'Masters, My Foot!' - How Journalist Nasrullah Gadani's Assassination Could Spark A Movement In Sindh

The assassination of Nasrullah Gadani is part of a series of ongoing murders and violence against journalists in Sindh. But is something different this time?

'Masters, My Foot!' - How Journalist Nasrullah Gadani's Assassination Could Spark A Movement In Sindh

On the 21st of May, at a village called Korai Goth near Mirpur Mathelo in Ghotki district of Sindh, unknown assailants riding on a motorcycle, fired multiple shots at Sindh’s popular journalist and social media activist Nasrullah Gadani at his torso, seriously injuring him. Passing villagers rushed profusely bleeding Gadani to the government-run hospital at Mirpur Mathelo. Looking at his precarious condition, doctors in the emergency wing, after giving him the initial first aid, referred him to Shaikh Zayed Hospital at Rahim Yar Khan, the nearby district headquarters in Punjab, bordering Sindh province. Doctors at Sheikh Zayed Hospital in Rahim Yar Khan also recommended to air ambulate Nasrullah Gadani to Karachi. Fellow journalists in particular and members of the public in Sindh in general, had been appealing to the government of Sindh to shift Gadani to Karachi, but all their demands fell on deaf ears. Eventually, a friend of Gadani bore all expenses of an air ambulance to shift him to Agha Khan Hospital at Karachi. Though doctors tried to save the life of the seriously injured Gadani, he succumbed to multiple bullet wounds on 24 May.

“My son has been killed by Khans and Jams,” says the mother of slain journalist Nasarullh Gadani. The ambulance carrying the dead body of Gadani to his village was showered with rose petals by crowds of people, including students of Jamshoro campuses, who thronged on super and national highways to catch a last glimpse.

Nasrullah Gadani, a reporter of a Sindhi daily Awami Awaz, president of Mirpur Mathelo Press Club, and a social media activist, was a rarity in an area dominated by feudal and tribal power with nexus of a military-industrial complex – all of whom Gadani had been taking on in his journalistic work.

This is the Ghotki district, where the fiefdom or chiefdom of a Sardar (tribal chieftain), feudal lord, or Pir begins and ends every five or ten miles. The Mahars, the Lunds, the Pitiafis, the Chachars, the Shar tribes, and many more, along with influential Pirs like the Pirs of Bharchundi, Pir of Sui, Pir Pagaro, and the Makdooms of Hala and Multan, exert immense influence. Tribe members of many sardars and disciples of Pirs distinguish themselves through different dress styles, caps, beards, and moustaches.

On the other hand, massive industrial plants such as Engro, Pak Saudi Fertiliser, Fauji Fertiliser, Marri Indus Gas, and the Qadirpur gas-field (which offer meagre employment to locals) rise amidst thousands of acres of agricultural lands allotted to civilian settlers and both serving and retired military officials, including former Corps Commander Sindh General Naseer Akhtar.

Yet, there are full-fledged tribal wars and gangs of dacoits and kidnappers, armed with nonconventional military weapons, ruling the jungles in the riverine Kathca area spanning three districts—Ghotki bordering Kashmore-Kandhkot, and Sukkur—with thousands of acres of government land illegally occupied by feudal lords and tribal Sardars.

Nasrullah Gadani, a scion from the poorest family of the Gadani tribe living in a village near Mirpur Mathelo (headquarters of Ghotki district), was a vibrant and lone voice for the voiceless in the area. “What will happen to the poor now?” asked a daily-waged carpenter while working on a photo frame of Nasrullah Gadani after his assassination. When asked by a customer if he knew him, his response was, “He was on my side when police brutalised me.” Nasrullah was omnipresent wherever hapless victims were in his district and Sindh, advocating for their rights – not only for humans but even for trees. He was a journalist for public interest and the greater good –my favourite South Asian journalist Kunda Dixit might even call Gadani’s reporting activity “a journalism of outrage.”

His last activity was leading a protest rally against the closure of the town library in Mirpur Mathelo, accompanying citizens and school children. In these towns the first thing feudal lords would do was to help desert or destroy libraries, turning them into a home for stray donkeys. One of his recent YouTube broadcasts focused on the commercial ventures of the military. He named their industrial entities, such as Fuji Fertiliser, Askari Cement, and Shaadi halls, sarcastically saying, "What more and more else could military do for you people of the country." He introduced a new kind of spot reporting by going live while motorcycling.

