Pakistan: Struggling against feudalism

Strikes and protests force back corruption and oppression

On a recent visit to Pakistan, Geert Cool interviewed Hameed Channah, a member of the Socialist Movement Pakistan (CWI in Pakistan), about the struggles in the rural areas of the country. Hameed lives in the rural areas of the southern province Sindh. In these areas feudal structures are still dominant with big landowners controlling thousands of hectares.

Struggling against feudalism

“Different areas in Sindh are dominated by feudal rulers. One of them is also minister in Musharraf’s government. That minister is an important feudal lord ruling on the basis of repression against any resistance. He uses the state apparatus and the regime uses him to dominate everything.

“The entire region is dependent on this one person and his family. In many cases the police was used to violently crush any movement from the local population. Workers are thrown in prisons as soon as they protest. During the local elections all candidates from opposition parties were illegaly arrested and detained for several days.

“We try to organise the struggle against repression and exploitation. This is not always easy. My wife was harrassed by the authorities because of her role in the struggle. As a teacher she spoke out against the corruption in the educational system. She was forced into paid leave. That led to protest from other teachers: 303 schools were closed as a result and over 800 teachers in the whole area went on strike. The minister phoned me personally to say that my wife could return to her school immediately on the condition that the solidarity strike action was stopped.

“A number of years ago we campaigned against a false charge against a comrade. That comrade had laid charges against the authorities after a co-worker was killed. Because our comrade dared to resist, they charged him on false grounds. This led to a protest movement from the local population. All schools and shops in the village were closed for three days to protest. The massive charachter of the protest made the police retreat on the charges against our comrade.

“We have established a tradition of struggle in the region. Workers and landworkers who have problems come to us for advice and to have joint struggles. For all sort of problems and difficulties people come to see us. When in a nearby village the electricity supply was cut off by the company, those people came to see us. The company had cut the electricity and about 50 local people were arrested at the same time. Those 50 had to walk through the village with their hands on their head as a humiliation. 300 inhabitants of the village came down to us to discuss our response. We organised a demonstration in the main street of a local town and went to the offices of the electricity company where we did a sit-in.

“As these actions received some attention from the local media, the authorities had to react if they wanted to avoid that the movement would get stronger. The company restored the electricity supply in the village and all those who had been arrested received personal excuses for what was done to them.

“One of the biggest campaigns we organised in recent years was against corrupt police officers. Those officers went to landworkers and took their animals. For many in the rural areas their animals are crucial to be able to survive and to have food for the family. If the officers came to steal these animals, this was a huge problem for the landworkers.

“We organised a campaign to organise the local population against these practices. At a given moment we were able to capture two police officers while they were trying to steal animals. Everybody in the area came down to that place and there was a confrontation with the police. Two police officers died in the fight, but unfortunately also one of the local workers.

“The police mobilised all its local forces from the entire region to this village. They demanded that we wshould hand over the bodies of the killed officers. At the end we gave in ons this demand, but under the condition that there would be a legal procedure against the police officers.

“Eventually a case was opened against the officers, but also against some 200 local workers. This led to a massive protest. We blocked all the roads and the whole village went down on strike. The court had to promise that the 200 workers wouldn’t be charged.

“In the past few months we have organised demonstrations against the price hike of rice, against the construction of a dam on the river Indus,… We are involved in day-to-day struggle to survive. It already is a huge step to be able to organise struggle and to link that struggle to a national and international fight for a socialist society.”

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July 2006