In the feudal society of the subcontinent, organising unprivileged peasants and poor Haris has remained one of the daunting tasks for the leftist and progressive workers. Peasants uprising in various parts of the subcontinent not only heralded a new era but posed grave threats to powerful landlords and political and economic systems as well. Being a very dangerous proposition for the political elites, peasants uprisings had always been suppressed throughout history. Like many other parts, peasants in Sindh were ruthlessly exploited by the Muslim landlords and Hindu moneylenders for a very long time. Generally, they were treated as serfs and were subjected to unprecedented subjugation.
According to journalist and poet Ahmad Salim, before the British occupation of the land of Sindh province, the condition of Hari community was as miserable as during the British period. The landlords, under Kalhoras and Mirs dynasties, used to forcefully collect huge percentages of the total produce, called “Chouth”. A major reason of the deplorable condition of the Haris was increasing share of the landlords. Many times, zamindars illegally expelled Haris from their lands which deprived them of their only source of income.
The brutalities of landlords and the sub-human condition of Haris in Sindh brought about political awareness and the deprived people of Sindh decided to combine their efforts for a joint struggle against their masters by forming the Sindh Hari Committee.
Establishment of the Committee
Sindh Hari Committee was formed in 1930-31 in Mirpur Khas. Its programme was to improve the condition of the Sindhi peasants and to make efforts for providing them with better facilities of life. It was established due to the efforts of comrades Abdul Qadir, Jamshed Mehta Nasrwanji, Jethmal Parsaram, G. M. Syed and Abdul Majid Sindhi. ‘Land to the tiller’ and ‘total abolition of landlordism’ have always been the basic slogans of the Committee since its inception. The seizure and distribution of the land of landlords still remains the central rallying point amongst the peasantry and other democratic classes. Without the victory of this slogan, they posited, there cannot be any solution to rural poverty, unemployment, and the miserable living condition of the Haris of Sindh.
Sindh Hari Committee was associated with the All India Kissan Sabha and its flag was of red colour indicating its communist mark. Author Cesar P. Pobre is of the view that in its initial years it worked as a committee with the objective to look into the deplorable working condition of the Haris. In 1945, Hyder Bakhsh Jatoi joined the committee after resigning from his government job as revenue collector. At that time the leading members of the Committee included Abdul Ghafoor Jan Sirhindi, Hyder Bakhsh Jatoi, Maulvi Nazir Hussain, Abdul Qadir and Ghulam Muhammad Leghari.
In view of its proletarian character, the committee was bound to be suspected of communist leaning. And it was because of this that despite the assurance of its president Hyder Bakhsh Jatoi that the committee did not have anything with communist and that the Haris only wanted their bread, some still believed that the Sindh Hari Committee and Sindh Communist Party are like “twin brothers.” In the context of communist politics in Sindh, the major initial push was given by Narain Das Bechar in mid-1940s. In addition, a parallel Communist Party was formed due to the struggle of Qadir Bakhsh Nizamani, Abdul Qadir and Muhammad Amin Khoso. It enjoyed the support among the poor carriage drivers, ginning workers, peasants and shop assistants. In the laborers’ movement, Qazi Mujtaba used to be a dedicated young communist worker.
Political programme and objectives
The main objective behind the formation of the Hari Committee was to instill a coordinated effort to counter the exploitation of the Hari community of Sindh, and provide a platform to the exploited and oppressed peasants for joint action against the Jagirdar’s and zamindars. Abolition of the jagirdari system and the establishment of a socialist state was the committee’s objective. As a representative of peasants on different matters and problems, Sindh Hari Committee became very influential and carried enough weight to challenge the bureaucracy and the zamindars.
One important effort initiated by the Sindh Hari Committee was its strong protest against the Tenancy Legislation proposed by Sir Roger Thomas. A number of other progressive groups also came out openly to challenge the legislation. The committee had a firm belief in democratic values; all the issues were resolved and discussed in the general body of the executive council. The committee was much organised which had established branches on gross-root levels across the province. Their processions against the British imperialists and zamindars were also much organised. They have also organised many conferences on the problems of the Hari community of Sindh.
Proprietary right to the landless Haris was one of the main objectives of the committee. It always insisted that land should belong to the tiller and that the present zamindari system must be replaced by peasant proprietorship. To a larger extent they were successful because a number of government officials also started supporting their demands. The committee demanded that Kotri Barrage lands should be granted to the landless peasants without further delay, but the authorities did not agree. The political elites disregarded most of these demands.
