ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

RSS in Sindh: 1942-48

In colonial Sindh, unequal economic opportunities and widening class cleavages created ruptures in self-perception. The Sindhi-speaking Hindus and Muslims, who hitherto drew their sense of identity from territory, language and sufi masters (worshipped commonly by both communities) began to move towards polarised religious identities. The success of the Muslim League and RSS from 1941 onwards concretised the polarisation (which was neither complete nor uniform). This article builds upon the memories of some Sindhi Hindus who attended RSS shakhas in their teens and early youth and brought with them distinct memories to divided India, a phenomenon undocumented but with considerable implications for the contemporary politics of India.

����������������

RSS in Sindh: 1942-48

In colonial Sindh, unequal economic opportunities and widening class cleavages created ruptures in self-perception. The Sindhi-speaking Hindus and Muslims, who hitherto drew their sense of identity from territory, language and sufi masters (worshipped commonly by both communities) began to move towards polarised religious identities. The success of the Muslim League and RSS from 1941 onwards concretised the polarisation (which was neither complete nor uniform). This article builds upon the memories of some Sindhi Hindus who attended RSS shakhas in their teens and early youth and brought with them distinct memories to divided India, a phenomenon undocumented but with considerable implications for the contemporary politics of India.

RITA KOTHARI

O
nce the Partition of the Indian subcontinent had become a reality, a team of RSS activists in Sindh had two urgent aims in mind: to facilitate a smooth evacuation of the Sindhi Hindus who had begun to repose considerable trust in them, and to blow up a few government structures before leaving. They saw the former as a duty and the latter as a legitimate response to the looting and riots supported by the Muslim League. Both aims required arms; a group of 21 young men made intense preparations. In the Shikarpur colony of Karachi, the house of one Raibahadur Tolaram became the hideout for this cadre. The house was ostensibly taken over for tutoring students, and this turned out to be perfect camouflage for making bombs. The secret operation was going smoothly until on August 14, a powerful bomb accidentally exploded. It blew two swayamsewaks and the house to pieces. The two young men who died were Prabhu Badlani and Vasudev. The local police swooped down on the premises. All but one escaped. He was imprisoned and tortured for several months, until he was exchanged for another prisoner of war in 1949. There are contradictory opinions about the precise identity of this prisoner and his connections with the RSS.

The story of the Shikarpur colony bomb case has come to us through individual accounts as well as lesser known written sources. Among the mainstream studies on the RSS, only one makes a passing reference to the, “manufacturing of bombs in Sindh” [Anderson and Damle 1987: 48]. Among lesser known sources, a Sindhi writer Jayant Relwani (from Gujarat) refers specifically to the Shikarpur colony bomb case in an article on the predominance of the RSS in Sindh (1996: 89-90). The case finds a detailed discussion in what claims to be “an authentic and critical biography” of L K Advani, former president of the BJP and former deputy prime minister, by Atmaram Kulkarni (1995). Kulkarni’s intention in mentioning the Shikarpur colony bomb case is to show Advani’s participation in it, as testimony of his courage. However, Advani’s participation has not been confirmed by any other source. Meanwhile, an anonymous pamphlet titled Balidan Ki Baldevi Par provides photographs of the “martyrs” who died in the explosion at the Shikarpur colony.

Besides these few written references, the Shikarpur colony bomb case exists as an important episode in the minds of RSS activists from Sindh who are now in their late seventies and eighties. Fortuitously, I have met at least two members of the group of 21 who were involved in the Shikarpur colony bomb case.

The two men are Jhamatmal Wadhwani who lives in Mumbai and Harish Vazirani who lives in Ahmedabad. Jhamatmal Wadhwani was one of the key figures in the plot to make bombs for use against the Pakistan government. He remained in Pakistan until 1948 to help people under surveillance after the Shikarpur colony bomb case escape. He corroborated the incident, but refused to reveal specifics like names. Wadhwani was the secretary of the RSS in Hyderabad. He has continued to be involved in the post-independence avatars and affiliations of the RSS by being an active member of the Jan Sangh and the BJP. L K Advani, K R Malkani and Jhamatmal Wadhwani are three of the most experienced members of the RSS from Sindh. Harish Vazirani, on the other hand, did not sustain his links with the RSS after coming to India. He is, however, proud of a past that brought him close to the organisation and volunteered information about the Shikarpur colony bomb case as a context for his unplanned departure from Sindh. He was the first person to lead me into what turned out to be a significant, although unsuccessfully conducted operation. The single incident of the Shikarpur colony is of interest to us indirectly. It stands as a concrete example of the RSS network in Sindh, a phenomenon ignored in studies of Hindu fundamentalism in India. Despite the conspicuous example of L K Advani, “a gentle face with a beatific smile” [Basu et al 1993: vii], who symbolises Hindu fundamentalism in India since the early 1990s, the making of the RSS in Sindh and its consequences have largely been ignored as subjects of historical inquiry.1

The RSS in Personal HistoryThe RSS in Personal HistoryThe RSS in Personal HistoryThe RSS in Personal HistoryThe RSS in Personal History

The creation of the RSS story in this essay has been out of a cloudy and murky past that came to me almost accidentally. As part of the process of understanding the Partition experiences of the migrant generation, I conducted oral interviews and found that references to the RSS occupied considerable space in my record of interviews. This is probably among the first accounts of the role the RSS played in Sindh and its implications on the Sindhi psyche after Partition. Among the first migrant generation that came to India during 1947, some young men brought with them legacies of the RSS and passed them onto the next generation. A tangible case of one such transmission in Gujarat has been that of Maya Kodnani (BJP MLA, Naroda constituency) who admitted in a personal interview that her father belonged to the RSS and she was deeply influenced by that legacy.2

