Interview with a daring, unafriad Human Rights Defender whose love with Thar and Thari people is uncontional

Posted: February 1, 2014 in News and Views

ali2

Ali Akbar Rahimoon, who goes by Ali Rahimoon, a renowned, committed, skilled development professional and a trailblazer for young human rights defenders in Tharparkar region. I do not feel hesitant saying that he is daring, unafraid and straight forward. He has always refused to surrender before temptations and greed. Now what I am going to say about him, may annoy elected representatives from Tharparkar region, but I must share with you all that Ali has done more important work in Tharparkar than all elected representative have done together. I say this because elected representatives have interest of vote while Ali’s interest in Thar and Thari people is based on his love, affection, sincerity for his people and land. Be it an issue of human rights violation of people, exploitation of resources in Thar and royalty of Thari people, education or environment. Ali has always been leading the movement and fortunate is that he has always been successful in facilitating people’s access to justice and raising voice against violations. Ali has tested nonviolent means to get people’s rights recognized, and protected and he disapproves violent means as tools. If someone ask me what I like in Ali Rahimoon is his strong desire of changing things which need to be changed. Also his sense of wanting a fairness and equality makes him different from others. In this journey, Ali has faced high level threats and risks but with the support of local civil society, media, support of masses and national and international actors, he managed to continue his good work. Recently, I got a chance to interview Ali who is  leading an organization called AWARE that work on human rights and development. Let us talk to Ali and ask him about his ideas, work, dreams, perspectives, challenges and threats he faces in his work.
ali_01
RNP: Ali! What does AWARE DO which is different from other NGOs?

Ali: It used human rights based approach and strive for the establishment of a REAL equal society where people determine their own fate and live according to their own choices. We change what need to be changed and direction of change decided by us, people of Thar. Behind all are programmes, one point agenda is EMPOWERMENT of population who are down trodden and marginalized.
RNP: What are front on which AWARE has fought and examples it has set?
Ali: AWARE has been remained successful to set examples i.e. usually it is said for Thar that there is hot weather but AWARE Team has initiated harvesting solar energy and set example of illuminating huts in deep desert where it was not perceived. Gusting winds are there and because of that most of the time people don’t prefer to go to Thar but AWARE harvested that energy and set examples of dragging out underground water even from depth of 300 feet. The power structure in Thar is little bit different from other areas of Sindh or country. Traditional taboos are very strong and those support the oppressor in violation of human rights of Thari people but AWARE with participation of community mainly and also stakeholders set some examples of breaking the silence and created ripple effect in backward area of Thar. i.e. Moomal case, Charnore school case and recently Motaan Bhaeel case is one of such example set in Thar Desert that demystified some myths and provided way to struggle for emancipation and strive for best in backward area.
RNP: Do you work on human rights protection? What cases you have raised? What happened to Motaan Bheel Case which we know your organization raised?

Ali: AWARE has set examples and through its struggle, it has created ripple effect in backward area of Thar. i.e. Moomal case, Charnore school case and recently Motaan Bhaeel case is one of such example set in Thar Desert that demystified some myths and provided way to struggle for emancipation and strive for best in backward area.
RNP: How did you succeed in getting justice for the victim and family?
Ali: AWARE Team has taken it seriously because this was the first case of gang rape in Thar in the recorded history of Tharparkar. Initially, victim’s family and AWARE’s Team approached to the police but police did not take it serious because of pressure of politicians of rulling party who were backing the perpetrators. We also realized that local media was not giving due coverage to the case and their coverage was sporadic and not consistent. Then I decided to take pen and write on the issue in Daily Kawish published in Daily Kawish Mid Week on 11th of September 2013, can be read at https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=204407326402901&set=a.125197470990554.24167.100005009049443&type=1&theater..

Later the same was translated by me in English and that published in Lahore Times can be read at http://www.lhrtimes.com/2013/09/12/three-stories-one-pain-194247/#ixzz2ehEkg0nc

This media coverage took the issue at national level and raised the level of protection of victim, family and those who were struggling and discouraged the local politicians assisting perpetrators. Police also got a message that if they did not handle the issue properly then action might be taken against them. So we got an interim success in this regard. This was first case of its nature in Thar which disturbed the peace of Thar and made us upset. Due to political pressure of ruling party, Police and medico legal authorities were not discharging their duties properly. For justice for victim, we along with the family of victim protested outside press club of Chachro press. This act invited many threats and our and victim and families security was in danger but stood together and realized that our unity and firmness along with the support of our civil society friends we managed to advocate the case. We also realized that in that test local media was not depicting the real situation. Later, we contacted Civil Society Network Sindh and national media which did its job properly and that also pressurized local media which was reluctant before. As a result, a detailed story published in Express Tribune on 12th of September 2013 by Farha Naz Zahidi on Motaan Case available and ca be read at http://tribune.com.pk/story/603282/of-three-thari-women-revenge-and-a-cell-phone/

