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The Purusharthi Refugee

Sindhi Migrants in Jaipur’s Walled City

Garima Dhabhai ( teaches at the Department of Political Science, Presidency University, Kolkata.

The post-partition reconfiguration of the walled city of Jaipur that had originally been dominated by Hindu and Jain merchants is explored. Sindhi refugee retailers and traders were given space during the 1950s and 1970s by creating new markets. The spatial and physical mapping of competing communities, like the Sindhis, Muslims and Bania Hindus, in the walled city was also undergirded by contending claims to the city’s past defined as “heritage.” In the case of the refugees, this was articulated through the trope of purushartha.


(Photographs of Purusharthi Park and maps of the walled city of Jaipur accompanying this article are available on the EPW website.) Click here to view the images.

Earlier versions of this article were presented at the conference of the British Association for South Asian Studies (BASAS), Cambridge in 2016 and Critical Studies Workshop, Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group, Kolkata in 2017. I acknowledge the comments and suggestions received during the discussion of this article, which has enabled me to revise it. Detailed inputs by Himadri Chatterjee and discussions with Rajarshi Dasgupta, Iman Mitra and Ritajyoti Bandopadhyay have been immensely helpful.

This article seeks to understand the spatial arrangement of refugee groups within the walled city of Jaipur in the period after 1947, marked by the braided histories of partition and the merger of princely territories with the newly formed state of India. It focuses on the Hindu Sindhi refugees who had come to Jaipur, traversing the urban centres around the Rajasthan border, in the late 1940s and early 1970s.1 The process of incorporating the Sindhi community, mainly comprising trading groups, in the narrative of urban regeneration of the new provincial capital of Jaipur, was carried out through the trope of purushartha, which roughly translates to “hard work” with Hindu cultural undertones. However, this did not ensure their absolute inclusion in the representational matrix of the city, which is dominated by the image of Rajput royalty or Jain and Bania traders.

This makes the Sindhi purusharthi a specific category for the purposes of governance, but not a legitimate enough identity within the burgeoning discourse of heritage in Jaipur. The city wall also played a metaphorical role in this “inclusive exclusion” (Agamben 1998: 12) of the community. While the “walled city” absorbed them in the retail economy and benefited from their entrepreneurial practices, the recent resignification of the wall as “heritage” by the state authorities has also made the position of Sindhi retailers rather precarious in the new regime of valuation of urban infrastructure. The subsequent sections would further delve into these dimensions of the spatial arrangement of the “walled” enclave of Jaipur in relation to the Sindhi refugees through an ethnographic exploration of Indira Bazar, one of the market spaces created in the 1970s for rehabilitating this group.

Purusharthi in the Walled City

Indira Bazar, the market that came up to absorb the refugee influx after the 1971 India–Pakistan War, is snuggled along the south-western edge of the walled city, over a stretch of an erstwhile drain or ganda nala, bordering the parkota or the city wall. This market is a retail hub sliced in two parallel halves by a divider, with mechanic and repair workshops on one side, run predominantly by Muslim shopkeepers, and small shops selling ready-made garments, furniture, cycles and household items run by Hindu Sindhi refugees on the other. At the fork of the divider stands Purusharthi Park, set up in 2009. The bold black lettering prohibiting entry into the park makes it a rather paradoxical public space. A memorial structure at the centre of Purusharthi Park, installed in 1976, claims to be an ode to purushartha.

Today, it stands in a dilapidated condition and the grey metallic remains of a modernist installation conveys industrial decay in its rustiness. It frames several protruding figures, engaged in different acts of labour, often ambiguously represented. Acts of labour here are depicted alongside leisure activities in a bazaar—playing cards or simply sitting in a corner—apart from the more conventional occupational figures of butchers, potters and construction workers. A woman tending to a child and a few stray animals are also noticeable, perhaps recreating life in the everyday marketplace. The motifs are framed in an unpatterned network of grey metallic pipes, nets, wheels and rivets, like randomly placed useless machine parts. One uniformed but unnamed figure in military green ensemble is sculpted on the top of the engraving.