This legacy is very significant from the point of view of ideology formation and its sustained influence in the present. However, given the lack of written documentation, the numerical subscription of the RSS in Sindh remains unknown. Some figures are indicative, but perhaps they should be understood to point a tendency rather than a trend. For instance, the writer Jayant Relwani mentions that there were 41 ‘shakhas’ (branches) of the RSS in the city of Karachi alone (1996: 87). He begins his article on the presence of the RSS in Sindh by saying that “there is a general impression that every Sindhi is a Sanghi, a generalisation not without justification. Every Sindhi male has had a direct or indirect relationship with a shakha.” Furthermore, Anderson and Damle note that the membership of the RSS surged from 1945 and 1948 and most of that increase occurred in areas now part of Pakistan (especially Sindh and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP)), Punjab and Delhi (1987: 45). Jhamatmal Wadhwani mentioned that there were 75 ‘pracharaks’ (people in charge of dissemination and recruitment of volunteers) in Sindh, and that in every district, every taluka had an RSS volunteer, making in all 450 full-time RSS volunteers (personal interview). According to K R Malkani, the RSS had “spread to every nook and corner of Sindh” (1984: 86). These scattered remarks about the “success” of the RSS may not give us the exact number subscribing to this Hindu ideology, but they do indicate a noticeable presence during the 1940s. Malkani’s generous claim that the RSS had spread to every nook and corner may seem excessive; however, the truth may lie somewhere between the silence and his claim.

My discovery of the RSS connection in Sindh was first made in an unsuspecting corner: it was one of the many nuggets of memory dominating my father, Laxmandas Makhija’s narrative about his life. Although my father talked to me about Sindh at home as I grew up, he had never mentioned the RSS. In 2001, when I formally interviewed him to record his experiences of Partition, he mentioned the RSS as one of his most “vivid memories”. According to him, “From the age of 12, the highpoint of my life in Sindh was the RSS. I was not really involved in politics in Sindh. Many friends and acquaintances were in the Congress Sewa Dal. Me and my brother were in the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh.” It was surprising that if this was an important part of his memories, it had never figured in conversations at home. However, based on what he had said, I went on to interview his brother, Udhavadas Makhija who proudly stated, “I know L K Advani from my RSS days. RSS was very pervasive in Sukkur, and since Shikarpur where your father and I lived was in the district of Sukkur, we were strongly influenced by it. We were the true nationalists. The ‘shakha sanchalak’ (branch-manager) used to tell us, ‘Know yourself and help your kind’. They gave us the courage to fight outsiders. My brotherin-law was also with the RSS. At least the RSS bothered about us. What did the Congress ‘haraami’ do? Nothing.” The interviews with the Makhija brothers served as the first link in a chain of conversations with many more Sindhis who joined the shakhas in Sindh. My father and uncle, like the rest of the men in my family are businessmen from Shikarpur. As many more narratives unfolded in interviews, it appeared that this aspect of the Sindhi Hindus was not restricted to businessmen and Shikarpur only. It was an important part of the Sindhi Hindu’s history but lived only in people’s consciousness because its presence became significant in not more than six years preceding Partition.

The two decades before Partition witnessed the simultaneous effects of the Khilafat movement, which helped the politicisation of Muslims, and the after-effects of an abandoned noncooperation movement (1919-1921) on one hand and a gradual rise of non-secular organisations like the Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha on the other (1930s). As in India, so in Sindh, the period of 1920-1940 played a decisive role in generating irreconcilable differences between the Congress and the Muslim League. The generation that then watched the communalised politics in Sindh was also that of the adolescent swayamsewaks of the RSS. They formed Sindh’s first significant cadre and came to a divided India with that legacy. In India, they have un/consciously transmitted their “experiences” and ideology to the next generation. From among those succeeding generations have emerged some of the most hardened followers of Hindutva, a form of Hindu fundamentalism, strengthened intellectually by the RSS, politically by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and pragmatically by outfits such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). To give but a few examples, Seth Naomal from Adipur told me that he was the BJP president in Adipur, Kutch and that his sons were with the BJP (personal interview). Maya Kodnani’s admission in this regard has already been mentioned above. Of the many factors that might be responsible for the Sindhis’ preference for a right-wing Hindu political party like the BJP, one is the RSS. Since Sindhis represent a minority, their ideological affiliations have not drawn attention but an examination of such micro-communities is needed to locate majoritarian politics in local cultures.

