Book Review – Fatema of Sindh

Sindh Ji Fatema – A book Tribute by Chacha Mohammad Ali Laghari to his Wife

Book Review by Khalid Hashmani

After several years, in early part of 2011, Chacha Mohammad Ali Laghari visited his son (Sufi Munawar Laghari) who now lives in Washington D.C. The last time when I met him in May 2008, he was tending to his wife Ghulam Fatema Laghari at Munawar Laghari’s apartment. Fatema was suffering from cancer and had travelled thousands of miles to see his son. Munawar cannot visit Sindh due to fear of prosecution. She soon departed after returning to Sindh few days later. As I had enjoyed hospitality of gracious Chacha Mohammad Ali and his spouse Fatema Laghari and their son Anwar Laghari when I visited Sindh in 2000. Naturally, I invited Chacha Mohammad Ali for a simple meal at my apartment in the outskirts of Washington D.C. After “Hal-Ahwal“, Chacha Mohammad Ali took out a book from his bag and after writing a short note, he gave me that book to read. The title of the book was “Sindh Ji Fatema”. It intrigued me very much and I immediately started browsing this 200 plus book written in the Sindhi language enshrined with spiritual Sindhi poetry by legendary Sindhi poets such as Shah Abdul Latif, Sachal Sarmast, Shaikh Ayaz, and others. I was intrigued because it is not often that a person writes a book about his/her spouse. Particularly, coming from a male-dominated society, where literacy rate is substantially lower, his book about his wife was quite remarkable undertaking and indeed a great tribute.

Book’s Foreword

The book’s foreward is written by well-known Marine Engineer and writer. It recalls the four meetings that Altaf Shaikh had with Fatema of Sindh. He says, although she was from a small village, she was highly intelligent, courageous, truth-seeker and mother who felt sorrows of every one. Altaf adds that Fatema Laghari was not only mother of Munawar and Anwar but she was mother, teacher, and guide of all of us.

Early Years of Fatema of Sindh

Fatema Laghari was born on August 2, 1940 in a small village called “Bakhshoo Laghari” about 15 miles from Hyderabad, which is second largest city in the province of Sindh in Pakistan. This village has about one hundred houses. Apart from many Lagharis, several Kalhora, Sheedi, Menghwar, Maachhi, and other families also live there. The village has a primary school that is about 100 years old. But, alas, a secondary school that was started few years ago is now closed due to the lack of government support. The irony is that today, a person whose family has roots in Bakhshoo Laghari village now holds a very high position in the educational system of Pakistan and yet a secondary school remains an illusion for the people of this village. Fatema’s father late Hasan Ali died when she was only four years old and her oldest brother was six years old. The death of father pushed Fatema’s family into poverty. To help her family in living expenses, Fatema had to work like an adult to plant, harvest, and help deliver their main crop onions to the market. The books tells us how enemies of Sindh and Sindhis, after gaining control have changed the education landscape in small villages. Sixty five years ago education was compulsory and those who not register their sons and daughters were pursued by the education department. Today, the same department is presiding over unprecedented closing of schools in thousands of Sindhi villages’ and ushering an era of poverty and illiteracy. In those days, about 600 students were registered in the primary school in Bakhshoo Laghari with several teachers and average daily attendance was about 400.

Marriage followed by Struggle for Sindhi Rights

Chachi Fatema and Chacha Mohammad Ali were both 18 years old when they got married. Soon, they were bestowed by two sons – Anwar and Munawar. Anwar is now a senior medical doctor and serving diligently poor people of Sindh. Munawar is well-known activist for Sindhi Rights and currently heads an organization called Sindh-American Political Committee (SAPAC). The main objective of SAPAC is to lobby the US Congress and the US Government on behalf of Sindh and Sindhis. Fatema became interested in the issue of Sindhi Rights after observing and suffering the brunt of regular police raids who were looking for Munawar Laghari. Even though Fatema became a well-known champion of Sindhi Rights on her own accord, she suffered immensely when her son Munawar Laghari was forced to leave Pakistan and become an international refugee ultimately securing a political asylum in the USA. It is said that Fatema holds a record for the posting/ writing the largest number of posters about Sindhi Rights on the walls of Hyderabad and other cities and towns of Sindh. She helped workers of the Sindhi national movement regardless of their political affiliations whenever any one needed a meal or a cold glass of water. She opened her home to Sindhi political artists. Many of them spent several hours a day recording their nationalistic songs on cassettes that were distributed in villages and towns of Sindh. The book provides a vivid account of struggle of Sindhi students to fight for Sindhi rights including their struggle against against state agencies and their own turf wars. During Sindh-Mohajir attacks, when almost all Sindhi Wadera and their families returned to villages, it was the small lower middle class Sindhi families living in Hyderabad and Karachi that faced the brunt of the vicious attacks. Fatema played a heroic role in organizing women workers who ensured that food and medical help promptly reached affected families in Hyderabad.

Author’s Recollections of major Events that Impacted Sindhi Human Rights Movement

Chacha Mohammad Ali Laghari makes a point of describing major events that had a profound affect on the Sindhi Rights movement. His description of Sindhi-Mohajir disurbances explains the helplessness of poor Sindhi families in Karachi and Hyderabad. His narrative about May 19 Nari Movement should be made a part of historic record of Sindhi struggle. His analysis of Tando Bahawal event and how Sindhi families faced the brutal forces commanded by major Arshad would startle many readers.

Her US Travel to seek Medical Help and to see her son after decades of not seeing him in 2007, Fatema Laghari suffered a serious illness. After doctors of Agha Khan Hospital informed her family that her disease had considerably advanced, her son Munawar Laghari arranged her visit to the USA. She and her husband travelled in early 2008 for medical consultation and to meet her son whom she had not seen for decades. Many members from the Washington Sindhi community (including this reviewer) went to see Fatema Laghari during those last days.

“My Mother!” – a Chapter in book by her sons

In this Chapter, Munawar Laghari pays homage to his mother citing poetry of Shah Latif, whose main characters are all women – Marvi, Sasui, Moomal, etc. The homage uses various messages from Shah Abdul Latif to describe her her mother’s qualities. Her eldest son, Dr. Anwar Laghari remembers her mother in the context her impact on his life and his personal growth.

Sindh Pays Tribute to Fatema Laghari

The last 33 pages of the book are devoted to tributes paid to Fatema Laghari. One tribute sums her life with a remark “Fatema Laghari was a Sindhi woman just like millions of other Sindhi women but with extra-ordinary courage to spent much of her life to advance the national cause of Sindhi Rights.

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