There is an undefined but strangely familiar coming together of national duty and labour in this entire structure. This may be corroborated with the words “Purushartha se vikas … punarnirman … navyuga” (development through hard work … reconstruction … new era) one finds etched on a marble plaque in the middle of the structure, literally underlining the advent of a “new era” through “reconstruction, hard work and development.” Purusharthi Park takes its name from this structure of purushartha. This term, which may be roughly translated as a hard-working or an enterprising person,2 offers somewhat of a counter-narrative to the usual lexicon that designates “refugee” in Hindi: sharanarthi. It is imperative to understand the political history of Jaipur in brief to make sense of this difference between sharanarthi and purusharthi.

Jaipur, formerly a Rajput princely state, had boasted of a culture of Rajput generosity, where providing refuge was a form of patronage, representing the sovereign power of the king. In a post-merger context of the 1950s, these idioms of princely sovereignty found their way into the practices of postcolonial politics, in efforts to draw political legitimacy. Iqbal Narain and P C Mathur (1990) delve into this tendency to understand the politics in Rajasthan during the last decade of the 20th century, which they term as a form of Rajput Hinduism. The sharanagat (seeker of refuge) was a figure to be accommodated in the Rajput polity through patronage and protection. The postcolonial ramification of the sharan doctrine, according to Narain and Mathur (1990: 33), is manifested in a relatively peaceful coexistence of diverse religious communities in Rajasthan.

We may note in passing that though this analysis of Narain and Mathur (1990) may ring true for Rajasthani politics of the late 20th century, more recent happenings in the state signal a new phase of communalised politics with changes in the political context at the national level. Even the Bharatiya Janata Party’s own idiom has in this regard undergone transformation in Rajasthan, where it has ruled intermittently for almost two decades, first under Bhairon Singh Shekhawat and now, Vasundhara Raje. Notably, they belonged to different strata of Rajputs, Raje having a royal lineage while Shekhawat being active in the zamindari abolition movement of the 1950s (Basu 2015: 255–65).

By resignifying the sharanarthi as a purusharthi, the Sindhi Hindu refugees from West Pakistan after the 1940s and then in the 1970s sought inclusion in the urban space and were made a subsequent part of the developmental agenda of the Nehruvian state. The discourse of purushartha made their inclusion more legitimate, owing to its undergirding by enterprise as an operative idea. It is, therefore, no surprise when one finds Jawaharlal Nehru’s name alongside a quotation on the marble plaque in Sanskrit, Hindi and English. It is a Sanskrit verse from Bhagvad Gita: “karmanyavadhikaraste ma phaleshu kadachana,” translated there as, “Duty is thy concern and not the reward.” Interestingly, this verse was commented upon and reinterpreted by many prominent nationalists like Aurobindo Ghose, M K Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak (Bandopadhyay 2009) to legitimise the nationalist call for action, underpinned by a spiritual sensibility. Sibaji Bandopadhyay (2009), in his analysis of the verse, calls it the “invention of nationalist motto.” Given the embeddedness of this verse in the web of nationalist history and Hindu mythology, it is interesting to see its invocation at another moment of nation-building, in the aftermath of partition on a memorial dedicated to the purusharthi.

The discourse of postcolonial development and rehabilitation legible on the terrain of Jaipur’s walled city was centred on the figure of the purusharthi, a term used for the Sindhi refugees in the archives of the state and refugee associations alike.3 The refugee, manifesting the churning caused by partition, emerged as a figure to be governed and managed within the limits of the new nation state, furthering its developmental imperative (Tan and Kudaisya 2000; Sen 2009). Their “purushartha” was embroiled in a history of wealth and land in Sindh, credit economy of state-owned banks and politics of urban transformation in postcolonial India. A dominant trope of the governance of the refugee during the Nehruvian period was its resignification as a “labouring body” (Chatterjee 2017: 67–68). Several temporalities enmesh the “refugee” within Jaipur’s landscape: the mythical, the princely, the national and, now, the global. One mode of making claims over the city and its space was through participation in the market economy of the walled city.