It drew attention of the Chief Justice of Pakistan, who took the notice of the issue and within 24 hours all 08 culprits were arrested by Police. More details are available here at http://tribune.com.pk/story/653741/success-story-how-a-news-story-won-a-gang-rape-victim-justice/

RNP: It was reported that the culprits were influential? How did you cope up with the situation?

Ali: This is part of record that an MPA of ruling party, Dr Mahesh Kumar Mallani issued a statement that “There is no gang rape taken place, I shall interrogate”. It was surprising for all that in which capacity an elected member is saying about it, what type of mandate he has to interrogate? And whom he wants to interrogate? (Published in media). Victim’s family was poor and having no political support, so being a member of AWARE and a human rights defender I supported it. I had not got any direct threat from any member of ruling party but indirectly it was felt. In case of not taking notice by CJP may be ruling party members get pressurized me or AWARE Team members as well as victimized family.

RNP: How did you engaged media on this issue?

Actually problem with local media is not one but many. One: they are also human being and live in the
Local society and face pressures by local feudals and other strong groups including armed actors but another issue is also that they are not sensitive to human rights, gender equality and other concepts so these lacking hinder their professional reporting. In this case, local correspondents were not clear about medical examination report. correspondent lack skills and means to report the reality of such cases i.e. initial medical examination report was not clear and local correspondents were unclear about the medico legal aspects. There is couple of members of press club and none is from mainstream media, so case was not being reported properly. Having background of journalism, I wrote the investigative article in Sindh and then translated in English and publishing of that echo the voice. Later on International media reported the issue and CJP took the notice.

RNP: What are other issues of Thar and how are they are being raised?

Thar is in the process of hyperchange and it will be not desert any more but a hub of interests of national and international corporations. The major aspects which are of importance and draw international corporations interest are: exploration and exploitation of Thar coal, granite, china clay, salt and gypsum etc.

But issue with us is that our elected representatives and other state actors are not raising voice on resettlement policy.Politicians are totally silent on major issue of Thar because of their cheap political interests. They are forgetting that their political interest is in raising Thari people’s issues if they really want to get success in elections. These issues are not simple and can can not be taken far granted. They are forgetting that future of Thari people is totally dependent on that. Views of technocrats’ on draft Resettlement Policy Framework for Thar Coal Fields can be viewed in a report of event held at Hyderabad on Nov 07, 2013 in which different stakeholders participated and it remained of high importance in terms of eye opener for the primary and secondary level stakeholders but decision makers are not paying heed to it. It can be read at http://www.dawn.com/news/1054808/concern-over-plight-of-affected-families

– Concerns of Thari people echoed in public hearings called on SEIA by Companies/SEPA and present views/concerns and suggestions on protecting the rights of indigenous people were raised. Its video can be seen here. Videos of couple of such events can be viewed here

Here is an article on the resettlement policy published in Daily Kawish is suggesting a lot.
Daily Kawishhttp://www.thekawish.com/www3/Weekly/Wed-day/image/09.jpg

– Consultation on RPF at Mithi on platform of Marooara Coordination Council, its a council raises issues of Thar did a consultation meeting and its report is present here: http://beyond.lhrtimes.com/2013/10/31/thar-coal-resettlement-policy-framework-rejected-locals-urged-authorities-should-get-land-on-lease-710/

http://www.dawn.com/news/1052981/resettlement-policy-of-thar-coal-project-termed-flawed

– AWARE stance on Thar coal exploitation can be viewed http://groups.yahoo.com/group/socialist_pakistan_news/message/26348

RNP: How do you mobilize people and stakeholders on issues affecting people?