Arya SamajArya SamajArya SamajArya SamajArya Samaj

The RSS in Sindh drew partial sustenance from the first and most enduring “reform” institution in colonial India – the Arya Samaj. Although the Arya Samaj was founded by Dayanand Saraswati who was from Gujarat, one of its most fertile spheres of influence was the Punjab, and eventually its neighbouring province, Sindh. The Arya Samaj was founded in 1875 with a view to combating conversion and providing Hinduism its due place among competing religions like Islam and Christianity. The Arya Samaj aimed at taking Hindus “back to the Vedas”, and reinstating a “pure” state preceding the Puranas and other later accretions in Hinduism. This made the Arya Samaj eschew caste distinctions, which it saw as a post-Vedic phenomenon, against the grain of pure Aryan identity. This side of the Arya Samaj is concerned with social equality. However, the Arya Samaj also originated as a response to new threats posed by missionary activity in the 19th century. Revivalist organisations of the 19th century such as the Arya Samaj forged an all-inclusive Hindu identity (as opposed to caste identities of brahmins, vaishnavs, etc) to create notions of collectivity that could withstand threats from Christianity and Islam. The emergence of the Arya Samaj

Economic and Political Weekly July 8-15, 2006

needs to be located not only against the background of missionary activity and its attendant controversies, but also the peculiar political and ethnic solidarities of the early 20th century. If Punjab showed a tendency for conversion to Sikhism and Christianity [Sharma 2000: 95], Sindhi Hindus were prone to converting to Islam. In either case, certain tools were handy, “shuddhi” (purificatory rite by which the converted were brought back to Hinduism) being one of them. This brought the Arya Samaj in direct confrontation with other religious groups and led to sporadic religious tensions especially in Sindh.

According to Gobind Chellani, a rising tide of ‘amil’ conversion into Islam was the chief context for the arrival of the Arya Samaj in Sindh [Chellani 1983: 53]. It is difficult to determine the precise number of people who were drawn into the revivalist vortex or of those who refused to do so. According to the figures available on the Arya Samaj in Ahmedabad in Gujarat, it currently has 8,000 members. There are strong affiliations with the Arya Samaj among some Sindhis in Mumbai and Ulhasnagar in Maharashtra, and in Ajmer and Jaipur, Rajasthan. The respondents from these organisations trace the existence of the organisation in Sindh. Gobind Chellani’s book on the Arya Samaj in Sindh provides a list of over 90 well known Arya Samajis from Sindh. The chairman of the Arya Samaj in Sindh was Khemchand Gurnomal Shuddhimal and he was so committed to the cause, says Chellani, that he was “rightly called the Savarkar of Sindh” [Chellani 1983: 52]. Both Chellani and K R Malkani recount frequent incidents of conversion among the amils of Hyderabad (Sindh) and the controversial case of Tharumal Makhijiani who had converted to Islam but later wanted to revert to Hinduism. The furore surrounding this incident and the division of opinion in the Hindu panchayat as to whether reconversion should be allowed, serves as a prelude to the arrival of the Arya Samaj. As far as the case of Tharumal Makhijiani (1878) was concerned, the Hindu panchayat in Hyderabad pronounced judgment against re-conversion. However, this set off intense debates about what seemed like a rise in conversion because other amils such as Moorajmal and Deoomal had also converted in 1891, and whether they could be re-converted. Consequently the issue led to seeking “outside” help and Diwan Dayaram Gidumal, mentioned earlier as a leading reformer, wrote to the Arya Samaj in Punjab and asked it to intervene. The request was addressed to Swami Shraddhanand in Lahore in 1893. Both the preponderance of the Arya Samaj in Punjab [Sharma 2000], and its close geographical and cultural ties to Sindh (the same context governed the influence of Sikhism in Sindh) had a role to play. As a response to Dayaram Gidumal’s request, Pandit Lekhrajani Arya and Pandit Puran Anand reached Sindh. The first public meeting of the Arya Samaj in Sindh was in 1893. The two pandits worked day and night and the moment they came to know of someone with the slightest desire to change his religion, they would not leave him alone till he had changed his mind [Malkani 1984: 9; Chellani 1983: 57].

During the decade of the 1920s, the Arya Samaj became particularly active and contributed directly to Hindu-Muslim confrontation. Interestingly, as the extract given below testifies, the Samaj was less interested in cultivating the spirit of Hinduism than in ensuring that Hindus remained Hindus:

The mass conversions of Muslims to Hinduism assumed significant proportions only in the 1920s, in the backdrop of concerted efforts by the Muslim and Hindu elite to inflate their numbers so as to enhance their political bargaining power. The Arya Samaj was particularly successful among Muslim groups which were only partially islamised and had still retained many of their old Hindu customs and beliefs. Thus, for instance, the Sheikhs of Larkano (Sind), a low half Muslim-half Hindu caste, were converted by the Sukkur unit of the Arya Samaj as early as in 1905. Similar was the case with the Sabrai Labanas of Ludhiana (Punjab) and the Marwaris of Ajmer (Rajputana), who, like the Larkano Sheikhs, followed a curious mixture of Hindu and Islamic practices. It is interesting to note that these group conversions to Hinduism organised by the Arya Samaj entailed essentially the giving up of certain Islamic customs such as the burial of the dead, ‘nikah’, the visiting of dargahs, and circumcision, rather than the imparting of Hindu religious knowledge to the new converts. This was possibly because the shuddhi movement was motivated far less by the desire to promote spirituality and moral and religious values than by strong anti-Muslim passion [Sikand and Katji 1994: 2215].

