Rich cultural heritage of Sindh in Pakistan

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by Dr. Rajkumar Singh 11 July 2019

The cultural homogeneity of Sindh that embraced both Hindu and Muslim speakers of Sindhi in the colonial period was severely disrupted by the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. Most Hindu Sindhi speakers migrated to India, where they form a minority scattered among speakers of other languages. Their leading position in the urban society of Sindh in Pakistan was assumed by the immigrants known as Muhajirs, the Urdu-speaking Muslims who came from the town of India. Initially, till January 1948, the Province Sindh unlike the experiences of Punjab or Bihar or, to a lesser extent, Bengal violence was not constitutive. There were remarkably few episodes of physical violence in Sindh. For example, three months after partition, when Acharya Kripalani visited Sindh as President of the Indian National Congress, noted, ‘There was only a slight exodus of the Hindus and Sikhs from Sindh. It did not suffer from any virulent fanaticism. To whatever faith the Sindhis belonged, they were powerfully influenced by Sufi and Vedanta thoughts. This made for tolerance .

Position around Independence

Unlike the provinces of Bengal and Punjab, Sindh was not partitioned; it went in its entirety to Pakistan, thus avoiding the complete separation of religious communities and the tearing apart of families, homes, and linguistic and cultural communities that were the hallmarks of partition. Although the Karachi riot of 6 January 1948 was local and directed mostly at Sikhs from Punjab seeking refuge in Karachi, Sindh was engulfed by fear. As a result, the rich and prosperous Hindus of Sindh began to flee, more out of fear of persecution and violence rather than its actual experience . Not only that the Hindu Sindhis who migrated to India came with misfortune. In India, the government policy regarding refugees was largely driven by the Punjab experience. This meant that refugees from other areas, such as Sindh and Bengal, where there had been relatively less violence as compared to Punjab, were viewed, both by the government and the general public, like cowards who had migrated unnecessarily). Refugees from Punjab were privileged over other refugees, in terms of both popular attitude and the government’s willingness to accommodate them and to allocate resources for their rehabilitation.

 The province of Sindh was not divided between India and Pakistan but the existing proportions between different religious and linguistic groups were changed by the arrival of hundreds of thousands of Muslims from India and the eventual departure of large numbers of Hindus and Sikh to India. The vast majority of refugees who arrived in Pakistan were from East Punjab. Those who arrived in Sindh headed for Karachi, which was now the capital of Pakistan, and the country’s foremost port and financial and industrial centre . As a result of the influx of Muslim refugees from India and the concomitant exodus of Hindus and Jains, Karachi went through a dramatic demographic and social change. Within a few years of partition, Karachi had gone from having a predominantly caste Hindu population to having majority Muhajir population, while Sindhis became a minority both in the city and in the province.  It increased the city’s population by extraordinary proportions. In the context both-the responses of local Sindhi Muslim politicians to the inflow of refugees and meaning as well as the theme of the word, “Muhajir underwent a change. After the outbreak of communal violence in early September 1947, followed by another in January 1948, Hindus and Sikhs started leaving Karachi in huge numbers. The Hindu exodus was viewed with increasing anxiety on the part of Sindhi Muslim politicians because Hindus were seen as vital contributors to the economic and professional life of the city. And so initially the Sindhi authorities went to great lengths to slow their departure urging them to stay, but on the other occasions, especially after the episode of January 1948, they facilitated their departure. In case of Muslim refugees from India too, at first, Sindhi authorities welcomed them but later attempted to check the entry of more refugees in opposition to the wishes of the Pakistani government. Local Sindhi politicians saw the newcomers not only as a huge economic drain on the province but also as catalysts for the Hindu exodus.

Changing meaning of Muhajirs

Further, in the 1950s, there was another wave of migration to Sindh in response to the heightened communal violence in India. The Sindh government’s responses to refugees-including asking them to return to India and the imposition of a permit system led many Muhajirs to believe that they were not very welcomed after all in the Pakistani homeland of their dreams. In Pakistan, Muhajirs are the Urdu speaking emigrants from India’s Muslim provinces who settled in the towns and cities. Originally, the word Muhajir was the part of Pakistan’s political vocabulary from the outset as a means of encouraging Muslim solidarity between newcomers and those who already lived within the territory of the newly-carved Pakistani nationstate . The term Muhajir alludes to the migration of the first Muslims from Mecca to Medina-a migration initiated by the Prophet himself. Simultaneously, the use of the term allowed the state to constitute those who are already living within Pakistan, making the task of welcoming the arrivals a quasi-religious duty. For instance, Liaquat Ali Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan said in August 1948, ‘The Government of Pakistan is fully aware of the difficulties of the Muhajireen and all over efforts are directed towards an end’ that is to improve their lot. So long as each and every refugee is not suitably resettled the Pakistani government would not relax its efforts (Frotscher, 2008). Clearly, the term Muhajir was initially deployed in a capacious and positive sense to evoke sympathy for the migrants from India; moreover, it included all migrants from India to Pakistan irrespective of where they came from and what language they spoke-it did not have an ethnic connotation.

However, the meaning of the term “Muhajir” changed after these post-partition years. It came to be used as a synonymous for ‘refugee’ in the negative sense as someone who is a passive ject of charity-which is why it did not become the principal term of self-identification for the displaced Muslims from India . They saw it as a label imposed by others. But in contrast, the migrants from India perceived themselves to be there by right and not by invitation as saw themselves as founders of the nation. Over the years, the term Muhajir gradually shifted from being on an all-embracing term for migrants to a pejorative word that referred to the migrants, Indian past. Noting its shifting meaning one analyst aptly added: Once it had meant welcome”. Now it meant: “You are not from here”.  The term was, therefore, a constant reminder of their outsider/foreigner origins and of their belated arrival into the Pakistani nation-space.