As the excitement grows for Sam Masud’s movie “My Pure Land” (chosen as Britain’s contender for best Foreign Oscar), here’s a clip about the woman behind the story, Waderi Nazo. The film concentrates on an event in Nazo’s life when she had to see off about 200 thugs wanting to take the house and the surrounding land away from her family after her father’s arrest.
Nazo lives in Sindh, the southern province of Pakistan, where I am also from. The clip is in Sindhi, explaining her family situation and her daily life as a zamindar (landowner and farmer). In Pakistan it’s very unusual for women to look after their own lands. I’m from a land-owning family, but not even I am able to do this because of social and family constraints; patriarchy is very strong in the rural areas of Pakistan, with few exceptions.
Most families don’t like the idea of women meeting with the many men it takes to run a farm or the government officials and tax administrators who are also men. Furthermore, a zamindar is expected to mediate in conflicts between members of the community, and a woman doing this is a very public role indeed. You can see her do this in the clip below:
But Nazo had no choice after the death of her father and brother. There was no other person in her immediate family to look after her lands, and after seeing off a challenge from her greedy uncle (as you’ll see in the film), she took it upon herself to look after her lands and her family.
She explains to a reporter from KTN (the biggest Sindhi news network) that it took her about six months to learn how to farm: what crop to plant when, and how much water was needed for the crops. She says that water supply is one of the biggest problems facing farmers in Sindh (and all of Pakistan) today; and has had to go to court to try and figure out solutions with local government and administrators how to get her rightful supply of water.
This is a huge problem for farmers as other farmers, often bigger and more influential, will take more water than is their rightful share. In fact in Sindh there is a complicated system of water allotment based on your landholding and the type of crops your farm grows (some crops need more water than others) and often has to be mediated when arguments break out over water.
But Nazo explains that it’s important for her that while she faces difficulties, her haris (workers, mostly sharecroppers) should not have to face that difficulty and others that arise for her as a farmer. She runs her farm with the help of a farm manager, and a “munshi” or accountant who helps keep her books. Most farms in Sindh run along these lines as well.
Nazo is given the title “waderi” because of her social status as a farmer and as an influential person in the community. Many people in Karachi and other urban areas use this as a slur, especially when the person in question commits a crime. However, this is a common term used in Sindh which points to the person’s social status and influence. This person is expected to use that influence to help the people of the community, but unfortunately many people use it to their advantage in an excess of power. Here is a horrific story about a small-time landowner who shot dead a teenaged girl after her parents refused to let him marry her.
If Nazo’s father hadn’t taught her to use a gun and defend herself, she might have well faced the same fate. It takes an unusual amount of courage for a woman to face down the double barrels of power and patriarchy, so inextricably linked in this pure land of ours. But Nazo not only survived, she beat the odds and continues to farm her land today.
In Sindh, feminism and courage and resistance (as embodied by Shah Abdul Latif’s Seven Queens) intersect the hearts, minds, and bodies of its women.