The Arya Samaj’s use of shuddhi evoked strong racial and communal prejudices and left a very deep and palpable mark on Sindhi Muslims. Hamida Khuhro describes the “able handling” of riots in Larkano by her father Muhammed Ayub Khuhro, the Muslim League leader remembered very negatively by Indian Sindhis. According to Khuhro, when in March of 1928, her father was visiting Larkano, a sudden riot broke out. “The riot had been caused by the activities of the Hindu fundamentalists of the Shuddhi, Arya Samaj and Hindu Mahasabha movements who were busy scouring the countryside at the time trying to find and “reconvert” or shuddhi (purify) any person they suspected had been converted from Hinduism”. A Hindu woman who had been converted to Islam and had been happily married for over 14 years was found to be forcibly converted. Says Khuhro, “It was clear that the Hindu extremist organisations like the Shuddhi and Mahasabha movements were bent upon stirring up communal trouble. In this case they had got hold of a woman who had been married for more than 14 years and [had] several children. She was bribed and threatened into abandoning her home and testifying against her husband which resulted not only in personal tragedy for her household but started the first communal riot in Sindh. This was the beginning of the strife between the two major communities in Sindh and the incident was followed by trouble in other towns, creating hatreds which would encourage divisiveness in the province and end in complete polarisation between the two communities” [Khuhro 1998b: 72].

In addition to reconverting shuddhis, the Arya Samaj also organised ‘bahasbaazi’ (debates between Hinduism and Islam) in Hyderabad and Larkano. Chellani records a “successful” debate on scriptures in 1929 with Anjuman Naseet Islam and the Arya Samaj representing Islam and Hinduism respectively. The Arya Samaj emerged “triumphant” by showing that they knew far more about their scriptures than the representatives from Islam. A teacher named Ramdev Kundanmal, an active Arya Samaji was suspended for making objectionable statements about Islam. Gangaram Samrat, well known for his anti-Islamic writing was an active Arya Samaji. The Arya Samaj contributed directly to the creation of mutually exclusive categories such as Islam and Hinduism. After the late 1930s the Muslim League was more than happy to take such categories further to the point of Partition.

Of course, not every Hindu was an Arya Samaji nor was every Arya Samaji a Hindu fundamentalist. For instance, notes Lakhmi Khilani, “Our family forbade us from reading Dayanand Saraswati’s Satyaprakash. I can’t remember exactly what reasons they gave, but they must have considered it as a disruptive text” (personal interview). Khilani is one of the directors of the Institute of Sindhology in Kutch, Gujarat. The institution is based upon the principles of Sufi syncretism that binds the Sindhis of India and Pakistan together. It is possible that there were many other families like Khilani’s which may help us to put the success of the Arya Samaj in perspective. But the Arya Samaj paved the way for organisations like the Mahasabha and the RSS. A strong propagator of the Arya Samaj in Gujarat, Gangaram Samrat clearly and proudly admits such interconnections, “Arya Samaj has always supported RSS. I did too. I never went to the shakhas, but the RSS had my support. And for that reason, my sons are with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the present-day avatar of the RSS” (personal interview). According to Kirat Babani, Gangaram Samrat and his ilk represent one of the two strands within the Arya Samaj; people like Tarachand Gajra and Choithram Gidwani who were secular represented the other (personal interview). Nevertheless, the combative role of the Arya Samaj is captured in the words of one of its admirers who says, “To an extent that tit called for tat, the Arya Samaj played a useful role” [Malkani 1984: 85].

Context and EmergenceContext and EmergenceContext and EmergenceContext and EmergenceContext and Emergence

The RSS emerged in the peculiar circumstances of the 1920s which witnessed the Khilafat Movement, the Non-Cooperation movement and its abandonment by Gandhi, the disenchantment with Gandhi in certain circles and the beginning of Hindu-Muslim riots in Bengal and Maharashtra. Its founder, Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, viewed the communal rioting that swept across the country as a sign of the weakness of the Hindu community. He felt that the Muslims had an edge over the Hindus because the latter had lost their manhood and collectivity. It was important therefore to instil a warrior-like pride in the Hindus and forge a Hindu national identity. This was the broad aim of the RSS, which was also following another organisation with a similar ideology, the Hindu Mahasabha. The Mahasabha was established in 1915, a decade before the RSS. It was concerned with a variety of Hindu interests such as cow protection, Hindi in the Devanagri script, and caste reforms. However, one of the chief differences between the Mahasabha and the RSS was that the latter never sought direct political power, a bone of contention between the two. Thus the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS shared a symbiotic, but often conflicting relationship. Meanwhile, the RSS was a small provincial organisation based in eastern Maharashtra from 1925 (the year of its inception) to 1932.

The Delhi session of the Hindu Mahasabha in 1932 passed a resolution commending the activities of the RSS and emphasising the need to spread its network all over the country. In the same year, Bhai Parmanand extended a special invitation to Hedgewar to attend the Karachi session of the Hindu Yuvak Parishad. Hedgewar seized this opportunity to establish contact with youth groups from Sindh and Punjab. The acceptance of the RSS in

COUNCIL FOR SOCIAL DEVELOPMENTCOUNCIL FOR SOCIAL DEVELOPMENTCOUNCIL FOR SOCIAL DEVELOPMENTCOUNCIL FOR SOCIAL DEVELOPMENTCOUNCIL FOR SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT

53, Lodi Estate, New Delhi – 110 003

Fax : 091-011-24616061 < csdnd@del2.vsnl.net.in>

Council for Social Development, New Delhi, is on the lookout for suitable candidates for faculty positions in different areas of Social Development. Positions are available at the level of

SeniorSeniorSeniorSeniorSenior
Fellow, Fellow and Associate FellowFellow, Fellow and Associate FellowFellow, Fellow and Associate FellowFellow, Fellow and Associate FellowFellow, Fellow and Associate Fellow
. The scales of pay are as under:

  • 1.1.1.1.1.
    Senior FellowSenior FellowSenior FellowSenior FellowSenior Fellow
    :::::
    Rs. 12,000-420-18,300
  • 2.2.2.2.2.
    FellowFellowFellowFellowFellow
    :::::
    Rs. 10,000-325-15,200
  • 3.3.3.3.3.
    Associate FellowAssociate FellowAssociate FellowAssociate FellowAssociate Fellow
    :::::
    Rs. 8,000-275-13,500
  • Allowances as per Council’s rules will be payable.

