Sindh’s fearless daughter

Muhammad Abbas Khaskheli explains how Mai Bakhtawar became an icon of popular resistance in rural Sindh

Sindh’s fearless daughter
During the 1947 Indo-Pak Partition, in Sindh, a large number of agricultural lands were being distributed amongst various notables, including retired officers from the British Indian Army and various other players. Districts including Old Tharparkar, Sanghar and Badin were particularly affected by this inequitable distribution of lands. In these areas, newly migrated Punjabi landlords or feudal lords started forcing the downtrodden peasants up against the wall. These populations were already in a quagmire due to the sudden and violent upheavals of Partition.

In year 1880, a girl was born in the house of Murad Khan Lashari, who was a poor farmer of village Dodo Khan Sarkani, Tando Bagho. Murad Khan Lashari named his daughter Mai Bakhtawar which means ‘fortunate woman’. As was traditionally the case, from a very early age she started working as a farmer in the fields. She toiled from dawn to dusk to support her household. Later on, in 1898, Mai Bakhtawar married Wali Muhammad Lashari, who was also a farmer. She had three sons and a daughter from her husband.

Graphic image - Hyder Bux Jatoi and the Hari Tehreek

Mai Bakhtawar tied the veil of her head - the chuni (long scarf) - around her waist and took up an axe to guard the harvested crop of her family

Later to become a legendary Sindhi peasant icon, Mai Bakhtawar was one of the many indigenous women who were passing the cruel days of their lives under the rule of cruel landlords – often of Punjabi extraction. She was a peasant on agricultural land which belonged to a callous landlord, Choudhry Saeedullah. Being a matriarch of her family, Mai Bakhtawar suddenly found two weighty responsibilities over her shoulders. The first was obvious – to work day and night to earn bread and butter for her household. The second came with time: she had to be a role-model and a symbol of bravery for future generations.

The slogan in favour of the rights of cultivators, “Those who sow, they shall reap” became a rallying cry for the poor peasants of Sindh. They were promised some fundamental rights but only in this slogan did they find a basis for a revolt against feudalism and helotry. That cry, incidentally, is still being resounding in the world where ever cultivators demand their rights. For centuries, the lion’s share from the harvested crops of indigenous peasants has been forcibly grabbed by influential landholders. Up till today, the same kind of iniquitous practice persists throughout Sindh.

Hyder Bux Jatoi is received by peasants at Hyderabad on his release from jail

Mai Bakhtawar, the peasant woman, found herself in the frontline of this battle for justice. She had sown wheat along with her other family members and worked hard in the fields under the scorching sun. But at the end, when the harvest time came, the landlord unreasonably refused to give even a peasant’s share, ‘Adh Bateye’, to Mai Bakhtawar. This avaricious behaviour on his part led Mai Bakhtawar to consider revolt.

During this period the Hari Tehreek, the peasant movement which was being lead by Comrade Hyder Bux Jatoi, had reached its peak point. A mobilisation of peasants throughout the province was underway – in a fairly large-scale and effective manner.

Unsurprisingly, the peasants of Mai Bakhtawar’s village were also supporting that movement. They were actively participating in events so that a more equitable outcome could be obtained, which could secure the livelihood of indigenous peasant communities of Sindh from the caprice of callous feudal lords.

On 22 June 1947, a Hari Conference was held under the leadership of Hyder Bux Jatoi in Jhudho city so that the voice of the peasants could be strengthened by providing them with a common platform to address the authorities. All men of Mai Bakhtawar’s village also participated in that gathering.

Sindhi peasants march for their rights

That very afternoon, when the landlord Choudhry Saeedullah arrived along with his gunmen to rob the whole harvested wheat crop of Mai Bakhtawar and her family, the courageous matriarch tied the veil of her head – the chuni (long scarf) – around her waist and took up an axe to guard the harvested crop of her family. Wielding her makeshift weapon, she sat on a khori – a storage structure for wheat, made from mud –and declared, “If someone dares to take this wheat from here, he can try. Otherwise wait until our men come back. Then you can talk with them.”

Choudhry Saeedullah believed he did not have any other option than to order his gunmen to shoot Mai Bakhtawar. So he shouted ‘Fire!’

Thus the trigger was pressed and a blind bullet slammed into poor Mai Bakhtawar.

We are told that the blood gushing from the body of Mai Bakhtawar turned red the harvested wheat that she was protecting. From the landlord’s perspective, it was just the murder of a common woman. But for the peasants, her loyalty to their cause and her bravery made Mai Bakhtawar a courageous and illustrious daughter of the soil.

Today very few people of Pakistan know the heroic story of Mai Bakhtawar Shaheed. Some might explain this as the outcome of a dominant feudalistic mindset, which does not want to show the world how violent, weak and cowardly it can be in dealing with peasant communities. Or perhaps it is a product of our general amnesia.

Nevertheless, former Pakistani Prime Minister Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was a diehard admirer of Mai Bakhtawar Shaheed. Quite evidently, she named her elder daughter Bakhtawar after that great daughter of Sindh. Benazir Bhutto, we are told, wanted to see the same courage and sprit of fighting for rights in every Sindhi woman but unfortunately she couldn’t see her dream to fruition in her life.

Sadly, despite the sacrifice of her own life by Mai Bakhtawar, and by so many others, the peasant movement in Sindh has yet to see lasting or prolonged success. Millions of poverty-stricken Sindhi women are still in the queue, waiting to be empowered.

The writer is a freelancer based in Badin and can be reached at