A Forgotten Comrade Of PPP: Comrade Omoon Mal ‘Musafir’
In the 1988 election, Comrade Omoon Mal insisted to Begum Nusrat Bhutto to allot a ticket of member of provincial assembly to Dr Khatu Mal, the only Hindu Dalit politician in the history of Pakistan, who had been elected as a public representative seven times. The disagreement to allot a ticket to Khattu Mal had become an issue, with all minority members, including PK Shahani, opposing the idea of Khattu Mal being given a ticked.
Prem Kevalram Shahani, popularly known as PK Shahani, had already given the MNA ticket to Omoon Mal. PK Shahani did not want the ticket to be given to Dr Khatu Mal. On this, Omoon Mal didn’t only go to Makhdoom Talib-ul-Mola, but also went to Benazir Bhutto to complain. However, Benazir also refused to allot an MPA ticket to Dr Khatu Mal. Following this, Comrade Omoon Mal directly met Begum Nusrat Bhutto and argued, “Don’t I even deserve a single ticket from this party?” Following this innocent argument, Begum Nusrat Bhutto called Benazir Bhutto and asked for two minority tickets, one for MPA and the other for member of National Assembly. After this, Benazir Bhutto unwillingly allotted the MPA ticket to Dr Khatu Mal. Comrade Omoon Mal had already been given an MNA ticket, hence they both contested the election in 1988.
Before getting the very first ticket of his political carrier, Dr Khatu Mal Jeewan was a practicing doctor in Lyari, Karachi. In elections of 1988, Dr Khatu Mal emerged victorious in the elections for a provincial assembly seat while Omoon Mal lost the MNA seat by just 400 votes.
The PPP (or the real PPP) had honoured a poor animal skin merchant of a remote village of Sindh, who belonged to a scheduled Meghwar caste, which has been considered as an untouchable tribe of Sindh for decades.
Nowadays, Meghwar tribe in Thar is considered the most literate and socio-politically advanced and aware tribe. Three to four decades ago, it was known only as an untouchable tribe whose people used to colour animal skin and make shoes from it. Their utensils were kept separate from all other castes.
Comrade Omoon Mal was also a small village-level businessman. He used to live in Chhor, district Umerkot, since his birth but later shifted to Dhoronaro in district Umerkot with his whole family before the Indo-Pak war of 1971. He became a member of PPP on 20th June 1968 and mentioned his primary occupation as ‘animal skin merchant’ in his membership certificate.
It was the same untouchable Omoon Mal Meghwar whom Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto saw in a marriage ceremony of Pir Ghulam Rasool Shah’s son, Pir Aftab Hussain Shah, of Mirpurkhas and offered him to sit along with him and both had food together. In that same city of Mirpurkhas, this poor animal skin merchant Omoon Mal was among the four to five people who got the honour to address the crowd in Zulfiqar Bhutto’s Jalsa.
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto sent a bicycle for him as a gift along with a letter in which Bhutto wrote, “For the incontestable services you have carried out for your community, I, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, chairman PPP, is pleased to gift you this bicycle. I hope that you will continue servicing your community by using this bicycle.”
There are a lot of famous incidents of affection and respect between Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Comrade Omoon Mal Meghwar. In 1970, during a jalsa at Mochi gate in Lahore, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto called comrade Omoon Mal from the crowd and made him sit along with him on the stage. In a PPP Jalsa at Sanghar during the language riots in 1972, when bullets were fired on the vehicle of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Comrade Omoon Mal was also sitting in the same vehicle with Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. He fell upon his beloved leader during that shooting episode and saved him. These and many other such incidents of ultimate affection between a leader and a worker have now become only memories for friends and family members of the comrade.
When Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto became premier, he called the comrade to Karachi. As Omoon Mal came down the sand dune of his village, Fazal Chopan in Dhoronaro, he saw that near the only water well of his village, some Muslim women were saying, “Keep away your water pots and pitchers from his tribe’s (Meghwar) women.” Following that event, he met premier Bhutto. Bhutto asked Omoon, “Tell me frankly comrade, what do you want from me?” On this, Omoon Mal said, “Just a water well for his village.” On this demand, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto told him that the issue would be solved before his (Omoon Mal) arrival in his village.
