KARACHI: Lower caste or scheduled caste Hindus of Sindh have complained discrimination against them in relief and rehabilitation process after 2010 and 2011 floods, and urged the government to take immediate steps to uplift the status of two million scheduled castes.
They demanded protection to the lower caste communities in Sindh during the ensuing 2012 monsoon season.Addressing a joint press conference at the Karachi Press Club (KPC) on Tuesday office-bearers of the Upgrade Minorities for Integrated Development (UMID) Shanti Devi and Avinash Hari and Zulfiqar Shah of Pakistan Dalit Solidarity Network said it is the responsibility of the state to provide basic rights to each citizen.
The super flood of 2010 and heavy monsoon rains in 2011 had caused widespread damages in the Sindh, where as a majority of scheduled caste population was also affected. During floods, it was heard in many places and relief camps that due to distinguished religion and faith, the minorities were neglected and left on the mercy of the God. The minorities of 22 out of 23 flood districts were very badly affected and suffered a lot. The flood-affected minorities belonging to the most affected districts of Khairpur, Nangarparkar, Tharparkar, Mithi, Mirpurkhas, Sanghar and Badin have lost their shelters, crops, cattle, assets and lives without receiving any compensation.In the pre-flood situation, these communities were completely ignored in the development. The practice for focusing, supporting and protecting the minorities on the top priority was not seen at large. As a result, they were comparatively very badly affected in getting relief and rehabilitation assistance. They pointed out that Pakistan has an estimated population of two million scheduled caste population.
Kolhis, Baghris, Menghwars, Bheels and Oads are scheduled castes, who have been living in Sindh and Punjab rural areas for centuries and are predominantly present in lower Sindh districts. After the floods, several religious organisations were involved in emergency relief activities, which were known to discriminate against non-Muslims. Local charities and organisations have also demonstrated a bias, preferring to help Muslim victims instead of Hindus or Christians. In cases where organisations have made concerted efforts to reach Hindu communities, goods have reportedly been looted. For instance, in September 2011, a local organisation sent two trucks laden with relief goods for 200 Hindu families to a town in Badin, which were looted by armed men near the camp. Even though this incident was reported to government authorities, no compensation or respite was provided to the minority relief camps. They said despite similar incidents being reported last year, little was done to ensure that such prejudice does not impede relief efforts again.
The government officials denied any bias in distributing aid, but there are strong allegations of corruption and misappropriation of goods in relief efforts both this year and last year. Local landlords' involvement in the distribution of relief is a major barrier, as individuals with political affiliations are given priority over those in desperate need of aid.Some international non-governmental organisations have said they would be focusing their relief and rehabilitation efforts on the most marginalised flood victims, which includes minorities.
This has been discussed at the highest level of government; President Asif Ali Zardari took notice and demanded a report from the Sindh government on why schedule caste Hindus were being denied humanitarian assistance, calling it 'unacceptable'. These are positive developments, but need to be followed by practical actions to ensure that the doubly vulnerable victims of the floods are not subjected to further injustice and exclusion.In the absence of true democratic governance and representational political structures, there is sanctioned disregard for minorities in Pakistan.
[Courtesy: Daily Times, June 13, 2012]