VIEW: Abolish feudalism —Dr Mahjabeen Islam\09\10\story_10-9-2010_pg3_3

With the advent of globalisation and the technological revolution, do not imagine your feudal lord dressed in shalwar kameez and pagri with a perpetually curled, waxed moustache; your modern day man is vrooming around in a convertible BMW and is dressed in pants, casual cotton shirts and loafers

Despite how trite it sounds, the floods may well be a blessing in disguise. Perhaps they are meant to wrest Pakistan from the abyss it was hurtling towards 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. In the words of the unequalled Shakespeare:

“There is a tide in the affairs of men,

Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.”

One of the bitter remnants of the British Raj, feudalism was used to honour and ingratiate nawabs, taluqdars, jagirdars, etc. Originally, the intent was to bless the favoured 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 favours. The land was tilled by peasants who 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. With the advent of globalisation and the technological revolution, do not imagine your feudal lord dressed in shalwar kameez and pagri with a perpetually curled, waxed moustache; your modern day man is vrooming around 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 women and keeper of numerous others, 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 the 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 (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.

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 has been loosened. A bit.

Pakistanis have an interesting fixation with land. Right after partition, people allegedly walked into abandoned vacant homes and called them their own. Pakistan has been ruled by alternating military and civilian dispensations; in the military regime promotions were accompanied by the giving 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 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, because of which 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 (child marriages) and marriages to the Quran to retain property are all coming to light.

Altaf Hussain makes the right noises in terms of abolishing feudalism 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 (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 will 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-aggrandisement, self-enrichment, unfathomable corruption and a terrible betrayal of the poor whose backs they have ridden on all their lives.

The media has played an indomitable role in unmasking Pakistan’s evils that were perpetually either brushed into oblivion or propagandised 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 goes. The upper ceiling of land ownership should be 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 the rich and the poor.

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

The writer is a columnist, family physician and addictionist. She may be reached at

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