The narrow-minded yet highly influential feudal class in Pakistan is reluctant to let the country develop into a modern state. The prevailing culture of feudal lords in most parts of the country is an impediment to modernisation, viable social change, and modern world. The change that is compatible with a fast changing world is not compatible with the psyche and mentality of the ruling elites who mostly belongs to the feudal landlords.

The evil of feudalism will never let the nation rise to the level of other nations like Japan, Germany, Australia, USA, and Canada etc. Feudalism in Pakistan has a stranglehold on the economy and politics. If not more, at least 75 percent of the Pakistani government’s legislative branch is composed of landowners. The feudal landlords have created states within a state as their influence spans over the police, bureaucracy and judiciary.

Historical research reveals that it was not in fact Akbar, but the British colonisers of the subcontinent who have left us with this parasitical curse. The ex-imperial colonizers of the subcontinent managed to bless the region with one of its most persistent nuisances, where slavery is still functional informally in the areas where feudal classed dominate.

Rooted in tribal loyalties and tradition, the feudal system in Sindh and other parts reached fruition in the 19th century, when the British colonial officials conferred judicial and administrative powers on prominent Muslim landlords. However, since independence, successive military and civilian governments have tried with little success to redress the land imbalance. As a result, in some rural areas, feudal lords- known as waderas, sardars, and khans, depending on their place in the tribal and landholding hierarchy - continue to wield more power than civil authorities.

The farmers, the tenants, also known as Hari in Sindh, Muzara in Punjab, who around the year work for the land owners in the land of the feudal lords and live their life from hand to mouth, are comparable to medieval Europe where the landowners used to run the town and enslave local people through debt bondage, generation after generation.

The influential, often politicians who own land, are not in favor of any development or education related projects. They think that the developmental changes may create the possibility of affecting their hegemonic power, absolute authority, and the existing structural hierarchy of the society.

The feudal lords are blamed for defining right and wrong, pressing and suppressing, enslaving and torturing, and the curse of bonded and child labor. The land owner is a hovering curse for the poor tenants – the dignity of the farmers’ family is often put at stake in front of the mighty land lords. A few tragic episodes which surfaced recently due to vibrant role of electronic media are an eye-wash for the sane citizens and civilised world.

The culture of feudal impunity was put in the spotlight after a landowner’s son cuts a boy’s arms off over a minor dispute of electricity bill in the village of Chak Bhola, in Punjab. Ten year-old Tabassum Iqbal’s arms were shredded by the rotating spikes of a threshing machine in July 2014.The police refused to open a case without a medical report. A case wasn’t even opened after the report was presented.

This refusal of local police to pursue charges against an influential landowning family is not unique, and highlights the deep ties between feudalism and justice in rural society of the country. The police officials, local bureaucrats and religious leaders all tends to represent the feudal lords’ interests.

Currently, 65 percent of Pakistan’s 200million people are below 30 years of age. Nearly, 50 percent of the country’s population lives in towns and a young, urbanising population is starting to challenge the status quo by demanding more rights. The increasing urban middle class is trying to break the grip of the old feudal order. The next generation of Pakistanis is more educated and more desirous of change. Cases like Tabassum’s would previously go unheard, but a young population armed with a freer media is beginning to raise human rights issues.

Pakistan still has a long way to go before the feudal system is dismantled. A good dose of land reform is required to break up the feudal power and the extraordinary inequities, which are not only unjust but also an impediment to economic growth.

n             The writer is based in Islamabad.