The murder of a landless farm worker

by Guest Contributor

Columban Missionary Fr. Daniel O'Connor lives and works in Pakistan. He writes about the killing of a landless farm worker in a dispute over water and wood and the fear landlords wield over whole villages in Pakistan.

On a very hot day in May, Shomo working alone, was trimming back thorn bushes from the side of the village track that his landlord had asked him to do. Some months previously a dispute had taken place between Shomo and another landlord. He had accused Shomo of closing off the water to his crops and opening it for another land owner.

Men arrived on the scene, grabbed Shomo and family became concerned for his safety. They tried many times to contact him on his mobile phone but to no avail. A large crowd of family and friends went to the farm buildings to make enquiries about Shomo. On arrival they were refused entry. When they threatened to force the gate open he allowed them in. All the rooms were open barring one. They were a large group, yet out of fear of power and influence of the landlord system they did not break open the lock.

Early next morning a large number of people from the village of Yaqoob went in search for Shomo. Some people saw the landlord washing his hands and feet in a small water canal. When this man saw them, he fled the scene on a motorbike. Nearby the people felt shocked and devastated when they discovered the body of Shomo in a sitting position near a tree with his axe propping up his head. The body and head had many torture marks and wounds on it.

A shepherd, who was employed by the landlord, confessed that he saw his boss and the associate bring Shomo to the farm house. At that time the boss told the shepherd to finish work for the day and go. It appears that Shomo was murdered because of the dispute over water and wood. Statements were made to the police. Before burial the body was taken to the hospital so that a post-mortem could be done. Two months have elapsed and the post mortem has not been given and no arrest has been made. A judge hearing the case accused the police of taking money. Not all the evidence was written by the police. Tragically people with power, money and influence pay money to police and medical people so that the full and correct statements are not written. Lawyers can also be involved in double dealing.

The Catholic Diocesan Justice and Peace people and others are following up on the case. Much prayer, struggle and perseverance is demanded versus the odds stacked against achieving some sort of justice and peace. Some years ago when I was in Badin Parish there was a case where the farm workers‟ achieved some sort of justice by blocking the busy road between Badin and Karachi for a few hours. Some landlords learnt that they cannot rule and oppress at their will. The poor landless farm workers became aware that they, when united in large numbers, are able to achieve good results. We hope that a similar result will be achieved regarding this case.

The Columbans are supporting initiatives that provide housing colonies in various parishes throughout the Hyderabad Diocese to help local farm workers. The church buys land near a town and gives plots of land to families. By living on their own land, they cannot be evicted and thus the farm labourers and their families have more security. In some cases the labourer may continue to work for landlords, but on a daily wage basis, and so are not in debt to the landlord. These housing colonies bring people from scattered villages together and a community is formed, with families having access to schools and healthcare.

Presently, there are nine Columban Missionaries assigned to the Pakistan Mission Unit. Six are Columban missionary priests and two female lay missionaries. These missionaries hail from three different countries including Ireland, New Zealand, Fiji and the Philippines. While Columbans have been in Pakistan since 1979 and worked in Lahore and Hyderabad Dioceses, since 2016 Columban missionaries work exclusively in Hyderabad Diocese in the Southern province of Sindh. Six Columbans work full time in parish work. Three others work in non-parish ministry, one is full time in justice and peace ministry as well as inter-faith dialogue; another is involved in formation of local church personnel including retreats, teaching in seminaries and spiritual direction, while the third is director of the Diocesan Catechetical Centre.

The ministry work of justice, peace and the integrity of creation has always been a priority of Columbans in Pakistan. As well as being actively involved in human rights and justice issues at a grass roots level, Columban Missionaries have been at the forefront of raising awareness on urgent national and international concerns. In the 1990s, this involved the debt campaign and the impact of globalisation on the poor. Today, we continue to take the initiative in raising awareness, through our Columban publications and workshops on climate change, which is already having a major impact on Pakistan, especially with concerns of water supply. JPIC issues also provide the opportunity for interfaith dialogue, as they concern all people.

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