As I set out to explore the enigmatic labyrinth of feudalism in Sindh, Pakistan, I was confronted with a rich tapestry of historical roots and deep-seated beliefs that have shaped the province’s political landscape for centuries. The feudal lords, known as Waderas, have existed in this region since immemorial. This feudal system of Sindh has both critics and supporters. Through the historical and critical analysis of the political history of Sindh, one can explore whether feudalism has been a source of empowerment for the people or an impediment.
Feudalism in Sindh follows deep archaic roots. The feudal lords in Sindh existed from time immemorial, but the era of British Colonialism could be termed aggravating. The feudalism before that era did not create a proper class difference, but this era created a Marxist-base class difference between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. In this era, land ownership was concentrated in the hands of a few powerful landlords. Over time, this system entrenched the roots of present-day feudalism in Sindh and created control of the feudal elite over vast agricultural lands, fostering a hierarchical society with a limited concentration of wealth and power.
Proponents of feudalism argue that the system provides a sense of social order and stability. They claim that the feudal lords, or Waderas, act as the patrons of their people by supporting their communities through philanthropic initiatives such as building hospitals, mosques, schools, or charity. Also, they argue that the historical feudal justice system allows quick justice and resolution of conflict, which helps maintain peace and law and order, especially in rural areas where institutional powers might be limited.
However, reality paints a different picture. While some feudal lords engage in philanthropic activities, most do not. They often do these activities selectively to maintain power and stay in the area rather than intending to serve the people. Also, the patronage system can create dependence, perpetuating a cycle of subjugation where the vulnerable are forced to remain loyal to their landlords. Someone dependent on his feudal elite for basic survival needs must prioritize survival over any justice.
On the other hand, the critics of feudalism argue that the feudal elites have produced hindrances in the progress and development of Sindh. The concentration of land owned by feudal elites who prefer traditional farming practices to preserve their interests has stifled agriculture growth and innovation. This has also hindered the farmers from producing water-friendly crops, eventually leading to a major contribution to water scarcity. This results in lower productivity and less modernization of agriculture.
Furthermore, the feudal system perpetuates a lack of political representation, awareness, and access to resources for the marginalized community or the proletariats in Marxist terminology. The norm of dynastic politics in Sindh has roots in feudalism, where the political power of their ancestors inherited people along with their assets. This leads to a pool of leaders that may not be competent or committed enough to serve the people. Consequently, most of Sindh’s population has no voice in decision-making processes.
One of the most egregious aspects of feudalism in Sindh is the persistence of bonded labor. Thousands of landless peasants, known as ‘Hari,’ are trapped in a vicious cycle of debt, which compels them to work on the land of feudal elites without any escape route. They are also deprived of the right to vote because they can only vote according to the will of the feudal elite. Although the government outlaws this exploitation, its enforcement remains weak due to these feudal lords’ deep-rooted influence and voter bank in local politics.
The feudal system has also contributed to ethnic tensions in Sindh. Land Ownership patterns have often favored certain ethnic groups, leading to community disparities. Most feudal lords have control over their ethnic community, which helps them fulfill their political interests. This ethnic divide has also exacerbated conflicts, which diverts focus from addressing broader issues of poverty, education, and infrastructure development.
While some proponents of feudalism argue that it offers stability and social order, it is important to recognize the darker side of the system. It has not only contributed to perpetuating inequality but hindered progress and marginalized the vast majority of the population of Sindh. Empowerment can only be achieved by strictly dismantling this system, making a debt-free society, and equitably redistributing the people’s political representation and resources. To ensure a brighter future for Sindh, it is imperative to spread awareness among people and embrace modern and democratic values while preserving the province’s rich cultural heritage. Only then can Sindh truly progress towards prosperity and inclusivity for all its inhabitants.