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The Untold Betrayal of Sindhi Hindus



Discussion

The Untold Betrayalof Sindhi Hindus

ANAND CHANDAVARKAR

R
ita Kothari’s interesting essay ‘RSS in Sindh: 1942-48’ (EPW, July 8-15) raises several unanswered questions on highly controversial themes.

To begin with, the very choice of an arbitrary period like 1942-48 is not explained. It omits major defining events that permanently jeopardised Sindhi Hindus, most notably, the statutory ban on the Arya Samaj scripture, Satyarth Prakash (1937-38) imposed by the Hidayatullah ministry; the anti-Hindu depredations of Pir Pagaro and Pir Barchundi; the inequities of Partition which completely by-passed Sindh; the ghastly Karachi riots of January 1948; and the dire straits of Sindhi Hindus after Partition. It is based on a total misconception of the true character of the Arya Samaj, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and Sufi Islam in Sind, coupled with an uncritical reliance on an arbitrary sample of wholly oral evidence and a willing suspension of disbelief when evaluating the Muslim narrative, as, for instance, Hamida Khuhro’s article on ‘The Masjid Manzilgah, 1939-40, Test Case for Hindu-Muslim Relations’ (1998), which concedes that “in the resulting mess after the Manzilgah issue had been revived and bungled, it was the Hindus who had suffered the most in terms of lives and property lost” (pp 73-74), a finding conveniently omitted by Kothari.

Her sample of informants too seems to be wholly confined to Amils. We are not told how the other more numerous Hindu castes like the Bhaibunds, the Labana Rajputs, the Harijans, and the nomads of Tarparkar reacted to events. The evidence based on such an unrepresentative sample is wholly anecdotal, an inadequate basis for any robust inferences. Oral evidence is peculiarly susceptible to the familiar perils of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (the very act of observation changes the process of event being observed) and the Rorschach Test (the identical ink-blot is interpreted differently by eyewitnesses). The end result is an essay in casual empiricism. Even more dismaying is the blatant partisanship of the article which reads like a morality play with the Arya Samaj, the RSS, and Sindhi Hindus cast as Belzeebub and Satan, and the Sindhi Muslims as the Archangel Gabriel.

Kothari’s curious juxtaposition of two wholly dissimilar entities, the Arya Samaj and the RSS muddles the discourse. Their only commonality is that both are very convenient targets for secular fundamentalists. The Arya Samaj is a reformist Vedic sect and not a political Hindu entity, whose followers belong to every shade of the spectrum from the Congress to the Communists. The RSS is a communitarian organisation, whose membership is open to all religions. For instance, Atal Behari Vajpayee’s RSS ‘shakha’ in Gwalior had numerous Muslims. Nehru once described the RSS as “an injurious and dangerous organisation and fascist...extraordinarily narrow in outlook” [Wolpert 1996: 42223]. But in a scholarly study, the French sociologist, Christophe Jaffrelot states, with evidence, that the RSS is neither a Hindu nor a fascist organisation. “Since a characteristic of the RSS... has been to downplay the role of the state we cannot classify it as a fascist movement. As distinct from Nazism, RSS’s ideology treats society as an organism with a secular spirit... In contrast to both Italian fascism and Nazism the RSS does not rely on the central figure of the leader” (pp 63-64). Likewise, Jaffrelot confirms the eligibility of Muslims for RSS membership (p 304), and the commendable record of the RSS in relief work, social and economic reform including the Bhoodan movement (pp 258-77), which evoked the commendation of even the legendary socialist Jaya Prakash Narayan. Unsurprisingly, such aspects are missing in Kothari’s diatribe against the RSS.

Likewise, Kothari makes wholly fanciful charges against the Arya Samaj that “it contributed directly to Hindu-Muslim confrontation, to creation of mutually exclusive categories such as Islam and Hinduism,” and readily succumbs to Hamida Khuhro’s accusations that the Arya samaj ‘shuddhi’ (reconversion) movement “was the beginning of the strife between the two major communities” [Kothari 2006: 3009]. For one thing Hinduism is not a proselytising religion and the shuddhi movement had the legitimate and limited objective of reconverting Muslims forcibly converted to Islam by the aggressive scripturally endorsed Tablighi Jamat movement in Islam. If ‘Tabligh’ is legitimate why is shuddhi deplorable?