The following sections of this article will take us back to Indira Bazar, placing it in a history of the walled city’s transition through newer regimes of valuation, primarily urban development and heritage tourism.

Bazaar Economy of the Walled City

How a person reaches Indira Bazar depends on their place in relation to the city space as a tourist, walled-city resident, suburban visitor or daily labourer. The snail-paced traffic here comprises of small goods carriers, two-wheelers and battery-run rickshaws for short distance travel. Unlike some other markets of similar physiology, Indira Bazar is not a controlled traffic zone. One reason for this is the marginality of the market to the heritage and tourism economy of the city, which is concentrated towards the other side of Kishanpole Bazar Road and Ajmeri Gate. Indira Bazar is a point of relative importance for the local residents who live in the inner parts of the walled city, some of which have thriving craft production workshops in the streets around the area. One such street is Khajane Walo ka Rasta, which has numerous workshops of marble sculptors. However, it does not figure very prominently in a standard tourist map of the city. There is also a small shrine of Mata Leelavati on this street patronised by the Sindhi traders, who organise periodic satsangs (evenings of devotional music). The procession of Chetichand, marking the onset of the Sindhi New Year in the month of Chaitra is taken out from the streets here.4

Indira Bazar is beyond the monumental city, which prides itself on royal palaces like the Hawa Mahal and forts such as the Amber Fort. However, if one were to enter the walled city from the outside via Mirza Ismail Road, it could become the gateway to the walled city. This entry is only used by those who are coming to the market for a specific purpose: getting something repaired, buying a cheap pair of denims, or going to one of the streets attached to the market. It is not a place for tourist footfall. Most of the people here have a purposeful walk, mostly concentrated on negotiating the array of vehicles on the road. Footpaths are taken over by display boards and parking.

Indira Bazar was created with an initial investment of₹65 lakh under the Commissioner of Rehabilitation Department, Sher Singh Chittora. The State Bank of Bikaner and Jaipur, and Purusharthi Thari Holders’ Union, a political and social association of the Sindhi Hindu refugees, played a pivotal role in its establishment. The market initially had 529 shops, which have now multiplied to over 750 in number.5 Mr Thadani (name changed), who had come to Jaipur from another city in Rajasthan after marriage, helped his father-in-law with their cassette business in the market. After it phased out, he started retailing ready-made garments, mostly denims and T-shirts for men. Pointing at a pair of shaded blue denim pants, displayed near the entrance of his small shop with a mezzanine storage, he says, “they (young men of the area) like this stuff here.” In 1988, he expanded his business to buy another small shop in the bazaar, for his younger son. This economy of space and commodity is in strong contrast to the two adjacent markets, formed in the 1950s to accommodate refugees: Bapu Bazar and Nehru Bazar.

As opposed to the small and unassuming shops of Indira Bazar, with a makeshift structure on top for storage, the shops in Bapu Bazar, Link Road and Nehru Bazar, mostly owned by relatively well-to-do Hindu Sindhi refugees, serve mostly the tourist and upper-middle-class clientele. This explains their designer showrooms with false ceilings, embedded lights and air conditioning. Their shop floor employees, also from the Sindhi community, carry out the routine sales, while the shop owners sit on the cash desk. The communication in most of these shops is always almost bilingual: Hindi with the customers and a dialect of Sindhi among themselves. Owing to their bigger scale, these shops have allegedly extended their godowns and storage facilities to the basement. Nehru Bazar has mid-range retailers of fancy items, cosmetics, lingerie, ready-made hosiery garments and other accessories. The burgeoning middle class of the city, which lives outside the walled enclave, patronises this economy, based on traded, mass-produced goods and “ready-made” garments.

