Will the case of Veerji Kohli, a prominent human rights activist from Thar Desert, be decided anytime soon? He was given life imprisonment in April 2017 allegedly for the murder of Muhammad Saleh Shoro. The next case hearing is in the Sindh High Court Hyderabad on Nov 7, 2017.
Renowned social activist Meena Gabeena met PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in Islamabad last week, where, according to her tweet, she discussed the Veerji Kohli case, and in response to an inquiry if the party will support him, she said, “Well, I came back convinced that they will support him as much as they can”.
Apparently, after her meeting, Bilawal directed the People’s Lawyers Forum (PLF) to help and support Kohli in every possible manner.
The PLF, a section of ruling Pakistan People’s Party, is struggling to fight his case in the Sindh High Court in Hyderabad, while the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is trying to settle the issue through negotiations.
Kohli was nominated a prime suspect in the murder of Muhammad Saleh Shoro at the Nagarparkar police station on March 10, 2011. Thirteen others arrested with him for their alleged involvement in a land dispute in Bhansar village, some 15 kilometres from Nagarparkar city, were given two-year imprisonments.
Kohli’s sister, Krishna Kumari, tells The News on Sunday (TNS) that during the meeting with activist Gabeena, Bilawal Bhutto said that he was not aware that Kohli is in Hyderabad jail, “otherwise he would’ve certainly gone to see him”. She adds that since the court proceedings are usually lengthy, “it has been decided to settle the issue through negotiations with the family of the deceased.”
Kohli was a bonded labourer in his childhood. After working with Mehergarh, a centre for learning, for some time, he started pursuing the cause of bonded labour and became a prominent human rights activist. Many reports claim that Kohli helped many farmers and their families to get out of private jails of feudal lords.
In 2007, when some contractors used dynamite to excavate granite from the hills of Karoonjhar, where a centuries-old Hindu temple is located, Kohli led the protest against the contractors and was able too get their lease cancelled.
In 2010, Kohli reacted strongly against the gang rape of a Hindu girl, Kasturi Kohli. He fought a long struggle against the police for not registering the rape case or arresting the culprits who were powerful feudal lords. He was kidnapped and kept in a private jail.
Later, he joined the PPP and was elected as union council chairman of Berano union council of the Tharparkar district.
Hyderabad-based civil society activists approached the Shoro community to settle the case. At first Kohli was asked to pay compensation but Shoros had a change of heart and refused to settle the issue. “The tussle started on a piece of land owned by the two communities, as groundwater was less brackish and had deposits of China Ccay, a common mineral in the area,” says Kumari.
PPP MPA from Tharparkar, Dr Mahesh Malani, believes that Kohli was not involved in the murder, but in the land dispute between Kohlis and Shoros. “We are hopeful the issue will be settled very soon.”
Malani further adds armed men of the Shoro community came to the Kohli village and fought with women over the land dispute. “When men came out with batons, a severe fight ensued which killed Saleh Shoro.”
President PLF, Hyderabad, Allah Bachayo Memon, who is representing Veerji Kohli, says that on the day when murder was reported, Kohli was in Hyderabad. “Two lawyers who were with him can affirm his presence in Hyderabad.”
The FIR mentions that “Kohli axed Shoro to death but the medical report says that he died due to baton charge,” says Memon.
Fouzia Saeed, head of Mehergarh says, “Veerji has always resisted the feudal system, “and when someone stands against the powerful feudal lords, he is bound to make enemies. A fake case has been registered against him for precisely this reason. We are talking to human rights organisations to help him get out of jail.”
She adds all other men nominated in the case are now out of jail, but Kohli is still imprisoned. “This clearly shows that feudals want to punish him.”