There is anger in Sehwan over what people are saying has been the government’s persistent failure over the years to invest in health care and, as the threat of terrorism has grown, to ensure security at shrines such as Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’s where 90 people were killed on Feb 16 in one of the worst attacks on a Sufi shrine in recent memory.
The taluka hospital is about 20 minutes from shrine. A man called Muhammad Bux was one of the first people who dared to enter after the explosion to help the injured. “I was accompanied by a friend who wanted to look for his younger brother,” he said. “We decided to save people who were breathing.” Rickshaws ferried the injured as others brought sheets to act as stretchers. “Whoever says the government came is lying. The Auqaf manager showed up at 11pm. It was only the young people of Sehwan who showed courage,” said Muhammad Bux.
District Commissioner Munawar Ali Mahesar has denied allegations that ambulances did not reach in time. “Fifty of our ambulances were present within half an hour,” he said. But Ather Hussain, a Khidmatgar at the dargah, asked how he could say that when Sehwan city only had four or five ambulances.
“Be honest, the taluka hospital has not been properly operating since the 1990s,” scoffed local journalist Khalid Memon. Others pointed out that no help desk was set up for people who were looking for missing relatives.
Shamsuddin Soomro who works at Taluka Hospital, Sehwan denied the criticism. “Our hospital did the best job it could,” he said. “We transferred all the injured people to other cities. How could we just sit there after a blast?” But even he had to agree that they lacked facilities. “We will improve in future,” he added.
If people are angry about the state of health facilities in Sehwan, they are also discussing how the government has ignored the steady creep of extremist thinking in these parts of Sindh. “From Shikarpur to Karachi, the banners and flags of banned terrorist organizations are everywhere and they are delivering hate speeches in madrassas,” said Allama Maqsood Ali Domki, the secretary general of the Majlis-e-Wahdat-e-Muslimeen. Religious parties are gaining political space as was seen in the by-election between Imtiaz Shaikh of the Pakistan Peoples Party and Nasir Mehmood Soomro of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazl). Sindhi political parties supported Soomro against the PPP in Shikarpur in October, 2016.
A resident who did not want to be named said that Sehwan had silently seen more Deobandi activities 2003 onwards. They have been attacking what happens at the shrine. This resident said that high-profile people such as a former chief minister had come to support Deobandi rhetoric. A major madrassa run by Maulvi Manzoor Ahmed Soomro is located just 40km from the city.
This has been alarming for the Hindus of the area. The shrine attracts people of all faiths and indeed, as Lal Gul Das, a custodian, explained, “the faith of the devotees have nothing to do with the shrine.” “My father Lal Das was Hindu. He was close to the murshid,” he said. Hindus perform important spiritual activities such as lighting the diya, laying the cloth on the grave and carrying the symbolic ‘coffin’. Sindh has a long history of the two faiths co-existing in these parts.
Since the explosion, the people of Sehwan have been discussing the rise of intolerance. At a gathering at his autaq, one of the custodians, Wali Muhammad Shah, stressed that the state must tackle terrorism. A guest interrupted him and said asked: “Wahi Pandhi, Dadu has many madrassas. No one can even ask them why they are opening so many. Religious groups are asking for donations on buses.” Wali Muhammad Shah agreed that madrassas in the area had been preaching against the shrines of the area.
TFT asked him why custodians did not ask the government to provide security. “At least in my case you cannot say that because I have been writing to the authorities since 2010 over corruption and security,” Wali Muhammad Shah said. “First they refused to accept our letters. Then we had to force them to receive them.”
(This article is an online exclusive)
Veengas is Karachi-based journalist and tweets at @veengasj