Time for healing

Published August 24, 2011

AN article, ‘Rapprochement is possible, by Abrar Kazi and Zulfiqar Halepoto of the Sindh Democratic Forum in this space on Aug 21 was an invitation for a rapprochement between the “progressive Urdu-speaking” people and the Sindhis to join hands and make the province an ideal homeland.

The writers deserve kudos and our gratitude for what can be termed their common sense, humanism and courage.

What they say is something that every right-minded person — irrespective of the language he or she speaks — living in Sindh has known for long. The two communities are conscious of the importance of coexistence. Then how has this rift divided the province?

The fact is that politicians, military leaders and feudals who have always had a stake in consolidating their hold on power have played on the sensitivities of the people in the garb of promoting the interest of their communities. Some went to the extent of setting up political parties on ethnic lines and creating a power base not on the basis of political and economic programmes but on the ethnicity of their supporters.

For a population living in destitution, it was easy to succumb to the politics of ethnicity that brought jobs, favours and political influence. It also gave rise to a virulent form of ethnic nationalism that has led to confrontation and alienation. The fact is that the playing field has never been level for all people not just in Sindh but everywhere in Pakistan. People of all ethnicities have lacked equal opportunities at all times. Over the years, a stage came when economic class divisions crept in. With them came the social divide. It would be wrong to attribute the privileged status of a section of the population in the province to their ethnic affiliations or the language they speak.

The dynamics of power have worked differently. In a society so badly stratified and devoid of democratic structures, the fault line should have been between the haves and the have-nots. Ironically, the intelligentsia became so focused on the ethnic/linguistic background of the governed that it failed to notice that the majority of them lacked control over their own lives and were victims of oppression.

But that is not strange. Pakistan has never been a democracy even though governments — including military dictatorships — have felt constrained to legitimise themselves by demonstrating their following. What better way was there than for them to appeal to the base instincts of people and divide them to strengthen those at the helm?

When the situation became really bad, many people, who had nothing to lose as they already were so downtrodden, found security in numbers by clustering together in their own community. That is what the political leaders wanted and thus a vicious cycle set in.

Mercifully, there are still many people in the province from both communities who see through the strategems of selfish and fascistic leaders who have their own games to play. The members of the SDF who wrote this article are right when they say that “such politics tend to paint all Urdu-speaking people with the same brush although most are progressive and liberal and desire peace and integration”.

True, as the writers point out, “a large segment of the Urdu-speaking intelligentsia, civil society and media have … kept quiet….” And one may add that as a result they are “perceived as supporting such an ethnic viewpoint thereby increasing the rift”. Given the government’s inability to provide security and protection to the citizens — the killings in Karachi testify to that — who would risk their lives by speaking out? One had hoped that their refusal to support ethnic politics and their conciliatory approach vis-à-vis the Sindhi-speaking citizens would establish their credentials as well-wishers and friends of the province.

By creating this rift, the rulers who were in a position to put the province on the road to socioeconomic progress and make it the most economically developed and culturally rich region in Pakistan have reduced it to abject poverty. Although Karachi is the largest source of revenue in Pakistan, it hardly means that the people are well off. Masses all over the province have suffered and not due to the fault of any ethnic group.

Unless the two communities decide to bury the hatchet and learn to coexist the situation will only go from bad to worse. It was Hamza Alavi, a sociologist and scholar of world renown and a son of Sindh, who had advocated the need to generate a sense of ‘territorial nationhood’ to underpin our nation state. He applied the same principle to Sindh — all those who live in the province should be accepted as Sindhis.

On previous occasions when things have come to a pass, as in 1972 when the language bill was introduced, sane voices from both sides had come together to defuse tensions. Sindhi was made compulsory in schools. It is a pity that the rot in our education system ensured that good language teachers were not hired. At least four generations of Urdu-speakers who would have been proficient in Sindhi by now failed to learn the language despite their success in their exams.

We need the same spirit today to start a process of healing and conciliation. There are many issues identified by the SDF writers on which there are acute differences. Wouldn’t it be better strategy for the intelligentsia on both sides with no ambitions to seize office to hold a constructive dialogue to reach a consensus? They could then confront the powers that be with their own agreed solution.




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