JHANG, Oct 9: Two Bharwana women have broken the centuries-old traditions of highly primitive and conservative rural society of Jhang and added a new dimension to its political life by opting to contest election.
Bharwanas are a sub-caste of Sial Rajputs who came to this part of the subcontinent in the 14th century from Rajasthan, then Rajputana. They embraced Islam at the hands of sufi poet Baba Farid Ganj Shakar. Bharwanas are settled along river Chenab in villages like Satiana, Mukhiana, Khawa, Sultanpur, Chund Bharwana Qaim Bharwana, Kot Mirza and Chianwala in the Jhang and Chiniot tehsils. They have been a political force in the district for a long time. One of their elders, Mehr Ghulam Haider returned as MNA on several occasions. Mehr Akhtar Abbas and Mehr Zafarullah became chairman of Jhang District Council in 1987 and 1991. The former went on to become provincial minister for industries. Mehr Aslam was an adviser to the Punjab chief minister in 1990.
Bharwanas are traditionally very strict about their women. They are kept under strict purdah within the four walls of their havelis. They have to wear old-fashioned shuttlecock burqa when they are allowed to go out on very rare occasions. They are seldom sent to school and literacy rate among Bharwana women is negligible. It is in the recent past when some of their women graduated, which include the two candidates, Ghulam Bibi and Saima Akhtar.
Ghulam Bibi is a PML-QA candidate in NA-87. She hails from Satiana village, situated in the heart of the constituency, and is a granddaughter of former MNA the late Ghulam Haider Bharwana. The other candidates from this constituency are Syed Asad Hayat of the PPP, Ali Humayun Sipra of the PML-N, Mehr Nawaz Bharwana of the Millat Party and Mehr Zafarullah Bharwana, an independent candidate. The constituency comprises a major portion of former NA-67.
Syed Asad Hayat, the younger brother of Makhdoom Faisal Saleh Hayat, had been contesting election from NA-67 in the past, winning once in 1993. Both Mehr Nawaz and Mehr Zafarullah Bharwana have been elected MPA from the areas forming part of this constituency. Ghulam Bibi is a new entry in the political arena.
Interestingly, there is a political rivalry between Bharwanas of Satiana and Mukhiana. Zafarullah represents Mukhiana and Nawaz, Satiana. Ghulam Bibi and her mother had been supporting Nawaz in the past. This time, however, she asked Nawaz to step down in her favour, a suggestion which he refused and preferred to contest both national and provincial assembly elections to thwart her from challenging his leadership of Satiana group. The split in Bharwana votes has weakened the position of Ghulam Bibi.
The other Bharwana woman, Saima Akhtar, is an independent candidate in NA-90 constituency. She is facing a very strong candidate in Sahibzada Nazir Sultan of the Millat party. Saima came into politics when her father Akhtar Bharwana fell to the graduation condition.
Sahibzada Nazir, a five-time MNA from this constituency, quit the PPP after developing differences with Faisal Saleh on the award of party ticket. The PPP decided not to field a candidate in this constituency and support Saima. Moreover, she got the support of entire Sial tribe, except Arif Khan and Mian Usman, who are backing the Sahibzada.
Recently, Faisal Saleh Hayat toured the constituency in support of Saima and addressed public meetings in Shorkot city and cantt which changed the minds of PPP workers who stopped supporting Nazir Sultan. The biggest advantage that Nazir Sultan has is that his elder brother Hameed is Jhang district Nazim. Though he is not taking part in the election campaigns, the development work done in this constituency is likely to benefit Nazir Sultan.