By Zubeida Mustafa
SO tough has been the race for land traditionally that even obtaining a plot for a grave can pose insurmountable barriers. Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal Emperor of India, had said, “Do gaz zameen bhee na milee koo-i-yaar mein” (I didn’t get even a two-yard plot in my beloved’s street). That was more than a century and a half ago.
The situation is no better today but for a different reason. Then it was imperial politics. Today it is religious fanaticism combined with land hunger that denied Bhooro Bheel land for a grave in his ancestral graveyard. When obscurantism becomes the driving force behind a tragic incident one can expect rationality to take flight.
The death of the eminent folk singer from Pangrio (Badin) in a road accident in early October was in itself a sad loss for Sindh. His burial, as is customary among Hindus in this part of Sindh, in a graveyard that has opened its arms to Muslims and Hindus alike, was an act that symbolised the province’s Sufi traditions.
Within a few hours of the funeral, this spirit of inter-faith harmony was torn to shreds when the dark forces of extremism took control and desecrated Bhooro Bheel’s grave and tossed out his body from its resting place. Bhooro was later buried in an area given by a landlord on whose land the Bheel community works. But the damage caused by this attack on the “respected culture of entire Sindh” (to use the words of Bhooro’s brother), was devastating.
This single act of barbarism had far-reaching political, religious, social and cultural implications for Pakistan. Since the police had been warned about the expected attack and had ample time to take preventive measures, their silence was a matter of grave concern. For many, the entire incident appeared to have been enacted with the tacit connivance of the state. The administration was seen as appeasing the extremists and militants. It was obvious that the communal madness that is creeping over the country played a key role in Bhooro Bheel’s case as well. The mullahs with their self-righteous mindset and zero tolerance for non-conformists whip up communal frenzy to lead an assault on non-Muslim communities.
This approach has brought in its wake the curse of forced conversions of young Hindu girls and the resultant exodus of many members of the Hindu community to India. Similarly, there have been cases of destruction of temples. This has horrified the sane-minded.
Seen against this backdrop, when Sindh’s Sufi culture that ties all faiths in bonds of love and humanism is under attack, the strong reaction from a section of the people of Sindh was a redeeming feature in this tragic episode. In a forceful show of solidarity with the Bheels, men and women with secular leanings belonging to the Forum for Secular Pakistan and Karachi Citizens for Peace led by Justice (retd) Salahuddin Mirza travelled to Badin to condole with Bhooro’s family.
This gesture was reassuring. The statement issued by the delegates spoke of supporting those struggling for the values of inter-communal peace, human dignity and equality against the “self-styled protagonists of the superiority of their belief” who instigated a mob to commit the shameful act of desecration of a grave.
One feels relieved that the statement reflected the general sentiments of the majority. The province has emerged as the bastion of resistance against extremism creeping from the north. So strong is this secular sentiment that the idea of allocation of separate land in all towns for graveyards on the basis of religious beliefs, as suggested by a PPP minister, was declared by the locals to be alien to the culture of Sindh.
Such offers smacking of appeasement should not even be put on the table as they are indicative of an implicit movement to undermine the assimilative and inclusive culture of Sindh by driving a wedge between communities through ostensibly conciliatory measures. This can be a dangerous game.
Even more serious is the allegation made by an MPA that at the root of this problem is the political nexus between the land mafia, the police and the administration. If this is true and it has been given a religious complexion we have the ingredients of an explosive situation in place.
Religion is a new entrant in the land-grabbing business with extremists playing a key role. It has been said that the land being used for the burial of the Bheels is being eyed by a landlord in the area to expand his area of cultivation.
It is a positive move on the part of the administration to set up a committee under the DIG Hyderabad to look into this matter. But one hopes that the demand made by some participants of the meetings in Badin that a judicial committee be constituted to investigate this matter will be heeded.
This makes a lot of sense because the police have been accused of negligence and connivance. In that case the investigator should be seen to be absolutely impartial and fair-minded. Given that the Hindu community in Sindh has come under attack, it is important that it should be provided protection by the state before the crisis gets out of hand.
As it is, the affluent sections of this community have moved out of Pakistan as they had the means to do that. The Bheels who have been left behind are afflicted by the dual evils of poverty and discrimination.