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Deflowering a desert


Development could change agenda in virgin Tharpakar
SHAHID HUSAIN | Issue Dated: May 3, 2009
Tags : Islamkot | town | Pakistan | impoverished | Tharparkar | district | Shyamkot | Sant Shree Nenuram ashram | embodiment | Sind | cows | buffaloes | Kala Khushal | volunteer | population | Bheel | Kohili | communities | jobless | adults | remote | area | human | habitation | discovery | coal | deposits | Tharparkar | Hindus | Dalits | Eid | Diwali | Moharram | procession | hectic | development | work | desert | demography | granite | predicts | Arif Hasan | architect | Pathan | Hazara | Mansehra | Kohat | Bannu | entrepreneurs | mining | Christian | Ahmedi | missionaries | Thar | heritage | archeological | sites | Nagarparkar Taluka | folk | vernacular | pilgrimage | rituals | Sindhi | folklore | Taluka | settlements | Fossilization | Chinese | geologists | Nazir Ahmed | Thario Halephota | village |
Deflowering a desert Islamkot is a town in Pakistan’s impoverished Tharparkar district. Its name has changed several times. There was a time when it was called Shyamkot. Then it was rechristened Salamkot. Today it’s called Islamkot.

Even if some sections of the Pakistani establishment today disown their past, the Sant Shree Nenuram ashram here is a living embodiment of what Sind would have been before 1947. Everyday, hundreds of cows and buffaloes line up in a single file to quench their thirst and chomp fodder.

“At 6.30 am the ashram provides millet to birds. Thousands of birds flock here. They know they will get food,” Kala Khushal, 71, the sevadari or volunteer of the temple told TSI. Sant Shree Nenuram Ashram also serves free food to the neediest sections of the population, mainly working children from Bheel and Kohili communities and jobless adults. The food is modest, ‘dal chawal’ on a piece of paper, but it provides solace to people who can not afford to buy food. “Three hundred to five hundred people are served lunch and dinner every day,” Khushal informs TSI.

The 100-year-old Ashram has symbolic value. Situated in the great Tharparkar desert bordering Rajasthan, the 22,000 square kilometer of remote area hosts a human habitation of about 1.2 million and an animal population of 4.5 million - tilting the ratio 4:1 decisively in the latter's favour.

With recent discovery of coal deposits. things could be changing. The total deposits of four coal blocks have been estimated to the tune of 1 billion metric tones. Similarly there are rich deposits of fine quality granite and china clay. Although 40 per cent of Tharparkar’s population comprises Hindus and Dalits, people live in harmony and participate in each others’ festivals like Eid and Diwali. It is not uncommon to find Hindus amongst mourners in the Moharram procession.

With the advent of hectic development work, the desert is witnessing changes and it is feared that the demography of Tharparkar will change drastically once exploitation of coal and granite begins.

“The people of Tharparkar are herdsmen. Labour force will come from outside once mass scale exploitation of coal begins,” predicts Arif Hasan, noted architect and town planner who has written extensively on Tharparkar.

Hasan believes that Pathan workers from Hazara, Mansehra, Kohat and Bannu will be employed by entrepreneurs for coal mining. He pointed out that Christian and Ahmedi missionaries are already there and with development, Muslim missionaries will turn to Tharparkar. “With road network granite mining will become easy and lucrative,'' says Hasan.

Tharparkar boasts of a lot of heritage. So far, it has been well protected because there are no roads. But with bustling development and a road network, tourists have started coming to the desert and land is already being sold along the roads. “If zoning bylaws are not made, entire Thar, especially its heritage will be ruined,” warns Hasan. According to him, people are already walking away from archeological sites for constructing their homes.

The Nagarparkar Taluka - with a 57.03 Hindu population in 2008 - is different from the rest of the desert. ``It contains scenic granite mountains, exquisite heritage sites, unexcavated archaeological remains, beautiful folk and vernacular architecture, places of Hindu pilgrimage and rituals, and sites of Sindhi folklore. The rich heritage and scenic sites, along with a tolerant multi-religious culture, has been protected in a fossilized manner due to the inaccessibility of the Taluka. Until recently (2004), there was no proper road into the Taluka settlements. Fossilization has also meant deterioration in the built-environment, heritage sites and in socio-economic terms,” Hasan said.

Local population naturally harbours fears. “Coal mining will destroy our agricultural land and our environment. There is electricity at half a mile from our village where experiments for coal mining have been conducted by the Chinese and Pakistani geologists, but there is no electricity here,” said Nazir Ahmed, a shopkeeper in Thario Halephota village.

Haji Qayyum, 65, Pesh Imam in the village mosque is bitter: “I have never witnessed any Hindu-Muslim riots in Tharparkar in my life. But when labour will come from outside there will be in-fight over wages,” he said. A real cause of worry in an ocean of tranqulity so far.
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Posted By: M V Kothari | Mithi Tharparkar. | June 12th 2011 | 13:06
As Thar is the land of love and peace, there is no war between Hindus and Muslim in the past on any issue, we always celebrated Eid and Deepawali all together without any difference, but outsiders now a days trying very hard to start fighting between Muslims and Hindus to crash them and to enter and rule in the Thar.

Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017