KARACHI: The peasantry in Sindh and Balochistan is locked in villages characterised by derelict infrastructure, mud and straw housing, mud roads, unhygienic water supply, garbage dumps, sewage pools and substandard educational and health facilities.
The 2010 floods that washed away most of the villages presented opportunities to rebuild planned villages on high ground and with drainage to protect villages from future flooding. However, the feudal-tribal leadership opposed relocating the villages as they would lose control over their workforce, vote banks and most of their debts.
These are some important points highlighted in a recent research that looks at the emerging patterns of the land tenure system in Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab and their impact on changing dynamics of power in rural society.
It also records disparity in incomes, food consumption and housing quality, impact of floods, indebtedness and treatment of women in different categories of landowning and non-landowning classes.
Titled Profiles of Land Tenure System in Pakistan, the report is authored by Dr Kaiser Bengali, who led the research team comprising Bilal Ahmad, Nobohar Wassan, Hira Habib, Pervez Ahmed Jamro and Nayyar Siddiqui. It is published by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research.
The study was conceptualised in the last quarter of 2011 while the field survey, undertaken from January to July 2012, was designed to cover eight flood-affected districts in the four provinces. However, the survey in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa districts couldn’t be conducted due to security reasons. Dadu, Shikarpur and Thatta districts were surveyed in Sindh, Jaffarabad in Balochistan and Muzzaffargarh and Rahimyar Khan in Punjab.
According to the report, Sindh, outside Karachi, is highly feudal and tribal. The feudal character of rural Sindh is indicated by the fact that over three-fourths of rural households engaged in agriculture are tenants and work as sharecroppers on land belonging to large landowners.
“This share is greater in upper Sindh; where, for example, the share of tenant families in Shikarpur is 84pc. The tribal nature of the province is indicated by the fact that social relations, economic decisions and political alliances are determined by tribal and caste affiliations.
“Asset inequality is stark. While a handful of large farmer families own thousands of acres each, thousands of small farmer families own less than five acres each.
“Specifically, 54pc of small farmers own less than five acres each and 40pc of tenants cultivate plots of less than five acres each. As such subsistence and survival is their bane of life and livelihood,” the report says.
It further points out that 76pc of rural families in Sindh are landless and work on land owned by a large landowner as tenants.
“Field investigation shows that land ownership is concentrated in a few extended families and many of the farms reported in size bracket 50-149 acres are owned, de facto, by one of these upper end families. Actual average farm size for these families, in terms of ownership and control, is estimated at between 3,000 and 10,000 acres.”
The extent of deprivation in terms of residence with thatched walls is the highest in Sindh (71pc) and the lowest in south Punjab (32pc).
Fear and violence
The report says that fear and violence is pervasive almost everywhere in the province. In upper Sindh, tribal leaders have created their own militias and are engaged in regular warfare — forced occupation of government (usually forest) land, lands belonging to rival tribes, kidnapping and so on.
Criminals, taking advantage of the diminishing writ of the state have mounted their own reign of terror.
“Tribal folks are obliged to remain under the protection of the sardars/waderas and suffer their oppression in return. Given that tenants live on government land that are generally registered in the name of the landlord or live on the landlords’ lands, they are susceptible to eviction at any time,” the report states.
It also shows how the state of continued serfdom has also produced a situation of gross inequality and extensive poverty. “Excessive tea and gutka consumption to kill hunger so as to save money on meals, particularly in Thatta, is a telling comment on the economic and health status of rural citizens,” it states.
Along with rural Sindh, the Nasirabad division of Balochistan is highly feudal with 70 to 85pc of rural labour working as tenants on sharecropping basis on lands belonging to large landlords.
“The archaic centuries old sociopolitical structure of rural society in Sindh and Balochistan has remained more or less unchanged. Over two-thirds of the population continuing to reside in rural areas and the rate of growth of secondary cities has been low.
“The lack of employment and educational opportunities in secondary urban areas and the substandard quality of civic services therein has failed to create the pull effect for the rural population to break out of the feudal-tribal stranglehold,” it states.
Although South Punjab has undergone radical changes, with sharecropping largely replaced by self-cultivation or leasing, other indicators regarding land distribution have remained the same, the report says.
Writer: Faiza Ilyas Published in Dawn, March 30th, 2015