Ali: Its really not easy. It is really a hard job. AWARE uses different ways and means to educate and sensitize the stakeholders including; publishing quarterly magazine in local language Sindhi, pamphlets and stickers on different issues, theater shows and also organizing training and exposure visits for reporters of different newspapers and correspondents of TV channels in Tharparkar and adjoining areas, so media proved effective way to echo the voice on said matters and you may visit some online links;
http://beta.dawn.com/news/1021178/tharis-have-serious-doubts-over-coal-exploration-process
http://x.dawn.com/2013/07/02/thar-coal-locals-feel-threatened/
http://www.sindhexpress.com.pk/epaper/PoPupwindow.aspx?newsID=130047868&Issue=NP_HYD&Date=20130628

– Being a local CSO, AWARE had been raising voice on above said issues but continuity and alliance building/solidarity/proper forum was missing
– Issue of encroachment by salt mine holders in area of Mokhai, near Nanagrparkar was highlighted in July 2011. The salt mine owners had raised construction near water source of villagers/blocked the way or access to water and also created disturbance in mobility of villagers as well as grazing of animals
– The mobility of heavy vehicles was causing land degradation
– The media has highlighted the issues. Some links of English papers are at http://www.pak-times.com/2011/07/13/rights-of-indigenous-tharis-in-salt-mining-areas-being-denied/
http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2011/07/are-we-going-to-lose-the-rann-of-kutch/

– Seminar on water polluted by China clay factories was conducted at Nangarparkar in 2011

– The authorities concerned have been wrote to take the actions but response is very poor
Poor situation of governance and status of basic rights; i.e. drinking water.AWARE remained extensively engaged in advocacy work on water issues in Umer-kot and Tharparkar Districts. A documentary has been developed by Ms. Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=576250122404637&set=vb.196653090351130&type=2&theater

-Deep underground water and difficult practice of dragging out from dug wells http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=591114557587189&set=vb.100000659492098&type=2&theater compels inhabitants to use less water and ultimately hygiene issues affects health and living standard.

Education: this is another aspect and without this Thari people will not be able to get their rights in future. You may feel the dismal situation of education in Tharparkar by going through these links.

 BBC Urdu reported the issues related to education, so on March 06, 2013 BBC Team also visited some villages and on March 18, 2013 BBC radio http://www.bbc.co.uk/urdu/multimedia/2011/10/000000_sairbeen.shtml and Serbeen on Express TV http://www.bbc.co.uk/urdu/multimedia/2013/03/130318_sairbeen_monday18_march_tim.shtml relayed the reports which are self explanatory, so you are requested to go through the links

 BBC Team also visited village Manjhi Rind and met with children of a AWARE supported community school and highlighted and quoted as example in documentary. An encouraging response of media for community and AWARE Team!

 Daily Times published a letter in which initiative of AWARE; “Children Learning Resource Centers” is ppreciated http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2013%5C03%5C26%5Cstory_26-3-2013_pg3_7#.UVFg9H_P3Rw.facebook

 Pak Tribute also published the same letter http://paktribune.com/news/Schools-in-the-Thar-desert-By-Gulsher-258543.html
 A full page special supplement on Educational Research has been published in Daily Times
 Seminar on Status of Education and Future of Thar (Regional Times (Monday, September 30, 2013)https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=211792542331046&set=a.125197470990554.24167.100005009049443&type=1&theater
• Report published in daily dawn as Call to improve education standards in Thar
http://dawn.com/news/1046638 (Call to improve education standards in Thar)
• The Pioneer online paper published report of Seminar on Education http://thepioneer.com.pk/2013/10/01/political-involvement-is-a-major-reason-of-miserable- situation-of-education-5836/
• Daily Times published report of education seminar http://dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2013%5C09%5C30%5Cstory_30-9-2013_pg7_6
• Lahore Times published report on education event http://www.lhrtimes.com/2013/09/30/political-involvement-is-a-major-reason-of-dismal-situation-of-education-in-thar-199589

RNP: Did PPP Government take any action on it?

Ali: PPP was seen as a change in politics of Thar and people had high hopes but not so far they delivered any countable relief to Thari people. It will be astonishing/surprising for readers that in last tenure of PPP made 05 promises to provide safe drinking water to a fluoride worst affected village Samoo Rind but not a single is fulfilled. Again people are protesting but no one is taking its notice.

– Nisar Khauhro announced in a public gathering on March 30, 2010 at Karachi http://www.dawn.com/news/969496/thar-water-injurious-to-human-health and he even said that in next assembly sesion he will mobilize MPAs for donation of one salary to meet the immediate need of Thari people!

