Pakistan is an ethno-linguistic and religiously diverse country but the Pakistani state has treated every minority with scant respect or regard. A recent report by the Human Rights Commission goes into the plight faced by the Cholistanis – a people who are spread across Bahawalpur, Bahawalnagar and Rahimyar Khan in Punjab. The Cholistanis speak Marwari which needs to be recognized by the Punjab government and the provincial government needs to ensure that their rich built heritage, artisanship and biodiversity is preserved.
The HRCP held a two-day rights camp in Cholistan and collected testimonies from the locals. In its report, the HRCP calls upon the government of Pakistan to take steps to ensure that Cholistan’s people are no longer deprived of their rights as equal citizens of Pakistan. “Based on the testimonies that HRCP has documented, foremost among people’s demands is that land in this area be allotted only to native Cholistanis in accordance with the law. HRCP continues to receive reports that large tracts of land are being allotted to non-locals and that land allotment to locals is being arbitrarily delayed by the Cholistan Development Authority.”
There are also long-standing demands for Cholistan to be made a separate district which “would give the Cholistani people the opportunity to elect their own national and provincial assembly members, thereby better representing their needs and interests. It would also give them their own domicile and corresponding quotas in employment and education. Of particular concern to HRCP are Cholistan’s women, religious minorities and gender minorities. HRCP fully supports their demand for better access to healthcare, education and livelihood opportunities without any discrimination based on gender, gender identity or faith.”
Finally, “Access to water and grazing land remains integral to Cholistan’s survival, given that its semi-nomadic population depends almost solely on agriculture and livestock. Given the growing likelihood of extreme weather events, such as droughts, in the future, the government must ensure that the area’s population has access to adequate water for the consumption of humans and livestock. HRCP recommends that the Punjab Assembly hold a special session on the problems faced by the people of Cholistan and promulgate appropriate laws to redress the longstanding grievances of this population.”
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