The restrictions on physical movement to prevent the spread of the coronavirus are impacting both urban and rural areas. The pandemic and measures to control it are affecting the agricultural economy in varying degrees in different parts of the country, with water-deficit areas bearing the main brunt. Residents of the Thar desert region of Sindh are running short of water and fodder for their cattle because of the prolonged lockdown. Spread over an area of 77,000 square miles the annual average rainfall in the region is a mere 10 inches. Due to scanty rains, people chiefly depend on cattle rearing for livelihood. In the most-dry months of April, May and June, residents shift to nearby districts of Mirpurkhas, Sanghar and Badin where they get both fodder and water for their livestock and work on agricultural farms. But this year they have been unable to migrate to these places because of the lockdown.
Livestock farmers say the shortage of fodder has forced them to ration it for the cattle. According to these farmers, many residents who, with their livestock, tried to migrate to other districts have been forced to return by those entrusted with the task of enforcing the lockdown; and even some of those who had managed to migrate to other places have been forced to return home. Complaining that they cannot bring fodder and water from other places because of the curbs on plying transport, they have asked the government to relax the lockdown so that they, with their cattle, can move to adjoining districts. At these places they can get work as farmhands and their livestock water and fodder. Residents say the shortage of fodder and water will have manifold effects on livestock farmers. They fear cattle dying in large numbers and reduced breeding thereby leaving farmers in dire economic straits.
The shortage of water is a perennial problem in Thar. The prevailing conditions once again underscore the need for extending the canal network to this region.
Plight of Indian Muslims
Religious freedoms in India continue to face threats from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindutva regime. Most recently, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has called out the regime for allowing “campaigns of harassment and violence” against Muslims and other religious minorities to continue. The nonpartisan government body also ranked India in its ‘greatest concern’ category in its annual report. The rating will probably not have a tangible effect on India. This is because it only makes recommendations to the State Department and leaves decision making to the latter, which is run by the administration of President Donald Trump who has rather praised Modi’s handling of minority issues when communal riots were taking place across India.
Still, it is one more example of how the world is bearing witness to the world’s largest democracy being brought to its knees by a fascist regime. Also, contrary to arguments presented by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, USCIRF Vice-Chair Nadine Maenza specifically called out India over its “startling and disturbing” Citizenship Amendment Act, which made it easier for non-Muslims to migrate to India. Incidentally, the last time India received such a worrying rating from USCIRF was in 2004. Again, a time when the BJP was in the Centre, and more notably, Narendra Modi, then chief minister of Gujarat, had only recently overseen the deadly riots which made him a heartthrob for Hindu nationalists and supremacists the world over.
The same day that the report was released, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi warned that the OIC and other countries “cannot stand by and let another Gujarat happen”, as Modi and company continue to try and make the Covid-19 coronavirus into some sort of Muslim conspiracy. Modi’s actions are so vile that they even brought bitter rivals Qureshi and Shehbaz Sharif on the same page. Sharif was arguably even more direct. “Modi government wants to emulate the fascist Hitler government. Hitler’s targets were Jews, and Modi’s target is Muslims,” he said.
What we fear is that, much as it was 80-odd years ago, world powers will refuse to stop a madman until it is too late.