His murder even moved controversial cleric Mian Mithu: “He was poor but uncompromising in his principles. He even wrote against me, but he was a brave man of integrity, which I don’t find in the entire Sukkur Division” - it must be noted that Nasrullah Gadani was also vocal against the forced conversions of Hindu girls

During the floods in 2022, he rode his motorcycle through floodwaters and rain in the town's streets, saying, "O people of the town, you can see the faces of your elected assembly members in these dirty and disease-borne waters." Instead of a registration plate on the back of his motorcycle, he inscribed the words "Bhotar My Foot" (In Sindh, peasants and many common folk call their feudal landlords and sardars “bhotar,” literally meaning ‘master’).

In his reports, both in print and broadcasts, he would angrily grill the authorities, local powerful feudal lords and tribal chieftains. He aggressively exposed police brutalities and bureaucratic corruption by entering police stations and government offices. During the wheat harvest season, he would chase truckloads of ‘bardana’ (jute gunnies provided by the government for farmers to store wheat) and expose live online the massive corruption of food authorities who smuggled bardanas inter-provincially.

He was the only journalist in Sindh who fought for climate change justice against the deforestation of forests. In his area, where hundreds of thousands of acres of government land are illegally occupied by powerful feudal lords, sardars, and politicians, there are also gangs of dacoits, warring tribes, and a timber mafia colluding with Forest authorities. Alongside his comrade Zen Daudpoto, a seasoned journalist and chairperson, he was the secretary-general of the “Save Sindh’s Forests Committee.” This Committee has taken its case against the illegal occupation of forest lands to the Supreme Court. One of his courageous acts was rescuing the local Jarwar forest from the illegal occupancy of the powerful.

He even exposed the corruption of local judges in his area, leading to his arrest under the draconian Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance in May 2023. He was incarcerated in Central Jail Hyderabad, subjected to the worst treatment and almost solitary confinement, until Justice retired Rashid A Rizvi declared his detention invalid.

Another act of bravery that remains fresh in the minds of the people was when he rode his motorcycle alongside the motorcade of Shahbaz Lund, a son of PPP MNA and powerful Sardar Khalid Ahmed Lund. He went live on his cell phone, holding his camera in one hand, narrating how a non-entity like Shahnaz Lund, the son of a Sardar, enjoyed huge police security and protocol three years ago. The live broadcast captured a Land Cruiser in Shahbaz Lund’s motorcade reversing and guns being fired at Nasrullah Gadani, which he narrowly escaped. This incident went viral on YouTube. There is a strong general belief in the area that Nasrullah Gadani was assassinated at the behest of Lund Sardar Khalid Ahmed, a PPP MNA, although Lund Sardar denies the allegation.

Nasrullah Gadani’s funeral was attended by thousands, an unprecedented number in the area. His murder even brought tears to the eyes of former MNA Abdul Haq, aka Mian Mithu, who has been instrumental in the forced conversion of Hindu girls in the area. After attending the funeral, Mian Mithu told the local media, “He was poor but uncompromising in his principles. He even wrote against me, but he was a brave man of integrity, which I don’t find in the entire Sukkur Division.” Nasrullah Gadani was also vocal against the forced conversions of Hindu girls in the area and the rest of Sindh.

No arrest has been made so far in the broad daylight murder of journalist Nasrullah Gadani, nor have the police registered an FIR, despite the slain journalist’s mother and friends staging a sit-in at the police station.

The assassination of Nasrullah Gadani is part of a series of ongoing murders and violence against journalists working in small towns and rural areas of Sindh. Prior to Gadani's killing, another journalist, Aziz Memon, was found dead after reporting against the wrongdoings of a PPP MPA and powerful Syeds in the Kandiro area of Naushehro Feroze district. Journalist Ajay Lalwani was killed in Sukkur after publishing a story about PPP’s imprisoned but influential leader and MNA Syed Khurshid Shah being facilitated in a jail hospital instead of a jail cell by jail authorities and doctors during his incarceration under NAB. Journalists Sahil Jogi and Nadeem Bozdar received severe treatment from authorities; Nadeem Bozdar was whisked away from Pano Akil, kept in a police van for hours, and released from the neighboring Kot Sabzal Police station in Punjab. Sindh’s investigative journalist Imdad Soomro of The News has been threatened, attacked, and his house burglarised multiple times.

“All the perpetrators and plotters of these violent crimes and murders of journalists somehow belong to the ruling PPP in Sindh. The province of Sindh has been leased out to them by none other than Asif Ali Zardari, who is now the president of Pakistan for the second time and also calling the shots at the federal government,” says journalist, analyst and Sindhi poet Izhar Soomro. “Sindh is under the bad governance of Bhotars,” he adds.

But after the blood of journalist Nasrullah Gadani was shed, increasingly, the walls of Sindh are covered with his slogan “Bhotar my Foot.” This slogan, coined by the slain journalist, is likely to turn into a movement in Sindh against feudal power and the sardari system.