THARPARKAR has long been in the news for one reason or another. Its coal projects and the visits of high-level government officials and celebrities have attracted spotlight in the mainstream media. However, malnutrition, poverty, acute water shortages, droughts as well as maternal and child deaths bring up the other side of the coin.

Besides, the state’s apathy towards genuine demands of the displaced Thari people due to coal fields is another sorry tale.

Stupendous displays of Tharparkar’s prosperity and development in the name of concrete roads, VIP shows and meagre compensation for the destruction of their timeless traditions and invaluable land have done nothing but added insult to injury of the Tharis. Each such project is like someone is rubbing salt into their wounds.

Extreme weather conditions and poor socio-economic status of the Thari people have only aggravated their distress.

For the last few decades, there has been a significant rise in the number of suicide cases in the desert. A study by the Sindh Mental Health Authority says 79 people ended their lives in Thar during the period from 2016 to 2020.

It also had the highest number of suicides by women. Not surprisingly, the data was described by the report largely as “unrealistic and grossly under-reported”. The magnitude of the problem is much bigger.

This is extremely disturbing. Given harsh climate conditions, poor infrastructure, and the lack of opportunities to prepare the people for changing eco-dynamics, there is little hope that the situation might become better anytime soon. The process has to first start before someone can talk about its conclusion. The process of changing things for the better has not even started yet and we keep hearing of what wonderful times lie ahead!

The rising number of suicide cases is only a manifestation that the level of frustration is increasing; the causes have their root in chronic negligence of the people’s basic rights.

As the problems emanate from the grassroots, so do the solutions. It is essential to prioritise the actual progress and prosperity of those who rightly deserve it.

Provision of basic necessities of life and raising the living standards of long-neglected Thari people could help in alleviating their sufferings. Strong souls of the desert deserve better life and less exploitation.

Naresh Rahwani

Malanhore Vena village, Thar

Published in Dawn, April 8th, 2021

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