    Higher/Selection grade can be offered to candidates depending upon their academic achievements. The Council is looking for candidates with good academic record and research experience. Appointments will be made on tenure basis for 3 years, renewable from time to time.

    Applications should reach the Director within two weeks from the date of publication of this advertisement.

    Economic and Political Weekly July 8-15, 2006

    Punjab was made easy by the path the Arya Samaj had paved and also by the “growing fears of Muslim paramilitary movements” [Anderson and Damle 1987: 38]. Bhai Parmanand who had extended the invitation to Hedgewar was an Arya Samaji and by then, the RSS had earned some goodwill as a refuge for Hindus during riots. In contrast, the success of the RSS in Sindh was considerably slower.

    The early efforts of the RSS in Sindh were largely abortive. It appealed mainly to Marathi-speaking people in Karachi but not to the native Sindhis. In his book on L K Advani, the writer Atmaram Kulkarni describes the enticements such as lassi, milk and sweets offered to the Hindu Sindhis in order to get them interested in the RSS (1995: 2-3). Sindh in the early 1930s was by and large peaceful and although riots did take place in Larkano and Sukkur, they were localised and short-lived affairs. The sporadic fights between Hindus and Muslims over conversion had not created the deep-rooted insecurity necessary for the ideology of the RSS. Hence the early recruits in Sindh were government officials and professionals from Maharashtra and Punjab.

    A turning point came when a young man named Rajpal Vishwambhar Nath Puri from Sialkot came to Hyderabad, Sindh. Rajpal Puri was an Arya Samaji and an RSS activist in Punjab. He had come to Sindh to take up a teaching job in the Navalram Hirananad Academy. The N H Academy hired Rajpal Puri’s services as a Sanskrit teacher since Sindh did not have many Sanskrit teachers of its own. This gave Puri an opportunity to teach and influence young Hindu boys whom he could cultivate as his first RSS cadre. Among the young swayamsewaks that Rajpal Puri, popularly known as “Shriji” trained, was L K Advani. The number of RSS shakhas in Sindh increased by the early 1940s. In the initial years, RSS activity was more intense in Karachi and Hyderabad. It was in Karachi that Jhamatmal Wadhwani came in touch with the RSS, although later he became the secretary of the RSS in Hyderabad. “I had thought then that it was good for self-defence – ‘lathi’ and ‘kathi’. After some time, I also got interested in the more intellectual sessions. I learnt that ‘sangathan’ (unity) is necessary. There is ‘shakti’ in sangathan (there is strength in unity). It helps devotion and dedication. I got a wider vision on why Hindu races were defeated. It was necessary for Sindh to know this because people had converted. From Muhammad Bin Qasim to Muhammad Ghazni, Muslims have also defeated us. The Muslims ruled over us for 600 years. Thanks to the courage of Sheth Naoomal that he brought British rule to Sindh and we were relieved” (personal interview). For Wadhwani, there was no contradiction between his Hindu nationalism and his support for English colonialism. Wadhwani’s desire for self-defence must also be seen against the backdrop of the movement for the separation of Sindh and the increasing influence of the League.3 The success of the RSS in Sindh coincides with this period.

    Hence Laxmandas Makhija remembers that by 1944, the RSS had spread to many parts of Sindh. He remembers visiting Nawabshah, Larkano, and Sukkur for training. “My commitment to the RSS gradually became more serious. During the year 1947, I had graduated to being one of the leaders in my locality in Shikarpur. Day and night we were told that Hinduism had been destroyed; we at the RSS had a calling to salvage it from its endangered existence” (personal interview). Anderson and Damle note how the “Hinduism in danger” discourse provided the most significant context for the RSS (1987). In some cases, joining the RSS was also a response to specific incidents and occurrences but in the minds of the young impressionable boys, it enlarged itself into “defence” against attacks on Hinduism. For instance, in the course of the same interview Laxmandas Makhija mentioned that he “prepared” through the RSS for “an imminent war against Muslims” and also that he wanted to learn to protect himself for as a young boy “I was harassed by Muslim boys in my mohalla. I wanted to be physically strong and face them” (personal interview) Jayant Relwani assured me that he had no personal reasons for joining. “My father was a strong supporter of the Congress. He had been to jail twice and I remember an occasion when he was ready to hit an Englishman who said something against Gandhi. There was no RSS in his time. But when I was about 17, RSS had arrived in Sindh, around 1942. My father felt that the Congress had let people down, that Gandhi did not stand up for Bhagat Singh and he was generally disappointed. He wanted me to go to the RSS because that was the direction in which Sindh was going (Hindun jee vichaardhara una paase hui).”

    Although Relwani sets up an opposition between the RSS and the Congress, he hastens to add that “RSS was not a political organisation. It was a cultural organisation; it was reminding us of our true Hindu identity which had got lost. By simple exercises of drilling, the RSS was giving us confidence and self-reliance” (personal interview). The irony of moving from a simple drill to manufacturing ammunition, of moving from devices of defence to those of attack escapes most RSS followers. At the age of 14, Makhija was making tiger-claws, “the kind that Shivaji used on Afzal Khan,” (personal interview) and at the age of 21, Harish Vazirani was busy in the Shikarpur colony.

