By Arif Hasan
The media, print and electronic, are full of very important news and its analysis. Pakistan-US relations, the judiciary-executive conflict, the Karachi killings, sectarian strife, the Balochistan “insurgency”, and similar issues are regularly written about and/or discussed by well-informed experts. …….. …….
……. From the early 70s to the late 90s, I have worked in rural Sindh and documented and published on the processes of change taking place in different areas of the province. After a lapse of 10 years, I visited a large number of rural areas with which I was previously acquainted. These visits were made between 2010 and 2012 and involved meetings with village communities, transporters, arhatis, real estate agents and local NGO staff and Community Based Organisation activists.
The change that I have observed and which has been articulated by the groups I interacted with, is enormous and that too in 10 years. The most visible and important change is the presence of women in development and political discourse. They are employed in NGO offices, they manage development programmes, they are social activists and the majority of them are from the rural areas. In some of the remote villages I visited, there were private schools and beauty parlours run by young village women. Blocking of roads to protest against the “high handedness” of the local landlords, bureaucratic inaction, and/or law and order situations, has become common. Women participate in these demonstrations and in some cases these blockages have been carried out exclusively by them.
Discussions with groups on the issue of free-will marriages were also held. The vast majority of individuals were in favour of such marriages even if they violated caste divisions. However, they felt that it is the parents that have to change so as to make such marriages conflict free. The non-availability of middle schools for girls was also discussed. Surprisingly, the village communities had no problem with the girls studying with the boys in the male middle schools. In addition, discussions with the Sindh Rural Support Organisation’s (SRSO) women groups, which consist of the poorest women in a village, revealed that about 20 per cent of them had mobile phones and almost all of them watched television although around 30 per cent households actually own a TV.