Tributes to Arya Samaj

The Arya Samaj commendably did not riot in reaction to the ban on Satyarth Prakash but there was not even a whimper of protest by the Indian National Congress against an odious law unparalleled in modern constitutional history. What precisely did Kothari find so reprehensible in Sathyarth Prakash that she should quote approvingly Lakhmi Khilani’s family’s stern admonition “not to read such a disruptive text” (p 3009)? Why then did these esteemed secularists flee from the Sufi paradise of Sind and seek refuge in the land of birth (Gujarat) of Dayanand Saraswati, the founder of the Arya Samaj? Is Kothari aware of the conversion of the Arya Samaj Mandir (after Partition) in Hyderabad (Sind) into a shoe-shop and the Madan Mohan Temple in old Karachi into a butcher shop selling beef [Jagtiani 1991: 14]? The banning of Sathyarth Prakash was only a premonition of the shape of things to come for Sindhi Hindus.

The finest tribute to the achievements of the Arya Samaj in education, and social reform, was paid by Sidney and Beatrice Webb (founders of Fabian Socialism and the London School of Economics) who “were peculiarly attracted by the ‘Vedic Protestantism’ of the Arya Samaj with its emphasis on social service” [Sidney and Beatrice Webb 1987: xxx]. In Sind too the educational infrastructure was essentially a Hindu contribution (e g, the DayaramJethmal and Dayaram Gidumal colleges).

As against the denigration of the Arya Samaj, Kothari dwells lovingly on the

Economic and Political Weekly November 25, 2006

mythical “principles of Sufi syncretism that bind the Sindhis of India and Pakistan together” (p 3010). Syncretism defined as “attempted union or reconciliation of opposite tenets, especially in philosophy or religion” (OED) violates the very core of Islam, the ‘Shahada’ (‘There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his Prophet/ Messenger-Peace Be Upon Him). The Sufi path of ‘Tariqqah’ and ‘Tasawwuf’ does not permit exegesis of the Quran and the Hadith. The dysfunction of the Islamic doctrine of ‘Ijtehad’ (independent thinking) is additional proof of this. The only permissible Sufi embellishment to Islam is in respect of ritual (the ‘dhikr’ practice of repeating God’s name). Sindhi sufism did not inhibit the quotidian anti-Hindu depredations of perennial outlaws like Pir Pagaro, head of the Hurs, and Pir Bharchundi during second world war, when Hindu martyrs like the 18-year-old Hemu Kalani gave their lives for the Quit India movement. The true exemplars of religious syncretism are the Sindhi Hindus who proudly display in their living room images of Guru Nanak and Lord Krishna; who join the gurubani at the Sikh Gurudwara, swing to the soulful refrains of “Jhule Lal” at the Krishna mandir, and yet find time to visit Muslim shrines like Mangho Pir. Can Kothari, or her informants, cite a single Sindhi Muslim household with a non-Muslim religious artefact or who visit non-Muslim shrines. The spectacular failure of the Sind-born emperor Akbar’s ‘Din-a-Elahi’, a quintessential sufi state religion, is a tell-tale commentary on why sufism never took firm root in India. More than sufism, it is the extremist Deobandi-Wahabi teachings of the descendants of Ibn Qasim that hold Sindhi and subcontinental Muslims in thrall.

Kothari also egregiously ignores the catastrophic inequities inflicted by the Partition on Sindhi Hindus despite Krishna Menon’s proposal to Mountbatten on March 13, 1947 for “two Pakistans, one in the north-west partitioning the Punjab as well as Sind (emphasis provided) the other in the north-east” [N Mansergh and E W R Lumby 1980: 948-49, cited in Wolpert 1984: 313]. Krishna Menon’s proposal was eminently feasible, and, above all, equitable to Sindhi Hindus. If Punjab, Bengal, and Assam could be partitioned into contiguous majority areas, Muslim and non-Muslim, why not Sind too? The eastern half of Tarparkar district contained contiguous Hindu areas which could have been constituted into Sind (India). This would have been a secure legitimate home for Sindhi Hindus. The following territorial demographics are amply supportive of Menon’s proposal.

