Isolated and deprived, will Thar’s voters elect the same old faces?
It is difficult to imagine a life worse than that of the people of Sindh’s Tharparkar desert region. They live in abject poverty, perpetual hunger and do not have basic necessities. Tharparkar has become a major electoral battlefield this election. The people of Tharparkar are represented by two National Assembly constituencies -- NA-221 and NA-222 -- and four Sindh Assembly seats -- PS-54, PS-55, PS-56 and PS-57. Tharparkar is spread across 20,000 square kilometres and has a population of around 1.6 million residing in 2,400 villages. There are 574,333 registered voters, of which 254,522 are women. According to the Election Commission of Pakistan, over 180,000 women have not been registered and are missing voters. The district also has a sizeable Hindu community, which makes up roughly half of the total vote. SAMAA TV anchor Faisal Karim visited the area to see how successfully politicians fulfilled their promises of eliminating poverty in the region. But what came to light was a region so isolated from the rest of the country that its residents did not even know that Benazir Bhutto had died. The region is facing an acute shortage of drinking and irrigation water. People fetch brackish water from hand pumps and deep wells. In some areas, people have made artificial ponds where they collect rainwater and sometimes water of the ponds is too unclean to consume. The PPP government’s water filtration and treatment plants are out of order in many areas. The education conditions in Tharparkar are also grim. In PS-57, there is just one school for a population of 5,000 in Sobdar Shah village. The school, which lacks basic facilities for proper education, is being run privately by the villagers who pay Rs500 for each student to a teacher. Women and infants are dying due to malnutrition and lack of medical facilities while the government hospitals lack proper medical facilities, doctors and medicine. None of these issues have been resolved, despite the PPP government completing two full terms in the Sindh government. Although the same old parties and faces are in the race for assembly seats, there is a desire for change and a ray of hope. One such example is of Sunita Parmar, first Hindu woman from Tharparkar district to contest the general elections. She is an independent candidate from Islamkot, PS-56, representing the desert region’s poor and deprived. Parmar provides for a family by sewing clothes. “All waderas [feudal lords] make tall claims but they do nothing,” she said. Another challenger to the PPP in the area is PTI candidate Faqir Irshad Kumbhar, who is determined that the power of the vote will change the fate of this neglected region.