    Meanwhile, Rajpal Puri’s success in Sindh motivated Golwalkar (Hedgewar’s successor in the RSS, Maharashtra) to promote Puri to the post of regional pracharak. Puri had under him Khanchand Gopaldas, a man remembered by all the ex-swayamsewaks of Sindh. The tense atmosphere of the early 1940s when the government imposed martial law on Sindh lent a touch of romanticism to the activities of the RSS. Rajpal Puri and some of his young companions were arrested for creating “disturbances” during 1942. When they were freed, their popularity had increased quite a lot [Kulkarni 1995: 17]. It is important to note that from 1943 to 1947, Golwalkar (fondly remembered as ‘Guruji’) visited Sindh every year. Incidentally, Gandhi’s visits to Sindh had stopped by then. The perception of the Hindus as a religious minority strengthened the hold of the RSS and Golwalkar began drawing crowds. His last visit to Sindh, a week before Partition remains most dramatically etched in the minds of some of the RSS respondents.

    Towards PartitionTowards PartitionTowards PartitionTowards PartitionTowards Partition

    About nine days before independence, the chief of the Sangh organised a seminar in Karachi and took me there as a volunteer. I remember Golwalkar mentioning that that was his last visit to Sindh and that we would have a different rule now, and new dangers to contend with. I stayed back in Karachi and noticed with my own eyes on August 14, that Viceroy Lord Mountbatten was taking Jinnah with him in the car. I came back to Shikarpur and noticed that many Hindus had begun to leave, houses were becoming empty. I went to school and found it closed. I realised that it was not possible to live there any longer [Laxmandas Makhija, personal interview].

    As Partition drew near, RSS activities intensified. “People like us were particularly in danger. The National Muslim Guard had its eyes on us,” notes Seth Naomal (personal interview). “Things had to be undercover and operations very secretive,” so much so, says Harish Vazirani, “that even I did not know who the other 19 people with me were in the Shikarpur colony bomb case. All I knew was that the man behind the whole operation was Khanchand Gopaldas” (personal interview). When the bomb in Shikarpur colony exploded, Khanchand Gopaldas and 12 other swayamsewaks were arrested. They were retained by the Pakistan government and released eventually (through the efforts of Vallabhbhai Patel) as prisoners of war. When the new government in Pakistan cracked its whip on the RSS, many went underground or left the country in disguise. Rajpal Puri dressed himself as a Hindu merchant and just barely managed to escape the national guard at the airport. The Congress also helped. When the chips were down, the ideological differences between the Congress and the RSS did not sustain themselves in Sindh. Relwani continues, “Everyone was bound by the feeling of being a minority. In any case, the Congress in Sindh was never very rigid” (personal interview). Relwani’s comment on the sustaining links between the RSS and the Congress are very significant. The Congress increased the acceptance of the RSS in Sindh by being covertly supportive and by its sheer inefficiency in helping the Sindhi Hindus evacuate. K R Malkani mentions that he was asked by his brother Narayandas Malkani, a committed Congress nationalist to join the RSS because, “Congress cannot attract the youth, while the RSS does” [in Wadhwani 2004: 1].

    In fact, the Sindhi Hindus ruptured relationship with the Congress serves as an additional context for understanding their emotional links with the RSS. Both the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS seized upon the “betrayal” of the Congress and reminded the Sindhi Hindus of how the Congress had supported the motion of separation. Congress representatives in Sindh such as Choithram Gidwani and Tarachand Gajra felt that the Nehru-Gandhi-Patel combine was indifferent to their province. In the years following the separation of Sindh, when the Sindhi Hindu felt progressively insecure, Gandhi’s stand on non-violence made less and less sense to them. In their correspondence with Gandhi in the late 1930s, the Congress leaders report frequent cases of lawlessness. Tarachand Gajra and C T Valecha (members of the Sindh Congress committee) wrote to Gandhi with some sarcasm, “We trust you received our previous communication, ‘A note on the present state of lawlessness in Sindh’. It is a sad story of silent misery that has befallen those who are migrating without any financial aid from the public or the authorities. Elsewhere such things would evoke wide international public support and sympathy. We hope your interest in the province will grow” [Gajra in Jotwani 1998: 333]. Gandhi’s repeated plea for non-violence seemed to fall on deaf ears, and the Sindhi Hindus were looking for something more “effective”. In an article in Harijan, Gandhi admits the waning confidence in non-violence among the Sindhi Hindus. After the Manzilgah riots4 in Sukkur in 1939, he wrote, “Now the only effective way in which I can help the Sindhis is to show them (the) way of non-violence. But that cannot be learnt in a day. The other way is the way they followed hitherto: armed defence of life and property. God only helps those who help themselves. The Sindhis are no exception. They must learn the art of defending themselves against robbers, raiders and the like. If they do not feel safe and are too weak to defend themselves, they should leave the place which has proved inhospitable to live in” (in Jotwani 1998: 322). Gandhi’s advice to the Sindhi Hindus to equip themselves was well taken, but his suggestion that the Sindhis should undertake a ‘hijrat’ (exodus) if they could not protect themselves seemed very unfair to the Sindhi Hindu leaders. He received a strong reaction to his article, ‘The Sindh Tragedy’ which mentioned hijrat for Sindhi Hindus. “In your article ‘Sindh Tragedy’ you have advised the oppressed Hindus of Sindh to perform hijrat if they cannot protect their honour and self-respect by remaining in Sindh. Where do you expect them to go? Who will provide them the wherewithal in their place of refuge? May I further ask you if the remedy of hijrat is meant for the Hindus only? Why do you not advise hijrat to the Mussulamans in the Congress province who complain loudly of oppression?” [in Jotwani 1998: 323].

