in the province, he politely said “an independent Sindh”.
Published in Dawn, December 14th, 2014