Committee under Hyder Bakhsh Jatoi
The committee was among those progressive organisations which remained active for a long time. A sense of getting a rightful position was inculcated among the Hari community by the ideologues of the committee. In fact, some of its founding members like Abdul Majid Sindhi, G. M. Syed and many others established separate parties. However; the committee continued its efforts to mobilise Haris for getting political and economic rights.
The name of Hyder Bakhsh Jatoi is worth mentioning here. He was moved by the inhuman condition of the Haris and took interest in improving their living conditions. He was a torch-bearer of the leftist politics and very famous for his struggle to organise Haris. He was a member of Indian National Congress, the Theosophical Society and the Communist Party of India. He had also served as deputy collector, but left the job to serve his people and became the president of Sindh Hari Committee. He opposed the capitalist class of the British period in which zamindars enjoyed a luxurious life.
In the 1940s, following the decision of the Communist Party of India (CPI) to support the self-determination of the Muslim nation, the committee under Jatoi also started supporting Muslim League and its demand for Pakistan. The Haris saw in the creation of Pakistan relief from high-handedness of Hindu mahajans (moneylenders), allotment of lands grabbed by Hindu absentee landlords, freedom from feudal exploitation and prosperous future.
Committee in the post-1947 period
In Sindh, political activities of the leftists and regionalists intertwined in the early 1950s. On provincial level there were a number of political organisations fighting for the rights of ethnic Sindhi people and the Haris. A loose alliance was established by merger of four political groups which was called the Sindh Awami Mahaz (SAM) for contesting the provincial elections to be held in May 1953. Leaders behind the establishment of SAM were Abdul Majid Sindhi and G. M. Syed. They were instrumental in forming the SAM by merging G. M. Syed’s Sindh Awami Jamaat, the Sindh branch of All Pakistan Jinnah Awami Muslim League, the All Pakistan Dastur Party and the Sindh Hari Committee.
The basic demands of the SAM, in 1953 elections, were the abolition of the jagirdari system and limitation of zamindari acreage and redistribution of population from over-populated to under-populated areas. G. M. Syed was interested to transform this political alliance into a full-fledged political party for playing a positive role in the Sindh politics. In one of his speeches in the assembly, he said that SAM had been formed on permanent basis by all the coalition partners. Moreover, SAM would work as a political party of the people of Sindh. It caused differences within the coalition and Hyder Bakhsh Jatoi of Sindh Hari Committee decided to dissociate his group from the SAM.
To organise the Haris under the banner of the committee a number of conferences were arranged. In the Annual Conference of the Sindh Hari Committee in Hyderabad in December 1955, a resolution was passed saying if the vested interests inside and outside the government are too strong to permit Zamindari to be abolished, this council makes a number of modest demands for the government’s immediate implementation. Security of tenancy rights should be guaranteed to all peasants of Pakistan. The arbitrary eviction by Zamindars should be legally prohibited. Besides, the committee was in the forefront in the leftists’ protest when the One Unit Scheme was imposed on the people of Pakistan.
The positive fallout of the protest against the One Unit Scheme was that it brought unity of purpose among the leftist politicians in Pakistan. The era heralded the unification of the regionalists, ethno-nationalists and leftists on national level. Initially, they operated in the form of a loose organisation which was called the anti-One Unit Front in West Pakistan. Apart from the Sindh Hari Committee, the main parties in the Front included defunct Khudai Khidmatgar Organisation, the NWFP branch of AL under the Pir of Manki, Wrur Pukhtun, Sindh Awami Mahaz and Azad Pakistan Party.
A convention of all these progressive groups was organised by the Punjab wing of the Azad Pakistan Party of Mian Iftikhar-ud-Din in Barkat Ali Mohammedan Hall at Lahore on November 30-December 2, 1956. In the convention, Pakistan National Party (PNP) was established with the amalgamation of all these parties.
The PNP started up well with the campaign for the dissolution of One Unit Scheme which was its main concern and a “rallying point” for all the ethno-nationalists and progressives. The organising committee of the PNP was composed of Abdul Majid Sindhi, Amir Muhammad Khan, Abdul Karim, Muhammad Hashim Ghilzai, Hyder Bakhsh Jatoi and Mahmud Ali Qasuri.
In a nutshell, the role of the Sindh Hari Committee (SHC) is very important in bringing the issues of the Haris to the forefront. Its struggle for the rights of peasantry and land reforms would be remembered in golden words. The Haris are still facing problems like illegal evictions, lack of access to health facility, drinking water and education. It is the collective responsibility of all of us to give them due share on the basis of their hard work.
Abolition of zamindars is no longer a question of mere theoretical or academic interest; the system has been practically abolished in many parts of the globe. But unfortunately, in Pakistan, even after the partition, the roots of the zamindari system are getting stronger and stronger.