    Gandhi did not respond to this question. At the Congress headquarters in Delhi, Sindh seemed too far, its problems small and peculiar. In his correspondence with Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the journalist M S M Sharma reports that Congress leaders in Sindh seemed “more Hindu Sabhaites than Congressman,” and hastens to add that “that could not be helped.” Patel responded to this with incomprehension, a common response towards Sindh, “Sindh is a peculiar province. I am not sure I understand it. No principles seem to work there. It is a strange place” [in Das 1972: 137]. Nehru echoes a similar sentiment, but with more negativism in a letter to Padmaja Naidu, “I do not feel attracted to Sindh. I have nothing to say about it” [in Anand 1996: 55]. The indifference of the Congress headquarters towards Sindh also found reflection sometimes in Sindh’s own representatives in the Congress. For instance, Narayandas Malkani mentions in his autobiography that when he wrote to J B Kripalani (president, All India Congress Committtee) about the Manzilgah riots, his response was as follows,

    I have nothing to say about Sindh. It is beyond the scope of my office administration. I have no private perspective on Sindh. Even if I had any, nobody is going to like it. Glad you wrote to Vallabhbhai. You would be coming to Ramgadh, but the working committee feels it is futile to advise Sindhis on anything” [in K R Malkani 1973: 106].

    The shades of indifference towards this religious minority in what was emerging as a laboratory of the Muslim League seemed no one’s concern, neither before nor during Partition. Such treatment from the Congress would leave the Sindhi Hindus much scarred, a process well on its way during the 1940s when the RSS was spreading its net. After the fall of Allah Bux Soomro, the last Congress leader who had the potential to bind Hindus and Muslims together, the Congress’ failure in Sindh, now with the Muslim League, was a foregone conclusion. In a letter to Nichaldas Vazirani (December 16, 1946), Sardar Patel sadly notes that “I am extremely sorry to see that in Sindh Congress has purchased bitterness and enmity in the bargain” [in Das 1972: 137]. The RSS appeared to salve the Hindu community’s wounds by claiming to do what the Congress was not doing. However, the Congress and the RSS did not always operate in opposition. At a certain level, the two organisations worked in tandem and shared a non-conflicting relationship. The RSS was a cultural organisation (albeit not without political implications) and the Congress a political organisation (but not without cultural implications). At another level, antagonism against the Congress fed the legitimacy of the RSS. Laxmandas Makhija remembers somewhat wistfully that, “When Nehru visited Sindh, I badly

    Economic and Political Weekly July 8-15, 2006

    wanted to go. But we were prohibited by our shakha” (personal interview).

    Thus, among some of the final memories in the minds of the Sindhi Hindus, the RSS occupies an important place. Once again, this is not true for all Sindhi Hindus but as mentioned earlier, the sustenance and transmission of ideology need not correspond with numbers, at least in the initial stages of the organisation. The ex-swayamsewaks of Sindh, active and not-so-active, eventually all arrived in India. Bound by the RSS ideals of selfreliance, physical exercise and brotherhood in saffron – the first generation fondly clung to its RSS connections. “Once a swayamsewak, always a swayamsewak,” smiled Sheth Naomal broadly at me. Naomal lives in Adipur, Kutch (Gujarat) and owns three of the biggest sanitaryware shops there. He hails from the Nawabshah district of Sindh. “I felt very restless when I moved to this place. While I was putting my best into my business and I have passed on to my sons three sanitaryware shops, I also wanted to see if there were swayamsewaks in Adipur. I was quite sure I would find them. That sense of bonding only the RSS can give. Swayamsewak ko ghar pe baithna nahin aata (An RSS volunteer does not like to rest at home). He would be restless until he has found his own kind” (personal interview). When there were few mechanisms for keeping together a community that is geographically and culturally dislocated, the RSS served as one of the few common links. Bound not only by feelings of selfreliance and solidarity and what they perceived as “essential RSS values”, the ex-swayamsewaks also had a shared view of history. They tend to believe that Sufism was a fringe phenomenon and a mild version of Islam created to entice Hindus to Islam (Relwani, Wadhwani, personal interviews). At a broader level, it leads to a view that only Hindus are the rightful inheritors of India and that the Muslim was here on sufferance. This historical falsification and a rejection of what has been Sindh’s tolerant syncretic tradition has far more serious implications than incidents like the Shikarpur colony bomb case, which helped trigger this investigation. Having said that, our own understanding of the RSS and its brand of narrow dogmatism must also include nuances of relationships, and flashes of warmth. For instance, Gangaram Samrat, a staunch Arya Samaji, an RSS sympathiser and writer of vitriolic books against Islam, continued to share warm correspondence with G M Syed and other Muslim leaders in Sindh. Similarly, K R Malkani, a member of the old-guard from the Sindh cadre of the RSS begins his book on Sindh (1984) by recounting a moving incident:

    It was in Sindh towards the end of 1947. Partition had taken place and Hindus were leaving the province in large numbers. One day some of us RSS workers were walking down the Tilak Incline in Hyderabad. Suddenly an elderly Muslim woman coming from the opposite direction stopped in front of us and asked in pain: “Brothers, will you also go away?” He recounts some more incidents of this nature and remarks, “I am not sure there were many areas in the India of 1947, where incidents like these could occur” [K R Malkani 1984: Preface, p 1].

