Each year hundreds of social development programmes are initiated in Tharparkar with donations from international development groups, but no programme is properly implemented and most become prey to corruption so that the issues of unemployment, lack of education, and health continue to grow.
Tharparkar desert in Sindh is the largest desert of Pakistan and the eighteenth largest in the world with an area of 22,000 square kilometres. The population of Tharparkar is 1.5 million. This is the only district in Pakistan where more than 50 percent of the population are Hindus. The government has not conducted a proper census after 1998 although analysts say that the population of Hindus in this district is near 0.8 million. Out of this population more than 0.68 million are Dalits, who are more vulnerable than the Dalits of other districts. Tharparkar district is divided into four talukas, Nangarparkar, Chhachhro, Diplo and Mithi, with its headquarters in Mithi city. There are about 2,400 villages in district Tharparkar, which are highly populated with Dalit communities. The percentage of upper caste Hindus in this district is only 15 percent like that of Sindh overall. The land in Tharparkar is highly fertile but unfortunately most of it is desert, so that production of crops depends on rains during summer. Rains fall from mid-June to mid-August each year. For the last ten years there have been drought conditions in Tharparkar due to which 50 percent of the overall population migrated to barrage areas to find food, because during droughts it becomes hard for them to even find water to drink, leave alone for growing crops. Before this drought there have been problems of diseases in animals, first with peacocks and then with sheep — the majority of these animals died. Sheep is standard livestock for the Thari people and many were highly affected by disease in the district. As per reports in the media, more than 5,000 sheep died due to diseases in several areas of Tharparkar, which resulted in increases in the selling price of sheep. Most of the people of Tharparkar tried to escape to save their livestock but a few did not because they did not want to leave their lands.
During drought-like situations in Tharparkar, the majority of people in the agricultural workforce eat meals of red pepper or onion and sometimes rabri (a mixture of milk or curd and boiled grains). Their life is very simple; they are kind-hearted people and never think to harm others. During elections they don’t know who to vote for and usually cast their votes on the direction of their Mukhya (village chief). The literacy rate is low and most people who move during droughts to barrage areas find any labour they can. In this way the education of their children is neglected and because of a lack of money most children are pulled out of school after a few years anyway. In its last survey, the Pakistan Hindu Seva also found for some years now upper-caste Banyas and Pathans have begun a business of looting the poor farmers by providing them with loans of food against which they extract massive interest later when crops are harvested, in this way keeping the poorer people without food security. As a result of this and other poverty factors, many pregnant women do not get proper medical treatment and food so that their babies are born with abnormalities or susceptibility to diseases and early deaths. Another fact that several people in Tharparkar told the Pakistan Hindu Seva team was that in many villages people resorted to drinking saline water due to which hundreds of children, men and women face abdominal problems, while the colour of their teeth also becomes yellow from long use of this water.
Even though the drought in Thar has been ongoing for ten years, the government has not considered this issue serious and the problem has been growing each year. People of Tharparkar support the PPP because they remember the sacrifices of the Bhutto family but they nonetheless think that the reign of dictator Pervez Musharraf remained a golden time for them, when they were given paths to economic improvement. Many of them miss that time when they felt there was greater equality and no one was given superiority; their honour was safe and their lands and homes were safer. The current administration in Tharparkar under the PPP Sindh government, as members of Makhdoom families, have little idea about the life of Tharparkar and its people.
As per reports, more than 130 children have died due to malnutrition and disease in Tharparkar district. Soon after it was reported in the media that several NGO and government officials reached there to prevent further losses. Each year hundreds of social development programmes are initiated in Tharparkar with donations from international development groups but no programme is properly implemented and most become prey to corruption so that the issues of unemployment, lack of education, and health continue to grow. Tharparkar is considered the most backward area of Pakistan so that funds from international donors are in the millions of dollars. The government issues budgets for development, but it almost all goes to corrupt leaders and does not reach the affected people. But it is heartening to note that the deaths of dozens of innocent children have opened the eyes of the Pakistani public and large amounts of support from private aid organisations and the public, both through Islamic charities and others, have been coming in, without any hint of discrimination.
Speaking about Thar most people there told the Pakistan Hindu Seva that they are not beggars and that if they find employment, the Tharparkar district government and the Sindh government won’t need to help them during drought periods as they would be able to handle it themselves.
However the major problem is finding employment even though they are very hardworking people. Making smaller dams to stop water wastage during rain can also stop the need for migration and prevent drought in Tharparkar. The government and other development organisations must create economic resources for the people of the area to find proper employment and create economic possibilities for them to assist them in leading a formal and permanent life in Tharparkar, so they can educate their children and grow. Then they can make Tharparkar the peaceful, heavenly place it has the potential to become.