When he came out of the room after the meeting, other party leaders asked Omoon Mal what he had demanded from Bhutto. He innocently replied, “Sain, just a water well for my village.” When the people along with government machinery came to Omoon Mal’s village for making a water well, he wasn’t present in the village. They enquired from the villagers about Comrade Omoon Mal’s well. Villagers told them about the well, which was the same well where Muslim women had taunted the Meghwar community women. Modern machinery was installed at the same well. No separate well was installed, which was Comrade Omoon Mal’s dream.
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was hanged in 1979, but comrade Omoon did not part ways with the PPP. Mumtaz Bhutto made the Sindh National Front in 1989 and he came to a village near that of Comrade Omoon Mal’s. Mumtaz Bhutto called the comrade and requested him to join his newly established party, but Omoon Mal clearly refused his proposal by saying, “Sain, though we both know each other very well, but I am a political passenger of Bhutto’s path only and I will never leave this path until my death.”
One day, while walking on a road in Karachi, Jam Sadiq Ali saw the comrade. Jam stopped his car and asked Omoon Mal to meet him in the evening. However, Omoon he didn’t go to meet him. After that, Jam Sadiq had him arrested. There are many other such incidents in which Comrade Omoon Mal got arrested and imprisoned. He spent 21 days in Sukkur Jail while he was also jailed during the Movement for Restoration of Democracy.
His family still believes that Pir Ghulam Rasool Shah was the person who connected Comrade Omoon Mal with Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Comrade’s elder son, Hathi Ram, says, “Once Pir Ghulam Rasool Shah got the party ticket from PPP to fight the election and he visited Chhor city for his election campaign. Nobody met the Pir, but it was my father, Comrade Omoon Mal, who dragged a chair from a shop adjacent to my radio repairing shop for the Pir. Pir sat on that chair and had a cup of tea with the comrade.” Pir asked Comrade Lal about the election. According to Hathi Ram, the comrade told the Pir to not worry about anything and they would win the election. Pir Ghulam Rasool Shah of PPP won that election by 1800 votes. When Pir’s victory was announced officially, comrade went to congratulate him at his residence. On the occasion, Pir Ghulam Rasool Shah told the people gathered that he did not deserve any congratulations, as the whole credit for the win was to Omoon Mal’s name. Hathi Ram said, “Hence, my father Omoon Mal got connected with PPP via Pir Ghulam Rasool and his political carrier began.”
Comrade Omoon Mal ‘Musafir’ ended his journey almost two and a half decades ago when he died on 2nd February, 1992, of a heart attack. Today, there are very few people who know of the legacy which Comrade Omoon Mal left behind, which ended at comrade’s broken roof ‘Otaq’ in Fazal Chopan.
He was among the very few profound people who joined the initial caravan of the PPP; the caravan which, since the last two elections, has lost its way and has been restricted to only Sindh. If the caravan visited the ‘Otaq’ of poor Omoon Mal, it would definitely have come to know why it had been restricted to one province only.
Till date, PPP has not done anything for the family of late Comrade Omoon Mal, except some informal visits of Hari Ram Kishori, Eng. Giyanchand and Pir Aftab Shah, that too on special occasions like marriages and deaths.
Omoon Mal’s family still lives in the same straw hut where the comrade used to live. “I want to meet Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in person so that I can tell him what my late father has done for the PPP,” Hathi Ram said to me. He further said that he wanted to ask Bilawal if he deserved that nobody knew him or his services today. “Why the PPP leadership has turned a blind eye to us after Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto?” Hathi Ram asked.
Few years back, Pir Aftab Shah, son of Pir Ghulam Rasool, came to Hathi Ram to ask for votes for the councillorship in the local body elections. On this, Hathi Ram said to him, “Sain, why do you come to me just for votes? How do you think that the son of Omoon Mal wouldn’t give a vote to the son of Pir Ghulam Rasool Shah? Our votes are always yours.”
Hathi Ram is currently the minority’s councillor on a reserved seat in Town Committee Dhoronaro. His two sons still run a radio repair shop in Chhor city, while his brother is still associated with the animal skin business. The party Omoon Lal had worked to build, did not remain loyal to him.