Sehto ends hunger strike

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Sept 23, 2012.

Islamabad – Comrade Ghulam Rasool Sehto broke his 122-day hunger strike on Saturday after personal assurances from Senator Aitezaz Ahsan and Chairman Baitul Mal Zamurd Khan that Sehto’s demands of ending water pilferage and fixing ghost schools and out-of-order tube wells in Sindh will be addressed.

The ruling party leaders, Ahsan and Khan, visited Sehto at the Polyclinic Hospital on Saturday, thanks to efforts by leaders of the Awami Party Pakistan as Sehto’s health deteriorated rapidly.

Sehto, president of the Sindh Hari Committee, was admitted to the hospital on Sept 16 when he fell unconscious at his protest camp outside the National Press Club. At the hospital, he had refused intravenous feeding, and doctors at the hospital were concerned Sehto’s severe weight loss, profuse vomiting and reduced immunity might prove fatal.

Ahsan and Khan fed Sehto yogurt with a spoon in the hospital room.

“You have brought the water issues to the fore, and registered a brave protest,” Ahsan told Sehto. “The government will take steps to address these issues.”

Sehto had alleged that influential feudals and elected representatives were depriving poor farmers of farm water by stealing water from around 30 canals in the Khairpur district with the help of irrigation officials.

He started the hunger strike in Khairpur around four months ago and moved to the federal capital on Eid in August when the local officials didn’t pay any heed to his protests.

Sehto, who could barely speak due to exhaustion, took Ahsan’s hands in his own and spoke in a frail voice. “Please get us the water that is Sindh’s due,” he requested Ahsan.

Ahsan said he has been informed that the Supreme Court had taken suo motu notice of water pilferage in Sindh, that the case was also in the Sindh government’s notice and Chief Minister Sindh, Qaim Ali Shah, had also made some promises in this regard.

“I will speak to chief minister Sindh as a colleague and take up Sehto’s demands with relevant officials,’ Ahsan said. “No citizen should be denied her rights.”

Sehto also told Ahsan about the almost 41,000 ghost school in Sindh.

Ahsan made the assurance that provincial and federal governments will take action against any teachers who get paid by the state, but don’t show up for work at government schools.

Speaking to the media afterward, Khan said he would fund the education of 100 poor children, referred by Sehto, through the Baitul Maal.

“Aitezaz Ahsan will plead Sehto’s case in the national assembly and the senate,” he said.

Earlier, Fanoos Gujjar, central president of the Awami Party Pakistan, and Ayub Malik, the party’s convinced Sehto to call off the strike on the assurances of Ahsan and Khan.

“Right now, it’s our priority to save Sehto’s life,” Gujjar said. “We have told him that if the promises made by Aitezaz Ahsan are not fulfilled, the Awami Party Pakistan will launch a nationwide movement in support of Sehto’s demands.”

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