– Ms Sharmila Farooqui then advisor to CM announced on June 15, 2009 that she will take measures to provide water to suffering souls of Samoo Rind http://www.allvoices.com/news/3450413-poverty-has

– Chief Minister Sindh took notice on a news about Samoo Rind issue appeared in daily Dawn http://x.dawn.com/2011/02/24/brackish-contaminated-underground-water-disease-torments-villagers-irrespective-of-age-and-gender/

– DCO Tharparkar had sent a report with clear recommendation along report of AWARE research on May 19, 2011 that villagers must be provided water on urgent basis ! (the details are attached herewith – scan copies of letters and news clippings)

– villagers and AWARE members protested at Mithi press club and observed 05 days hunger strike http://www.dawn.com/news/777876/protest-over-water-shortage-in-mithi

– the MNA and PPP president for District Tharparkar Dr Mahesh Malani (in present assembly he is MPA from Mithi) came to hunger strike camp on sixth day and he assured that within week issue will be resolved http://www.dawn.com/news/778871/hunger-strike-for-safe-water-ends

RNP: What Aware or you as an individual are doing on Thar Coal Issue?

It is clear to us that being an individual or only AWARE Team cannot change the policies or resolve the issues. It needs much more efforts, lobbying, networking and joint efforts to deal with the situation. In the progress made so far, AWARE is not a single contributor but it all happened in the result of so many people and institution’s support. As AWARE is conscious about exploration and use of natural resources of Thar; coal, granite, china clay, salt and gypsum so always raised the voice and given call to other like minded friends and organizations to play their due role. The exploration and exploitation process is going on different levels/magnitude, so the intensity and types of issues are also different. AWARE had been raising voice on different aspects by keeping in view the rights of indigenous people, environment, climate change and disasters. But it is realized by time that issue in its nature is complex and needs collective efforts, so you are requested to guide and support AWARE Team as rights of indigenous people can secured by highlighting the case timely.
Coal:
– Tharparkar District is spread over on 19638 sqkms and there are coal reserves in 9100 sqkms area. There is 175 billion tons lignite coal deposits in Thar.
– The coal area is divided in blocks and so far 03 Companies have got permission for mining. Only in one block the work is ongoing for underground coal gasification and other one Company has started land acquisition process at initial level.
– Govt of Sindh and Companies (project proponent) are in process of conducting studies on socioeconomic studies including relocating the people and devising compensation strategy etc. The resettlement policy is the major step in said process. Three public hearings on SEIAs are also held so far.
– Media is highlighting issues of not hiring local people etc
Issues:
– Resettlement Policy Draft is termed flawed by people of Thar because Thari people don’t want to sale but give land on lease. There is no clear critical path for alternate livelihood, mitigation of environmental disaster (which will occur during open pit mining on Thar) whereas Thar is already facing every third year as a drought year.
– There is more than 0.2 million acres land lying in the name of enemy or evacuee property and land rights are not given to local people, so the inhabitants can’t claim for compensation. Even PPP Govt had not given a single acre of land to landless peasant women in Thar during both tenures of their Govt.
– The grazing land (Gaucher) and communal land are considered as Govt/state land and there is no mechanism of compensation against that, whereas said land is common property of villagers and that is of villagers not State Land.
– Coal companies/field needs technical human resources and there is no or very limited such technical and quality manpower is available in Thar, so indigenous people will not be able to get more benefit from projects
– Open pit as well as underground coal gasification process has direct impacts on environment, land, fauna and flora but not considered/highlighted by media and other stakeholders
Areas of possible intervention:
– Critical review of all daft policies; Resettlement Policy Framework, SEIAs (so far conducted as well as upcoming) and Land Grant Policies.
– Translation of above said policies in local language Sindhi and make available at District HQ at least
– Raise awareness of primary and secondary level stakeholders on different aspects of upcoming projects, rights of indigenous people, affects on environment/increasing vulnerabilities of drought hit people of Thar.
– Get know, compile and present “Peoples Perspective” through different means and ways to motivate the responsible segments for addressing timely
– Capacity building of local journalists and activists Study on land rights issues – evacuee/enemy property – struggle reform in Thar land Grant Policy
What AWARE has done so far:
– AWARE and RDF also held a joint policy review workshop cum dialogue on Draft Resettlement Policy Framework for Thar Coal Fields at Hyderbabd on Nov 07, 2013 in which different stakeholders participated and it remained of high importance in terms of eye opener for primary and secondary level stakeholders http://www.dawn.com/news/1054808/concern-over-plight-of-affected-families Brief report is attached herewith for your kind concentration.