Hypothetically, one may say that the Sindhi economy seems to mark a departure from a handicraft-based production system, which flourished in Jaipur’s princely karkhanas (factories/workshops) earlier. Hand-block-printed cotton fabrics from Bagru and Sanganer have now become articles of niche consumption, found in the occasional fair or high-range boutiques. The reproducible block printed textiles of Bapu Bazar are popular and reasonably priced, sourced from factories in the vicinity of Jaipur and even from textile hubs like Surat and Ahmedabad. The markets are also flooded with “fancy stores” or “ready-made” garment shops, several of them selling hosiery cloth, which uses synthetic yarn.6

Markets and Urban Development

Indira Bazar, apart from being a space of refugee rehabilitation may also be placed in the larger history of urban development during the mid-1970s, marked by the period of Emergency, under the Indira Gandhi-led Congress ministry. By this juncture, land and resources in the city were open to renegotiation between the older elites attached to the royal establishment and the new claimants to space.7 Much of royal property was under revaluation by the Congress government of the time, leading to arrests of princely figures like Gayatri Devi, who was the last Maharani and also a Swatantra Party8 parliamentarian from the city. The refugees, who had set up temporary kiosks in the city, were granted more permanent establishments by this period. The urban renewal under the Emergency coincided with the “City Beautiful” campaign immediately after it was launched under the auspices of the Janata Party government led by Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, and the Jaipur Municipal Corporation, Urban Improvement Trust, and Traffic Police in 1977 to mark 250 years of Jaipur’s foundation (Arora et al 1976: 83–84). The campaign entailed the removal of “encroachments” or tharis (temporary kiosks made of tin and wood) in the walled city. It is locally believed that within a month around 800 tharis were removed.

The Indira Bazar was seen as a big “achievement” of the campaign. It emerged within a period of eight months in 1976 and was designed to rehabilitate the thari holders, many of whom were Muslims. The place where Indira Bazar is now located was considered “an ugly patch on the city surface where filth and dirt reigned in disdainful Ganda Nallah area” (Arora et al 1976: 85). The market was created with underground electric wiring meant for a clear thoroughfare. A certain governmental “aestheticism permeates the total structure of the market. Enclosed by rows of shops in a patch of greenery stands a statue embodying the undaunted zeal of the purusharthis” (Arora et al 1976: 85). Over time, the greenery and aestheticism gave way to an intensely commercial space, expanding in different ways.

All these markets—Indira Bazar, Bapu Bazar and Nehru Bazar—run parallel to the parkota of the old city, at its internal limit, from east to west. The municipal corporation, through a faded blue and white board placed inconspicuously on the southern gates to the walled city, has declared this parkota as a “heritage” structure lately. The development of heritage in the walled city is financed through international funding agencies such as the Ford Foundation, which initiated one of the first heritage restoration projects in Jaipur in 1985, following the models developed in Hyderabad and Ahmedabad. Over the years, the Asian Development Bank and Asia Urbs of the European Union have been the other international agencies funding heritage restoration projects. Jaipur had also presented a dossier to UNESCO, staking claims for a Heritage City status in the early 2000s.9 International patronage has generated a different regime of the governmentalisation of urban space. The earlier spatial distribution is now under challenge from new ways of framing space.

As a result of this resignification of the parkota and the walled city in general, a legal battle has ensued between the traders’ associations of these markets, comprising mainly Sindhi office-bearers, and the Jaipur Municipal Corporation. Notices have been served to several shopkeepers about the illegality of their shop constructions after the high court had ordered 15 metres on either side of the parkota as a “no construction zone” (Dainik Bhaskar 2015; Rajasthan Patrika 2015). This order marks a new valuation of old urban space, the logic of which is placed within the discourse of heritage and a reinterpretation of the historic significance of the parkota in the legal discourse.

The legal resistance to Sindhi trade also seems to coincide with the cultural lament against the excessive commercialisation they brought to the city. These anxieties, expressed through a sense of nostalgia, of the old residents and traditional business communities10 of the city was accentuated by physical transformations in the walled city. When a waterbody, to the north of the City Palace, Rajamull ka Talab was eventually converted into plots of land giving rise to the colony of Kanwar Nagar to accommodate the Sindhi refugees, it was characterised as “slum-like” (Parika 1984). Ironically, it is here that the community’s fortunes are palpable in the shape of a massive marble temple of Jhulelal/Jhoolaylal,11 the deity worshipped by the Sindhi community.

