Mithi, a quaint sleepy border-town, peppered with Jain architecture at intermittent intervals, greets all tourists crossing over to the Tharparkar district in the Sindh province of Pakistan. With a population of just over 250,000 people, one casually overlooks its existence. Except on Diwali- where the festival of lights is celebrated with fervour like no other. Interestingly, this is one of the few towns in Pakistan which boasts of an 80% Hindu majority alongside a measly 20% Muslim populace. Camel hair art and carving is the major skill set of the villagers. Gulkari, a dying art is also practiced here.
The pledge of the village folk to hold on to harmony to the exclusion of everything and everyone else is one worthy of applause. In the past 7 decades and more, perhaps since it came into existence- there has not been a single instance of communal riots. In fact, there is rarely if ever a reason to squabble. The level of respect for each other’s religion and the reverence with which the two communities have for each other’s faith must no longer be lost in the sands of time.
Right in the center, a little away from the famous Kashmir chowk is a temple dedicated to the Hindu Lord Krishna stands tall which is decorated brightly during the festive season. A Shiv Mandir is also seen and maintained with absolute reverence. With humble homes and hearts wide open to curious visitors who stop over to talk to them, they stay true to their religion- the religion of peace- and in the manner of village folk in any other part of the world, they are more than happy to engage in random banter. The local language spoken is Dhatki, a close cousin to the Indian Marwari.
Mithi was rechristened as the capital of Tharparkar as late as 1990. This was soon after the district itself was broken for administrative purposes from Mirpur Khas. This picturesque town is also well-known for its low crime rates despite Pakistan inviting the wrath of the world and particularly the Indians on how badly minorities are treated there. How conveniently we choose to ignore these stories that chronicle the real lives of real people who are far from the misery that the rest of the world holds and propagates in the form of religious violence! One could go on romanticising the place, but unfortunately, not all is well with the villagers, given the stark paucity of clean water for drinking, high illiteracy rates and bare minimum living standards. There is no reason for extravagance even in their best hotels because the money just doesn’t come in that easily. Basic facilities are missing. There is a single civil hospital but basic medical facilities are absent. And yet as you walk down the streets, you feel a familiarity, of one traversing through an old Indian village with bullock carts and shy women engaging in their daily chores.
Despite all the challenges that they meet on a daily basis the village folks continue to live amicably. It is worth noting that during the period of Navratri, the Muslims avoid non-vegetarian food and their Hindu friends in turn, during the period of Muharram, avoid any kind of celebration. Hindus also fast alongside their Muslim brethren as a symbol of solidarity. Out of respect, the Muslims do not slaughter cows.
While the educated are furthering their knowledge on the rise of intolerance in Pakistan when it comes to Hindus and Christians, it is worth reminding that Mithi- as sweet as its name- exists in reality and is not just a symbol of religious tolerance but a reason to believe that Pakistan does respect the White in its flag.
In the desert of fanaticism, viciousness and abhorrence that has engulfed the world, Mithi stands tall as an oasis of peace, tolerance and brotherhood; a lesson for all. Interfaith harmony is not just a phrase, it is a reality for all who wilfully spread intolerance. Mithi, on its part should no longer remain a lost symbol of peace.
The road to peace and progress is not far off as the coal mining authority has taken cognizance of the tonnes of coal buried deep within this region. This would lead to social and economic upliftment. Plans to build a school have been floating but not much has developed on that front as yet.
This also brings us to an important debate; should the visa policy between both India and Pakistan be eased so that the levels of miscommunication and mis-understanding can reduce? Perhaps it is time that we rise above the political animosity to share the lesser known truths that are carefully shielded by the political accomplices of intolerance and instead choose the road less traveled, so that we can re-write a page of peace for the future and introduce that road to friendship which has long been written off by the political predecessors of both countries!