Does feudalism exist in Sindh?
With reference to Hira Habib’s letter (May 13), a disproportionately large share of the income and wealth generated in Sindh is appropriated by the urban sector. This is admittedly further accentuated by a skewed distribution of income and wealth within the rural sector.
The large scale impoverishment of the rural sector in Sindh is too painfully evident from the available socio-economic indicators.
I also agree with the writer that a certain class in the rural areas is the source of much of the ills that we witness in the rural areas.
I however take umbrage to the use of the term ‘feudal’ which is essentially a misnomer and prefer to refer to them as dysfunctional elite. The latter is an apt term because this class has never contributed in any meaningful manner to the society that they have literally sucked dry.
Let me reiterate my position on land reforms. In the first instance there is a desperate need to increase the rural pie. This can only be done by enhancing agricultural productivity and commercial agriculture is the only way to go about it.
Subsistence agriculture with no marketable surplus will only further accentuate poverty. Expropriation and distribution of land will lead to further fragmentation of farms and a further loss of productivity.
Those who are in illegal occupation of large tracts of land must, of course, be dispossessed immediately and that land, along with any available cultivated or uncultivated state land, may be distributed among landless peasants.
These measures alone, however, cannot have a marked impact on the reduction of poverty in the rural areas. It is absolutely essential to create alternative employment opportunities in the urban economy for the underemployed and unemployed rural labour force.
This is where the insidious role of the urban commercial interests conjoined with the urban political interests has proven to be a stumbling block.
Together they have effectively managed to circumscribe labour mobility from the Sindhi hinterland to Karachi while continuing to extract agricultural surplus for use in the urban economy.
My thesis in this regard is very simple. Since Karachi had come to be populated by a largely non-Sindhi people and the driving spirit behind the industrialisation of Karachi, was also exclusively non-Sindhi, it was ill-advised politically to engage Sindhi labour in the process.
In times to come, the itinerant Sindhi labour could have legitimately striven for political supremacy over Karachi and could have laid a claim to its economic assets.
In order to tie down the Sindhi labour to the rural economy it was essential to bring on board the rural elite. The landed elite were strengthened to become the political pillars of the regime and were assigned the task of keeping the Sindhi society rural and agrarian.
Ayub’s absolutist regime was followed in time by similar dispensations of Zia and Musharraf. Each created its own brand of mock democracy which helped to reinforce the political strength of the landed elite, once again to act as the traditional pillars of each regime.
The political dispensation that we witness today is nothing but a bad aftertaste of the mock democracy of these absolutist regimes.
At some point the dysfunctional rural elite will die its own natural death provided they are not resuscitated by another absolutist adventurer as the traditional pillar of the new regime.
DR. MUZAFFAR ALI ISANI