Therefore, one may infer that the figure of the refugee in the city was seen as symbolically antithetical to the “old” economic, social and political markers of the princely city. And, perhaps, here lay the dissatisfaction among a section of old residents, whose cultural, social and economic life was now interspersed with the mores of the newcomers. A fictional account published in a weekly named Sahi Baat registers the disappointment of Maharaja Jai Singh II12 on seeing the city, when he visits Jaipur in the 1960s: increased traffic, tin kiosks of small retailers, high prices of grains, pollution, lack of maintenance in temples, and mounds of garbage on roads (Sahi Baat, 25 August 1962).13

Contrary to Kanwar Nagar, the new markets were lauded for their aesthetic homogeneity with the old city, especially their colour that resembled the “pink” of Jaipur (Arora et al 1976: 141).14 The colour pink has been an important feature of Jaipur’s walled city since the 19th century. All the new markets created to rehabilitate the Sindhis were also coloured in pink with a white design. Over time, the colour has faded, prompting pleas to the municipal corporation by the Indira Bazar Vyapar Sangh to maintain the ekrupta or homogeneity of the market, in line with the older bazaars. This centrality of colour in the official register as also in the discourse of the Sindhi trading community is an example of the complex negotiations over symbolic and cultural resources in the walled city between the old residents and the new entrants.

The subsequent sections of this article will trace the checkered political and cultural terrain of the city against which Sindhi traders sought legitimacy and trust. This language of contending authenticity was premised on laying claims to the space and economy of the walled city, the old enclave, today rechristened as “urban heritage.”

Tropes of Belonging in the City

The Purusharthi Thari Holders’ Union, established in 1950, claimed stakes in the economy and politics of Jaipur by delineating the role of “nationalist” Sindhi Hindus in the freedom struggle, right from the days of the Swadeshi Movement to Hindu revivalism in the 1920s through the documents published by it.15 Indeed, the history of Sindhi nationalism with strong Hindu undertone goes a long way back. In 1919, Sindhi revolutionaries in Punjab published a newspaper called Hindu. The history of Sindhi nationalism is also tied with the activities of the Arya Samaj (Kothari 2006). Apart from the Muslim opposition, Christian missionaries had challenged Hindu Sindhis since the 19th century, and Arya Samaj became more influential among them by the 1930s, with Tarachand Gajara and Swami Krishnanand being its significant proponents. A Hindu Sindhi leader, K R Malkani, who would later on become prominent in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), would contend that the Arya Samaj created a “new pride” among the Hindu Sindhis by opening gymnasia and Sanskrit pathshalas. He places this in terms of a deterrent to the “conversion” done by Christian missionaries in the region. He further claims that even the Theosophists under Annie Besant joined hands with the Hindus to “checkmate Christianity” (Malkani 1984).

By 1945, the Muslim League had imposed a ban on Dayanand Saraswati’s book Satyarth Prakash in Sindh, alleging it to be the cause of communal tension. However, on 7 May 1945, Satyarth Prakash Diwas was celebrated across the province under the leadership of Tarachand Gajara. He even visited Jaipur to address a general meeting in Azaad Chowk in the city on the alleged atrocities of the Muslim League and to mobilise people to demand revocation of the ban on Satyarth Prakash (Vijay nd: 56). This brand of Sindhi nationalism was also tied with the popularity of the RSS among them. L K Advani, K R Malkani and Jhamatmal Wadhwani emerged as important Sindhi leaders of the RSS persuasion (Kothari 2006).

This Hindu underpinning in the Sindhi narratives was palpable in the story of Mr Manchandani (name changed),16 whose father owned farmland and stables in Sindh before he came to India in 1947. Being a moneyed Sindhi refugee, who used to supply horses to Bollywood units shooting in Jaipur, his father bought a house at a prime location on M I Road (an arterial road of the city), where the respondent was born in 1953. He says, “the Muslim workers under my father in Pakistan turned out to be gaddar evoking a feeling of revenge among the Hindu landowners.”17 However, interestingly, the Sindhi trader is put alongside Muslims in this very market, making the former’s negotiations with a predominantly Hindu Bania and Jain business groups in the city extremely complicated, creating forms of spatial exclusion from the dominant touristic economy of the city.

