-Pakistan’s ‘untouchable’ Dalits await help following devastating monsoon in Sindh
By Amar Guriro
KARACHI – As the Pakistan Meteorological Department predicts more rains in the days to come, the worst victims of rain and breaches in the monsoon-swollen Left Bank Outfall Drain (LBOD) in Badin district – which brought rainwater from upper Sindh districts into Badin – the Pakistani Dalits or “untouchables” have been denied accommodation in relief camps due to their social positioning.
In the past month since monsoon-swollen drains and the LBOD burst its banks and caused one of the recent history’s worst catastrophic disasters, the so-called traditional bigotry has run just as deep as the floodwater.
Despite torrential rain, a majority of these Hindu Dalits in Badin have been living under open sky as they are not allowed in the relief camps by Muslims.
More tragic has been the federal government’s ban on non-governmental organisations and international donors to work in these areas for “security reasons”, whereas the government itself is yet to start relief operations. The religious extremist organisations that have been providing relief in Badin have completely ignored the Dalits – or Harijans, which means “Children of God”.
Chanesar Bheel – a Dalit by social norms and a farmer by profession, resident of Goth Gomando Bheel in Ghado Union Council, Golarchi (Shaheed Fazil Rahu) Taluka – is one of around 700 Dalits of his village that have been living under open sky along the banks of Soorahdi Sakh Canal.
“Our village is between the two drains, and during the rain, both burst and inundated our village from each side. We rushed to a nearby relief camp set up inside a government school, but the people did not allow us to live inside the camp, so we came here and started living under open sky,” Bheel told Pakistan Today. Bheel said the people living inside the camps told them that they were “untouchables” and were not allowed to live with Muslims. His village comprises 80 households with 700 people, all of whom are Dalits.
“This is not the only village of Dalits in the district that is living under the open sky. There are many more Dalits living in similar conditions on the Khoski Road, and in Seerani, Lonwari Sharif and other areas,” said writer/civil society activist Ameer Mandhro.
A similar case occurred with the Dalits of Pibhu Kolhi village in Tando Bagho. “There is no place to go, so we are simply living outside the school under open sky. A kind-hearted man inside the camp allotted us an isolated classroom, which is away from the main building, where two families are living and the remaining villagers are living under open sky despite continued rain,” said a villager.
He said some philanthropists came to provide food to the residents of the relief camp, but they (the Dalits) were not given any ration and were cooking their own food.
Dalits are social outcasts at the bottom of the Hindu caste ladder and are common in India, but this system has deep roots in Pakistan as well. Even the government of Pakistan has encouraged this prejudice by officially declaring these Dalits as “scheduled caste”.
Despite its tall claims, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government has not nominated even a single Dalit for the Sindh Assembly seat.
All four PPP Hindu assembly members are from the so-called upper caste. Minority Affairs Minister Mohan Lal Kohistani has so far done nothing to provide relief to the affected Hindu population.
When contacted, Kohistani said he was busy in a meeting at the Chief Minister’s House and would comment on the issue later. However, sources said the minister was trying to get a licence for a liquor shop from the competent authority, namely Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah. In the wake of last year’s floods and this year’s monsoon, Kohistani’s ministry has not set up even a single camp in the province to help Hindus, Christians or any other religious minority.
“These Dalits can’t even claim a seat in public transport. How do we expect them to get space in relief camps? It’s the same mentality,” said human rights activist Sameer Mandhro. He said not only the government, but the civil society organisations, who claim to work indiscriminately, are also ignoring the Dalits.