Champion of haris’ rights

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

IN today`s post `end of history` era, someone demanding an end to the oppression of factory labourers and the tillers of the soil risks being called a misfit.

But how can one turn a blind eye to the fallout of capitalism and the inequities that have brought new exploitation and oppression for urban and rural workers whose ranks seem to be swelling? There is the need for someone to champion their cause.

It is therefore reassuring that the spirit of Hyder Bakhsh Jatoi lives on. On May 21, his 40th death anniversary, the Sindh Hari Committee celebrated their leader`s life and work.

Hyder Bakhsh Jatoi is a familiar name in the annals of Sindh`s leftist politics. Old-time waderas would also recall him given his immeasurable capacity to irk them. Had it not been so why would he have been thrown into jail again and again? He spent seven years intermittently behind bars.

President of the Sindh Hari Committee from 1946 until his death in 1970, Jatoi raised his voice for the rights of the Sindhi peasantry. He demanded, “Let zamindari and jagirdari be abolished and the tiller of the soil made the owner thereof.” Even today the anachronistic phenomenon of feudalism continues to burden Pakistan`s conscience.

It is in the discourses of land reforms that Hyder Bakhsh is best known. His convictions were so strong that he left his job as a deputy collector to take up, what we call today, political advocacy.

One of the demands made at the meeting in Hyderabad the other day was that a Hyder Bakhsh Jatoi chair be set up at Sindh University and the agricultural university be named after him.

Actually what is most urgently needed is research on the work of this legendary hari leader who spelt anathema for the Sindhi landlords. He was outspoken and spared no one and was dubbed “the most dangerous man in Pakistan” by Ayub Khan. Even PPP leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto couldn`t escape the sharp wit of this Sindhi intellectual who was well-read and had an uncanny political prescience.

The story goes that just before Ayub Khan enlisted Bhutto as the youngest minister in his cabinet, at a meeting of the National Awami Party Mr Bhutto personally filed his application for membership of the party. Hyder Bakhsh who was present at the meeting asked the applicant quite pointedly, “Have you asked your father if you can join the NAP?” Bhutto retorted angrily, “Patriotism is not your monopoly.” But sure enough Sir Shahnawaz Bhutto was approached by the rulers and on his persuasion, the younger Bhutto had to withdraw his application. Later he was rewarded with a seat in the Ayub cabinet.

After reading the book, Baba-i-Sindh Hyder Bakhsh Jatoi Introduction and Excerptsfrom his Writings compiled by Dr Hatim Jatoi I was fascinated by the erudition, the power of language and style, the clarity of thought and strength of reasoning of this great intellectual of Sindh. He was a master pamphleteer.

With most of his pamphlets having been penned in the 1950s, one is amazed at his political instinct. In fact to narrow down his description to that of being an advocate of peasants` rights alone is in a way an injustice to him.

Of course arguing the case of the haris and organising them was a great service he rendered to his people. But he had so much to say on so many other issues as well. His views on other questions of great importance must be disseminated as well. His knowledge and political sagacity were wondrous and the range of issues he articulated on are mind-boggling.

Way back in February 1952, Jatoi described the hari population as the backbone of Sindh and expressed his dismay at the fact that all the inventions and discoveries of the highest human thought have brought nothing for the poor hari.

Even after the haris got their right to vote the fruits of civilisation did not reach them. On the contrary they began to dread elections since they were accompanied with `zulm`. He complained of the anti-hari legislation — the Sindh Tenancy Act being one of them — which protected the landlords.

He added, “The common man is happily rising and asserting himself for his rights, and it will be impossible for these self-centred zamindars to turn back the wheels of history.”

What did a burka mean to Hyder Bakhsh? It desecrated a lovely human figure making it an “abominable walking tent denied fresh air and sunshine”.

Another insightful observation I found in the book was on American aid to Pakistan. In 1955, in a pamphlet titled Let us save Pakistan-II, he describes American policy of aid as dollar diplomacy. He poses a question to his American friends with “their senseless drive for rearmament, atom bombing and bomb testing”. How is their aid perceived in Pakistan?

“American aid is granted on the condition of anti-communism. Anti-communism in this country simply means putting the leaders of labour and peasant organisations into prison without a trial. Putting these men into prisons means keeping the labour and peasantry downtrodden, at the mercy of the idle rich, perpetuating conditions of want and misery for over 90 per cent of the population…. This drainage of money and material from the taxpayer, never-ending and forever increasing, seems a bad bargain for the American people when its effect is to befriend a negligible few and to antagonise the vast masses of Pakistan.”

The mullahs also come in for some hard-hitting knocks. In the same pamphlet he holds the “steamroller of mullahism” to be responsible for the backwardness of the Muslims. He makes a subtle case for secularism when he writes, “In the earlier times, the king controlled our bodies, and the priest, the mullah, controlled our consciences, and the two went in a happy concord.”

He categorically states, “The sovereignty of Pakistan must reside in its people, that is, there should be a real people`s democracy no more plutocracy, mullocracy or millocracy. People must be allowed to make their own laws, best calculated to serve freedom if they are to survive in a terribly competitive world.”

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