Impurity and Adulteration

Beginning with the economy, the contest between these old and new business groups percolated down to the level of social and, more specifically, gastronomic conflicts. Food items became symbols of drawing or denying legitimacy to the community of Sindhis. A confidential daily diary of the Intelligence Bureau in Jaipur from 1948 mentions a scuffle between a Muslim resident and one Balram Sindhi, who owned the Hindu Hotel in Fateh Tibba—a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood towards the south of the walled city—when he went to fill water from a public tap near Masjid Qasaban. The entry then goes on to trace the economic root of this conflict, contending that the Sindhi’s proximity to sweepers of the area had been affecting the economy of waste, which had existed between the Muslim non-vegetarian hotels and the sweepers earlier. The new community of “non-vegetarians” had upset this set of existing socio-economic relations in the neighbourhood.18

Another diary during the same period details the meeting of around 25 Hindu ghee dealers in Chowkri Purani Basti, a Brahmin stronghold, to draft a petition to the state against Sindhi dealers, who they alleged were responsible for importing vegetable ghee in Jaipur.19 The petition demanded custom posts to check the ghee entering the city. The resonance of purity with which ghee is imbued in Jaipur is evident in rows of shops lining Johri Bazar, a prominent market in the city, with banners claiming the sale of shuddh desi or pure ghee there. One of the side streets, in what is Chowkri Ghat Darwaza, is a popular thoroughfare named after the ghee retailers themselves, Ghee walon ka Rasta. Deep inside it, around two ornate Jain temples, one can always find a crowd buying ingredients for goth, a traditional community feast organised in Jaipur mainly during the monsoon months. Carrying on the lineage of jyonars or royal feasts of yesteryears, these goths comprise a meal of choorma bati, both wheat flour products, soaked in dollops of ghee. The success of this feast depends on the aroma of ghee, invariably also a test of its purity or shuddhata. The lane is replete with the sound of loudspeakers advertising local retailers during the high season of ghee sale, Diwali, while the light smell of fried snacks and parathas waft through the alley.

At an explicit level, this narrative of ghee is to underline its importance in the social life of Jaipur, and more importantly in Hindu rituals and feasts. Obliquely, ghee also creates a series of binaries around itself, the pure and the impure being primary among them. The purity of ghee also translates into the social and economic status of its user, and also generates goodwill for its retailer. A relation of trust is developed in this transaction between the customer and the seller, which then is reflected in a hierarchy of shops in the neighbourhood on the basis of ghee’s smell and its assumed quality. One hears common refrains such as “this shop sells the best desi ghee sweets in town.”

The influx of new traders in Jaipur, long inhabited by its “original” settlers, generated anxiety into this structure of trust and purity, also risking the community meal with impure ingredients. In the earlier example, too, one notices a gastronomic underpinning of the conflict, with the new community of non-vegetarians creating cracks in the already established social and economic transactions between the Muslims and the group of sweepers. Purity of food and rituals was couched in religious terms when, in October 1948, a resolution was passed by Arya Samajis in the city against the “open sale of eggs and fish” due to the arrivals of Sindhis (Vijay nd: 61).

The economy, here, was cushioned with narratives of social organisation around meals and rituals of partaking. Taking cue from the ethnography of Surat’s Chauta Bazar (Jha and Thakur 2016), one can allude to economies based around “trust,” which were, perhaps, central to the construction of the bazaar. The rows of shops that proclaim themselves to be “original” sellers of ghee for years are similar to a narrative
of authenticity spun around many other similar “original” retailers of carpets, sweets, etc. Mushrooming of such claims drawing legitimacy from trustworthy names has generated an anxiety of inauthentic reproduction. This inauthenticity seemed to be at the heart of resolutions like that of the 25 ghee sellers in 1948, apart from their anxieties about a new system of governance.

