Thursday, September 9, 2010

Abolish feudalism

Despite how trite it sounds the floods may well be a blessing in disguise. Perhaps they are meant to wrest Pakistan from the abyss that it was hurtling toward and set its compass right.

As idealistic as my three-point action plan, abolish feudalism, prosecute corruption and ensure speedy justice to quick-fix Pakistan may seem, it can be given actual practicality. All that is needed is a national will. The unequalled Shakespeare: “there is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood leads onto fortune”.

One of the bitter remnants of British Raj, feudalism was used to honor and ingratiate nawabs, taluqdars, jagirdars etc. Originally the intent was to bless the favored with large tracts of land and when the blessed expired the land returned to the Raj. During the tenure of the blessings by His Majesty, the grantee enjoyed material, political and social favors. The land was tilled by peasants that had no ownership with lives bordering on slavery.

Land reforms occurred in post-partition India in 1953 but Pakistan chose to be buried under the yoke of feudalism with its attendant economic, social, educational, human rights and political evils. With Pakistan being largely agrarian feudalism has permeated and saturated the national psyche and one notices its recurring stamp in what is now an entrenched feudal mindset. And with globalization and the technological revolution, do not imagine your feudal lord dressed in shalwar kameez and pagri with a perpetually curled waxed mustache; your modern day man is vrooming in a convertible BMW and is dressed in pants, casual cotton shirts and loafers.

A few thousand families currently hold Pakistan in a vice-like grip. They own thousands of acres of land that is tilled by haris, landless peasants, who are held in varying degrees of subjugation by cruel feudals. Bondage is widespread in rural Pakistan and landlords and tribal leaders have even created private prisons. There is also the concept of debt bondage that the peasant has to work off, rather than pay off with money or goods, and this debt bondage extends through generations. The violation of basic human rights that this creates is another one of many stains on our nation.

Strongly politically connected or the only political game in the village, feudals do not pay taxes.

Themselves minimally educated if at all, feudals perpetuate the horrific literacy statistics of Pakistan. Married invariably to four and keeper of numerous, the feudal lord maintains all in deep ignorance, knowing that education would sever the bondage.

The family and social environment of the feudal community is impervious to rules of religion and of course to modern day justice. Some landlords are alleged pirs or spiritual leaders with propaganda of their lineage to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and hordes of people do bayt or swear allegiance to them. Besides the gold that the land brings in, the mureeds or followers rid themselves of a variety of ills by giving nazar or a monetary gift to the pir.

The deep and disgusting rot that is part and parcel of feudal families is well documented in many graphic novels that cause insomnia. That rape, incest and child sexual abuse is brushed under the rug of hallowed spiritualism makes it all even more despicable.

Sad also is the political hold that the feudal families have on Pakistan. Be it the PML (N) or the PPP, a majority of the National Assembly members belong to these infamous feudal families.

Slowly but surely their duplicity is being unmasked. Since the passage of the minimal qualification for election being a bachelor’s degree, many landlords are noted to have fake degrees and their grip on political power is loosened. A bit.

Pakistanis have an interesting fixation with land. Right after partition, people allegedly walked into vacant homes and called them their own. Pakistan has been ruled by alternating military and civilian dispensations; in the military regime promotions were given in the form of pieces of land. And in the heavy cross that the nation bears, all civilian governments have been headed by disgustingly wealthy landlord politicians from the infamous feudal families.

And now the floods and the accusation by peasants that the politically powerful diverted the water by breaking the levees so that their lands could be saved and the land of the poor was inundated.

The economic, social and political inequity perpetuated by feudalism must end if Pakistan is not to drown in the literal and figurative sense of the word. The floods provide a strangely painful opportunity to do this. Anger at the feudal lord has been steadily growing and as the media becomes more powerful stories of the murders, jirga justice, vani or child marriages, marriages to the Quran to retain property are all coming to light.

Altaf Hussain makes all the right noises but suffers from a glaring lack of credibility. Hordes of female fans listening to his crackling dramatic voice on a bad speaker notwithstanding. When bhatta or an imposed bribe/tax is part and parcel of the workings of a party and when he is unable to land in Pakistan for fear of a reprisal murder, no calls for a French revolution type movement or ending feudalism make a dent.

Changing from the PPP to the PML (N) is like a collective jump from the frying pan into the fire. The leaders of Pakistan’s major parties are embedded in the Pakistani staple of self-aggrandizement, self-enrichment, unfathomable corruption and a terrible betrayal to the poor whose backs they have ridden on all their lives.

The silver lining in Pakistan’s dense clouds is the definite mindset change that the default solution is the Supreme Court and not the military. The media has also played an indomitable role in unmasking Pakistan’s evils that were perpetually either brushed into oblivion or propagandized a la Goebbels.

Perhaps Pakistanis are still in the denial stage as far as the magnitude of the flood devastation and how it puts Pakistan in peril of actual survival.

Land ownership should maximize at 100 acres and with such a large percentage of land inundated, the time is ripe to rid Pakistan of feudalism, both physical and the mindset. And correct the huge gap between rich and poor.

The deeply dishonest politicians of Pakistan, with all their vested interests, will not institute land reforms. The people must: using the force of the media and the writ of the Supreme Court. To call for revolutions and indulge in the impracticable would be another betrayal and an opportunity to save Pakistan lost.

Mahjabeen Islam is a columnist, family physician and addictionist. She may be reached at