The day Lal Shahbaz’s dhamal got interrupted

* A year later, a new security force has been set up to guard the shrine and Sehwan has a state of the art hospital

KARACHI: “The dhamal had just begun after the evening prayers. We were moving towards the courtyard to participate in the dhamal when we heard a huge explosion. The next thing I remember is lying on a bed in Sehwan Hospital,” recalls Muhammad Hayat, 55.

He and his seven colleagues, all of them working odd jobs at a rice mill in Shahdadkot, were at the shrine when the blast took place on February 16, 2017, last year.

Over 100 people died and more than 350 were injured in blast at the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. Most of these were farm workers or with odd jobs in industrial units across Sindh.

An Islamic State affiliate later claimed the terrorist act.

“Six of us were injured and one of our friends died,” says Hayat, whose ancestral home is in a remote village of Shikarpur district.

Hayat says he still has some pieces of the shell that struck him last year in his back because he had to cut short his treatment for lack of funds.

“Some pieces of the shell that pierced through my skin were taken out, but others remain in my body. I feel severe pain sometimes,” he says.

After the blast, the injured were taken to the Sehwan Hospital for treatment. Since the hospital lacked adequate facilities and doctors, those with severe injuries, including Hayat, were shifted to other hospitals. He was sent to a hospital in Nawabshah.

“I remained under treatment in Nawabshah for a few days but then the hospital discharged me, saying that they couldn’t treat me anymore,” he says.

Later, Hayat received Rs100,000 from the Sindh government, announced as compensation for each of the injured. All of that money was spent on his medical treatment, he says.

Hayat identifies the colleague who died in the blast as Ghulam Akbar Aagani.

Speaking to Daily Times, Agani’s son Ghulam Asghar Aagani says that the family has yet to recover from the trauma on the loss of his father. “We have spent the entire year in grief. It was a national tragedy, but the government has not done enough to track down all the culprits,” he says.

A lot has changed at the shrine in the aftermath of the blast, however.

The Jamshoro district police have constituted a special security force to guard the shrine. All, except one, gates remain permanently closed now. A single gate is used for entry and exit purposes.

All visitors now pass through a metal detector gate before security personnel frisk them and let them walk down the multiple pathways, separated with iron railings, leading to the shrine. Women police officials are deputed for frisking women visitors.

Inside the shrine, a male and a female police official remain present for security needs around the clock.

The Sindh government has recently announced construction of a boundary wall around the shrine to further enhance security arrangements.

The government has also upgraded medical facilities in the city. Syed Abduallah Shah Institute of Medical Sciences is now operational. Huge boards displayed inside the complex highlight that the hospital has a dialysis centre as well as a branch of the National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases (NICVD).

Speaking to Daily Times, Karam Ullah Babar, the administrator at the Syed Abdullah Shah Institute of Medical Sciences, says that on the day of the blast last year, the hospital did not have any of the required facilities. There were only three doctors on duty and we did not have any medicines, paramedics, or ambulances, he says, adding that now there were 50 medical officers, both general physicians and orthopedics. The Outdoor Patients Department (OPD) runs around the clock. However, the trauma centre has yet to be made fully functional, Babar says.

Published in Daily Times, February 16th 2018.