The disdain towards Sindhi “labour” among the non-Sindhi traders, unlike its appraisal in the state’s register of purushartha, is replete in the narratives of the “original” residents of the walled city. As one old resident puts it, “they (Sindhis) have been responsible for bringing malpractices into trade in Jaipur.”20Such social perceptions are laced with examples of “unauthorised extensions” to Sindhi shops and the sale of cosmetics and lingerie items there. The economic competition faced by the non-Sindhi merchant groups in Jaipur is, thus, translated into cultural stereotypes around the Sindhi, as Victor Barnouw (1966) had contended in his sociological profiling of Hindu Sindhi migrants in Pune. He characterised them as a “mercantile group” akin to Jews. They practised trade and created anxiety among local traders in the city of Poona in the 1940s. The popular perception censured them as “dirty,” “showy,” luxurious and so on. The “other,” in the case of Jaipur bazaars, was also the “purusharthi” Sindhi refugee.


In the history of Sindhi enterprise in Jaipur, one may trace the histories of small town capitalism, to use Douglas Haynes’ (2012) phrase, marking out the small producers and retailers. It is here that we may begin to understand the developmental career of second-tier cities in India and the changing nature of “capital”21 in the contemporary period, when looked at through the prism of refugee encounters. Jaipur, a former princely territory, definitely was transformed in the wake of partition, like many other urban centres in the subcontinent. Tai Yong Tan and Gyanesh Kudaisya (2000), in their study of four capital cities—Dhaka, Calcutta (now Kolkata), Lahore and Karachi—bring forth the changes that partition meted out to each of them: economic, demographic, social and political. It materially dissected their industries, divided its labour force, sharpened communal edges and cast pressure on existing infrastructure. This decay necessitated a new centre of capital—replete with bureaucratic paraphernalia and symbolic infrastructure of the nation state—which was materialised in the form of Islamabad and Chandigarh in Pakistan and India, respectively.

In the urban context of Jaipur, the figure of the refugee, which was otherised in the everyday social and economic encounters of the neighbourhood or the bazaar, became the overarching entrepreneur for the state, the “purusharthi” responsible for “re-territorialisation” of Jaipur as the site of capital. This is why Jaipur’s encounter with partition and the refugee influx does not sit well with Tan and Kudasiya’s analysis of decay.

Over time, the urban economy has changed and, with it, different communities are being repositioned vis-à-vis the built environment of the city. The undertone of cultural–moral expulsion of the Sindhis from the uncontaminated body of the local community was also tangibly present in the realm of state-led heritage conservation. This led to a reimagination of the city wall as well, making the presence of the refugee traders in the rehabilitation spaces of yesteryears illegitimate and unwanted. The developmental rationale of the state has changed since the Nehruvian heydays and, with it, the processes of governance have also shifted.

The Sindhis in Jaipur had considerable state patronage as purusharthis, unlike their East Bengali counterparts in Kolkata (Sinha 2000). However, in the new urban development paradigm unleashed post the 2000s, the state has rolled back to invite global finance capital to revitalise its old city. In this context, the community of Sindhi retailers finds itself in a legal turmoil. The use of old structures as “infrastructure” to create new markets and colonies in the 1950s and 1970s has been replaced, at least theoretically, by a thrust on reviving the heritage economy through the prism of “conservation.” The task of capital city-making, where the Sindhi purushartha was hailed by political elites, is now giving way to a new economy of world-class city building, which perhaps requires another set of labour practices in its wake. Even for the upper-middle-class buyers of ready-made garments, shopping malls in the areas outside of the walled city are the new avenues for leisure and consumption.

The wall, which has been a defining character of the old city, was also an “apparatus” of security and demarcating identity, to use Ranabir Samaddar’s (2012) analysis. It served as a metaphor for physical and social borders in the city, making Sindhi refugees a part of it in the early years afterpartition. Purusharthi was one trope for production and management of the refugee population, and their spatial placement defined their functionality. The recapitalisation of the wall as built heritage in the recent past has led to the possibility of their expulsion from the physical as also the symbolic body of the city, renewing the contest over urban space and its resources. The recapitalisation of the walled city is dependent on the rearrangement of the finite space enclosed within the 18th century wall.

