MITHI: At a meeting organised by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), a wide cross-section of activists and professionals from across Tharparkar identified several key human rights issues in the area, including the lack of potable water, the need for more jobs, malnutrition among mothers and children, and forced conversions.
HRCP member and leading human rights activist Krishan Sharma moderated the meeting. Honorary Spokesperson I A Rehman, Council member Hina Jilani, Co-Chair Uzma Noorani and Secretary-General Harris Khalique reassured participants that HRCP would continue to voice and convey their concerns to decision makers at the federal and provincial levels. HRCP will also continue to conduct fact-finding missions on local issues identified by the communities.
The lack of access to clean water was an overriding concern. One participant alleged that, although the Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) had approved a plan to source clean water at various sites, this had not been implemented by the government. Participants felt that the Thar Coal and other development projects should provide more jobs to local residents, although this should be done while mitigating the long-term environmental impact of using coal.
One participant alleged that water supply operators at RO plants had not been paid in six months. Moreover, they received less than the minimum wage.
Many participants felt that remote local communities could not access health services because they were too scattered, with families unable to reach the nearest hospital in time in emergencies. Malnutrition was also linked to cultural barriers, such as early marriage, poor birth spacing and undernutrition among women. The rate of suicide, especially among women, was linked to the absence of mental health services in the area.
Representatives of the Bheel and Kohli communities expressed their concern at what they see as inadequate political representation by upper-caste political leaders. Women at the meeting also said that there should be a mechanism that allows minority women who are divorced after converting to Islam and marrying Muslim men, to receive livelihood support, given that they are often shunned by their own communities.