    Such fond memories of the past and more crucially, letters and emails between some Hindu Sindhis and some Muslim Sindhis co-exist with a strong legacy of the RSS. Although at an experiential and emotive level, the Sindhi Hindus (including staunch ex-RSS activists) have positive memories of the Sindhi Muslims, in their historical vision, the Muslim of Sindh collapses with the Muslim of the Muslim League, who in turn collapses with the Muslim anywhere. In this vision, the Muslim in pre-independence Sindh and post-independence India became one – an invader. From Sindh to Somnath, across time and space, he remains the desecrator of Hindu gods and an outsider. This view of history requires the Sindhi of India to establish himself as a pure Aryan in a pre-Islamic conception of history. From that Aryanness – the Hindutva of today – the Sindhi enacts an imagined history in which he has always been the victim, and the Muslim the victimiser. It is no coincidence that the symbolic but violent correction to this historical imbalance came from one of the old RSS loyalists from Sindh, L K Advani.

    l:i

    Email: rakothari@hotmail.com

    NotesNotesNotesNotesNotes

    Personal Interviews

    Babani, Kirat, May 7, 2004, in Mumbai (Sindhi). Khilani, Lakhmi, April 1, 2004, in Adipur, Kutch (Sindhi). Kodnani, Maya, January 10, 2003, in Ahmedabad (Sindhi). Makhija, Laxmandas, June 10, 2001, in Mumbai (Sindhi). Makhija, Udhavdas, September 8, 2002, in Ahmedabad (Sindhi). Relwani, Jayant, March 25, 2003, in Rajkot (Sindhi). Samrat, Gangaram, April 28, 2003, in Ahmedabad (Sindhi). Seth, Naomal, April 2, 2004, in Adipur, Kutch (Sindhi). Vazirani, Harish, January 4, 2003, in Gandhinagar (English). Wadhwani, Jhamatmal, December 27, 2004, in Mumbai (Sindhi).

    1 Social scientists and political theorists have studied pro-Hindu organisations like the RSS, BJP, VHP, Shiv Sena and their role in communal politics in India (see Thomas Blom Hanse, Urban Violence in India: Identity Politics, Mumbai and the Postcolonial City, Permanent Black, New Delhi, 2001; Pralay Kanungo, RSS’s Tryst with Destiny: From Hedgewar to Sudarshan, Manohar, Delhi, 2002; Ashutosh Varshney, Ethnic Conflict and Civic Life: Hindus and Muslims in India, Oxford, Delhi, 2002). The two seminal studies on the RSS by Anderson and Damle (1987) and Tapan Basu et al (1993) have already been mentioned. None of these books discuss the predominance of the RSS in Sindh and any post-Partition implications of the same in Indian politics.

    2 During the Gujarat riots of 2002, the constituency of Naroda in Ahmedabad witnessed the bloodiest massacre of Muslims. 3 “Separation” here refers to the separation of Sindh from the Bombay Presidency of which it was a part from 1852 to 1936. 4 The Manzilgah riots occurred in 1939 in Sukker over a disputed property called Masjid Manzilgah – not very unlike our own Babri masjid.

    ReferencesReferencesReferencesReferencesReferences

    Anand, Subhadra (1996): National Integration of Sindhis, Vikas Publishing House, Delhi. Anderson, Walter and Shridhar Damle (1987): The Brotherhood in Saffron, Vistaar Publications, New Delhi. Basu, Tapan et al (1993): Khakhi Shorts: Saffron Flags, Orient Longman,

    Hyderabad. Chellani, Gobind (1983): Sindh ain Arya Samaj, Sunny Printers, New Delhi. Das, Durga (ed) (1972): Sardar Patel’s Correspondence 1945-50, Vol 3,

    Navjivan Press, Ahmedabad. Jotwani, Motilal (ed) (1998): Gandhi on Sindh and Sindhis, Sindhi Academy,

    Delhi. Kulkarni, Atmaram (1995):The Advent of Advani, Aditya Prakashan, Bombay. Malkani, K R (1984): The Sindh Story, Sindhi Academy, Delhi. Relwani, Jayant (1996): Shamne Sindhu Neer (River Indus in My Dreams),

    Laxmi Pustak Bhandar, Ahmedabad.

    Sharma, Satish (2000): ‘Arya Samaj in Punjab’ in Harish K Puri and Paramit S Judge (eds), Social and Political Movements, pp 93-101, Rawat Publications, Jaipur and Delhi.

    Sikand,Yoginder and Manjari Katji (1994): ‘Mass Conversions to Hinduism among Indian Muslims’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol XXIX, No 34, August 20, pp 2214-19.

    Wadhwani, Jhamatmal (ed) (2004): The Voice of the Nation (Tribute to K R Malkani), Bharatiya Sindhu, Mumbai.

    To read the full text Login

    Get instant access

    New 3 Month Subscription
    to Digital Archives at

    ₹826for India

    $50for overseas users

    Comments

    (-) Hide

    EPW looks forward to your comments. Please note that comments are moderated as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear. A comment, if suitable, may be selected for publication in the Letters pages of EPW.

    Back to Top