The state’s interest in this finite space has led to an overwriting of the imperative for urban economic expansion that was part of Emergency era policies. This overwriting requires either a reworking or erasure of the Sindhi refugees who are subjects crafted by the earlier governmental imperative. The future of the city of Jaipur will depend on the shape taken by the contest between these two foundations of two eras of policy: built heritage and population.


1 The historical understanding of Sindhi Hindu refugees in India has been dealt with in the works of Kothari (2007), Bhavnani (2014, 2016) and Barnouw (1966) among others.

2 There is no easy translation of the term “purushartha” as it represents the convergence of several discourses within itself, etymologically and philosophically.

3 Purusharthi Thari Holders’ Union Directory, 2008.

4 Personal interview, Shankar Lal Nanwani, Indira Bazar, 5 December 2016.

5 Personal interview, C K Rupani, Indira Bazar Vyapar Mandal, 3 December 2016.

6 To substantiate this further, perhaps a more intense ethnographic engagement with the trade economy of the old and new markets is imperative.

7 It is noteworthy that the Jaipur royals, who held a position of opposition to the ruling Congress party, were arrested and their properties re-evaluated in the wake of the Emergency (Rajasthan Patrika, 22 September 1977).

8 The Swatantra Party, founded by C Rajagopalachari in the 1960s, was supported by erstwhile zamindars and princes and later merged with the Janata Party.

9 Report on Urban Renewal of Walled City, Asia Urbs, Jaipur Municipal Corporation, 2002.

10 Over a period of time, the city was predominantly Hindu (mostly comprising Kayasthas, Agarwalas, Khandelwals, Rajputs and Brahmins, as also communities like Goojars and Kumawats), Jain (including Khandelwals, Saraogis, Oswals and Maheshwaris), and Muslim craftsmen, each of which played an important role in the market economy (Bhatnagar 1989: 235).

11 The myth of Jhulelal, foundational to Sindhi Hindus, who is believed to have been born in a silver swing or jhula and saved the community from the onslaught of Muslim ruler Mirkhshah, is similar to that of Lord Krishna. Some of his images resemble Guru Nanak, with a flowing white beard (Malkani 1984: 36; Kothari 2007: 169–71).

12 Maharaja Jai Singh II was the founder-king of Jaipur who ruled from 1699 to 1743 CE. Known to be an astronomer, the king developed the city in a planned manner (Bhatnagar 1974).

13 Sahi Baat was a weekly published from Jaipur in the early 1960s. Its first issue was published on 4 November 1961. However, over time, it underwent economic difficulties. This special issue of August 1962 focused on the Jaipur Municipal Council. The account was penned by Bhanwar Lal Sharma, a resident of Gangauri Bazar in the walled city, who was an RSS volunteer and joined the Jan Sangh in 1956. He went on to become the first Jan Sanghi president of the municipal council in 1961.

14 Personal interview, S L Nanwani, Treasurer of Indira Bazar Vyapar Sangh, 5 December 2016.

15 Purusharthi Thari Holders’ Union Directory, 2008.

16 Names of the respondents have been changed to maintain anonymity of personal narratives, while of those in any official capacity have been mentioned.

17 Personal interview, Indira Bazar, 3 December 2016.

18 IB No 2537, 10 May 1948, Rajasthan State Archives, Bikaner.

19 IB No 2430, 3 May 1948, Rajasthan State Archives, Bikaner.

20 Personal interview of a shop owner, Sarafa Market and a resident of the old city belonging to the Hindu merchant caste, 3 December 2016.

21 Capital is to be understood here in an economic as also in a political sense. The process through which capital cities were made after the merger of princely states was also simultaneously intertwined with a practice of accumulation of capital necessary for “urban development.”


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Updated On : 25th Jan, 2018


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