– AWARE Team minutely reviews SEIAs and mobilize community to participate in public hearings called on SEIA by Companies/SEPA and present views/concerns and suggestions on protecting the rights of indigenous people. Videos of couple of such events can be viewed herehttps://www.facebook.com/photo.php?
v=518256458193063&set=vb.100000261402682&type=2&theater

– An investigative report/article contributed on Draft Resettlement Policy Framework – Thar coal fields and published by Daily Kawishhttp://www.thekawish.com/www3/Weekly/Wed-day/image/09.jpg

– Consultation on RPF at Mithi on platform of Marooara Coordination Council http://beyond.lhrtimes.com/2013/10/31/thar-coal-resettlement-policy-framework-rejected-locals-urged-authorities-should-get-land-on-lease-710/
http://www.dawn.com/news/1052981/resettlement-policy-of-thar-coal-project-termed-flawed

– AWARE stance on Thar coal exploitation can be viewed http://groups.yahoo.com/group/socialist_pakistan_news/message/26348

– AWARE uses different ways and means to educate and sensitize the stakeholders including; publishing quarterly magazine in local language Sindhi, pamphlets and stickers on different issues, theater shows and also organizing training and exposure visits for reporters of different newspapers and correspondents of TV channels in Tharparkar and adjoining areas, so media proved effective way to echo the voice on said matters and you may visit some online links;
http://beta.dawn.com/news/1021178/tharis-have-serious-doubts-over-coal-exploration-process
http://x.dawn.com/2013/07/02/thar-coal-locals-feel-threatened/
http://www.sindhexpress.com.pk/epaper/PoPupwindow.aspx?newsID=130047868&Issue=NP_HYD&Date=20130628

– Being a local CSO, AWARE had been raising voice on above said issues but continuity and alliance building/solidarity/proper forum was missing
– Issue of encroachment by salt mine holders in area of Mokhai, near Nanagrparkar was highlighted in July 2011. The salt mine owners had raised construction near water source of villagers/blocked the way or access to water and also created disturbance in mobility of villagers as well as grazing of animals
– The mobility of heavy vehicles was causing land degradation
– The media has highlighted the issues. The scan copies of news clippings can be shared whereas some links of English papers are
http://www.pak-times.com/2011/07/13/rights-of-indigenous-tharis-in-salt-mining-areas-being-denied/
http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2011/07/are-we-going-to-lose-the-rann-of-kutch/
– Seminar on water polluted by China clay factories was conducted at Nangarparkar in 2011
– The authorities concerned have been wrote to take the actions but response is very poor

RNP: Do you or your organization act alone or with the support of network? How is that network?

AWARE is member of different networks; Marooara Coordination Council Tharparkar, Fresh Water Action Network South Asia (FANSA), AAHM and other networks, so we raise voice on different issues through these platforms too.
As far as the successes made, so far; we are grateful to family members of victimized families i.e. Ms. Motan Bheel for taking stand, family members of Ms. Moomal for being patient and trust in AWARE Team, school management committee members of Charonore for standing up against the lawlessness and negligence by line departments, villager of Samoo Rind who are still struggling since 2008.

AWARE Team is highly thankful to journalists of national media and local media for giving coverage and highlighting the issues; especially Ms. Farahnaz Zahidi of Express Tribune, Riaz Sohail of BBC, Amar Guriro of Daily Times, Allah Buz Arisar of Daily Dawn and so on.
All CSOs, Human Rights activists especially Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and individuals who extended their support and cooperation at every stage and RightsNow Pakistan which provide us support and help raising voices. Last not least personally I am thankful to AWARE Team members who are onboard or even left but whatever is on the credit of AWARE is that came to possible by their struggle, efforts and sincerity with suffering souls of Thar.

RNP: Have you faced any threat due to your work?

Ali: yes many threats which goes high when issues are raised. Some threats are all time high so then we have to work on them.

RNP: Have you attend any training on security, risk assessment or threat handling or designing personal security plans?
No not yet. We use common sense. Now we request RightsNow Pakistan for organizing such a training for human rights defenders in which we will offer our full cooperation.

RNP: Any message for human rights activists, civil society, international community?

Ali: Promote human rights, nonviolence, peace, pluralism, secularism, co existence. Thar is also part of Sindh and it should not be neglected in decision making and national policies. People of Thar are sensitive, famous for hospitality offer warm welcome to all who visit Thar regardless of their limited resoruce must be remembered when there is decision making about them.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s