The story of Manu Bheel showcases the systematic abuse of Pakistan’s Dalits
Manu Bheel, a Dalit, went on multiple hunger strikes to protest against the kidnapping of 9 of his family members by a Muslim landlord in Pakistan in 1998.
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Manu Bheel, A Dalit, was freed from bonded labour In 1996. His family then worked as wage labourers. But in 1998, nine of his family members were kidnapped, by men sent by his former landlord. The case is still unresolved and Manu Bheel’s hunger strike has become a symbol of the plight of Pakistan’s dalits.
“I have left no stone unturned in search for my family, who were abducted in broad daylight from a farm in Jhuddo taluka in Mirpurkhas district in 1998. I have gone to police, to elders in my area and I have been knocking on the doors of the law but my parents, my wife and my children are nowhere to be found. I have also gone on extended hunger strikes but to no avail. If a well-to-do person goes missing from your big city, people will move heaven and earth for his or her recovery, but here my entire family have vanished from Mirpurkhas and no one cares. With no family, I have no home … I have no life,” Manu pleads.
Nine family members are kidnapped
In 1998, two years after his release, nine of his family members were kidnapped, allegedly by men sent by his former landlord Abdul Rahman Mari. Manu Bheel rushed to the police. But the window of political opportunity that had secured Bheel’s own release had meanwhile closed. Former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, had been replaced by Nawaz Sharif whose allies include Pir Pagara and his Pakistan Muslim League (Functional).
“They were kidnapped. I know because there have also been confessions from a couple of men, there have been arrests, too, but despite all this, there has been no progress in locating my family members. My parents were old. They may not even be alive today, but what about my children, my wife?” he asked. “Meanwhile, instead of helping me, there have been false cases lodged against me to create hurdles in my way. I am a very poor man. I don’t mean anyone harm. All I want is my family back,” he said.
Pir Pagara in turn is supported by Bheel’s former landlord Abdul Rahman Mari. Thus a change in the political landscape allowed Mari to seek revenge for Bheel’s release and to kidnap his family with the impunity that characterises so much of the abuse of Pakistan’s Dalits.