The recent murder of Dr Ajmal Sawand, an Assistant Professor at Sukkur IBA, has sparked protests against feudalism and tribal chiefs in Northern Sindh. However, the question remains: where do these tribal chiefs derive their power from, and why does this ancient system persist in the region? One of my previous studies may provide some clues to this phenomenon.
In 2017, I analyzed the results of the Standardized Achievement Test administered by Sindh government to assess education quality in public schools. Surprisingly, economically weaker regions like Tharparkar and Umarkot performed better than stronger regions like Shikarpur, Kandhkot and Ghotki — something that contradicts the popular belief that economic strength positively impacts education quality. Out of curiosity, I conducted an anthropological study to understand this phenomenon by recording the experiences of three generations living in these regions, and analyzing the data using various theories including Karl Marx’s “Conflict Theory” and Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger’s “Community of Practice”. The findings were surprising.
The first generation in Tharparkar and Umarkot perceived themselves as a “minority living among a hostile majority”, and their ultimate goal was “survival with peace and respect”. They initially believed that financial power would achieve this goal, but due to the finite resources of the desert region, most remained at the poverty line, and those who attained financial stability faced harassment from hostile groups. The realization that education was the key to securing positions of power for the community’s survival and respect led the second generation to struggle for basic quality education. They invested their time and energy in ensuring the quality of primary and secondary schools in their regions and established various support systems to facilitate educational mobility. Communities of practice were established to achieve this goal, without any designated leaders, rather anyone who succeeded in education were cherished and exemplified as leaders. These leaders maintained ties to their regions and created support systems to enable their third generation’s educational mobility and success.
On the other hand, the third generation in Kandhkot, Shikarpur and Ghotki, particularly in the Kacha area, perceived themselves as a community surrounded by hostile groups, with each community bound by tribes struggling to access finite resources. Community of practices were also established here with the tribal chief as its core to reinforce themselves by promising their tribal votes to potential MNA/MPAs in return for government jobs, contracts and police protection. All members are expected to protect the honour of the chief by voting for his selected party and the honour of the tribe by avenging any hostile action of other tribes, investing all their time and energy in conflicts. Education is seen as “useless” and for “cowards” since the educated members of the tribe usually avoid participating in conflicts, migrate from the region and have no connection with their community.
Dr Ajmal Sawand, a resident of Kandhkot, however, returned to his region to educate his people, but his people were more interested in maintaining the honour of their tribes. They killed him because he belonged to the opposite tribe, identifying him as ‘Sawand’ rather than ‘Dr Ajmal’, a PhD from France and social change agent.
This tale of resilience and rigidity highlights the power of education to break through barriers and transform lives in one region, but paints a grim picture of another. While we mourn the loss of Dr Ajmal, the stories of those who have persevered against all odds offer hope for the future. It is crucial that we continue to support education as a tool for social change and strive to produce more individuals like Dr Ajmal until they outnumber the ignorant ones.
Acknowledgement/Credit: Published in Daily Express Tribune on 4 May, 2023