No Holi for Hindus of Thar

The Dalit community is among the worst victims of the drought in Pakistan's largest desert

No Holi for Hindus of Thar
Pakistan’s biggest religious minority community, the Hindus – a majority of whom live in the Sindh province’s Thar Desert – will not be able to celebrate their religious festival of Holi on March 17, because of an ongoing famine.

More than 60 percent of the Pakistan’s Hindus live the Thar Desert and a majority of them are so-called low caste or Dalits –officially referred to as Scheduled Castes by the government of Pakistan.  The Dalit community is among the worst victims of the drought in Pakistan’s biggest desert, which has caused famine and widespread diseases.

The worsening situation has also forced tens of thousands of families to leave their ancestral homes along with their livestock and travel north towards the barrage areas of Sindh, in search for food for themselves and fodder for their animals.

[quote]The drought has killed 154 people so far; most of them were children [/quote]

“Two children of our close relatives died this week and many are sick due to hunger. My cousin and I are taking our cattle to the barrage areas, because if we stay, our animals will die,” said Hamtho Kolhi, who spoke to me outside Mithi town on the way to Mirpurkhas. “In these conditions, how can we celebrate Holi, a festival of colors and happiness?”

The drought has killed 154 people so far according to Sindhi media. Most of them were children. The provincial government says 41 children have died in Mithi hospital since January. According to the locals, most of the children who died during the last two months were Dalits.

Scattered over 21,000 square kilometers along the Indian border on the south eastern side of the Sindh province, and with Indian desert of Rajasthan lying on other side of the border, Thar Desert is an arid zone, where residents depend on rains and livestock for food and livelihood.  With an estimated population of about 1.6 million, of which around 46 percent are Hindus (mostly Dalits), Thar is facing a famine because of less than normal rainfall last year. The acute shortage of water and food has caused malnutrition among humans and animals. Birds and animals were the first victims of the drought. Now, women and children are also dying.

Most of the Muslim citizens are followers of powerful Pirs of Sindh and Punjab, who are also among the country’s most influential politicians. Since their Muslim followers are their vote bank, they are given priority during relief efforts.

“Not only will we be unable to celebrate Holi,” said Ashok Meghwar of Mithi town, “we do not expect a fair share of relief goods.”

Despite being in majority among Pakistani Hindus, they have very little representation in parliament. Of the 18 Hindu members of parliament, only two - Dr Khatumal Jeevan and Poonjo Mal Bheel – are Dalit.