Failure to Partition Sind

The relative shares of Muslim (50.3) and non-Muslims (49.7) in 1941, if anything understate the non-Muslim share because a large percentage of nomadic Hindus in east Tarparkar was not enumerated. Nevertheless, there was a clear non-Muslim majority in east Tarparkar, adjacent to Rajasthan. Pakistan not only retained Sind intact but acquired 3,070 square miles of the Rann of Kutch, south of Sind, which was a geostrategic disaster for India as so dramatically proved by the subsequent Pakistani invasion of the Rann of Kutch, repulsed later by a daring counter-attack led by Brigadier Pahlajani, very appropriately a Sindhi Hindu. A Sind (India) would have provided a defensible frontier for India.

What are the suppressed reasons for this monumental failure to partition of Sind? To begin with, there was the cynical indifference of the Congress Party pantheon to the fate of Sindhi Hindus, as rightly exposed by Kothari. Nehru blandly said “I do not feel attracted to Sind” (p 3012), which was really a fig-leaf to cover his visceral animosity toward Hindus and Sikhs in Punjab: He wrote: “The Hindu minorities in Punjab and Sind and the dominant Sikh group in the Punjab were often obstructive and came in the way of a settlement” (1964: p 410). Was this the canonised icon of Indian secularism or Colonel Blimp?

The immediate post-Partition phase also witnessed the ghastly anti-Hindu riots, unmentioned by Kothari, in Karachi

Sind: Percentage Distribution of Communities in Tarparkar District

Districts Total Muslim Hindu Scheduled Caste Others Population Per Cent Per Cent Per Cent Per Cent

1941

Sind 40,99,121 73.2 20.9 5.2 0.7 Tarparkar 5,81,004 50.3 26.4 22.0 1.3

1951

Sind 46,05,934 90.1 2.9 6.91 0.1 Tarparkar 7,30,121 61.8 9.5 28.5 0.2

Source: Abbasi, Census of Pakistan, 1951, p 33.

(January 1948) right under the very nose of Jinnah, now reinvented by L K Advani as a very secular Qaid-i-Azam. This at the very moment when the Mahatma, so reviled by Indian Muslims, sacrificed his life for them. The Karachi riots were to Sindhi Hindus what Kristallnacht (November 1938) was to German Jews, a prelude to destruction and genocide. The post-Partition plight of Hindu as third-class citizens in Pakistan is graphically portrayed by a Pakistani writer [Yusuf 1997]. The Hindu population of Karachi dwindled from 51 per cent (1947) to 2 per cent (1951) [Hindu American Foundation 2005: 27-33].

In sum, Kothari has given us a politically correct but historically incorrect essay. It omits the betrayal of the truly syncretic, and dynamic Sindhi Hindus, which will remain as an eternal blot on the escutcheon of the Indian National Congress. It is paralleled only by its betrayal of the Buddhist Chakmas of the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bengal, who were entitled to accede to India, by virtue of an over 90 per cent majority in the district, but were forced to remain in East Pakistan. The Sindhi Hindus and the Chakmas are the true orphans of Partition but does any one today care to remember?

EPW

Email: anandchand@starpower.net

References

Abbasi, Gul Hassan (1951): ‘Census of Pakistan,1951’ volume 6, Sind and Khairpur State, Reportand Tables, Manager of Publications, Karachi.

Hindu American Foundation (2005): ‘Hindusin South Asia and the Diaspora’ (A Surveyof Human Rights), www.HinduAmericanFoundation.org, California.

Jaffrelot, Christophe (1996): The Hindu Nationalist Movement in India, Columbia University Press,New York.

Jagtiani, G M (1991): ‘Don’t Preach Secularismto the Hindus (Preach it to the Others)’, D/22Self-Help Housing Society, Vile Parle (West),Mumbai.

Khuhro, Hamida (1998): ‘Masjid Manzilgah,1939-40: Test Case for Hindu-Muslim Relations in Sind’, Modern Asian Studies, Vol 32, No 1, February, pp 49-89.

Mansergh, N and E W R Lumby (eds) (1947)(1980): Constitutional Relations between Britain and India: The Transfer of Power, Vol IX, The Fixing of a Time Limit, November 4-March 22, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office,London.

Nehru, Jawaharlal (1964): The Discovery of India, Asia Publishing House, Bombay.

Webb, Sidney and Beatrice (1987): Indian Diary, edited and introduced by Niraja Gopal Jayal,Oxford University Press, Delhi.

Wolpert, Stanley (1984):Jinnah of Pakistan, Oxford University Press, New York.

– (1996): Nehru (A Tryst with Destiny), OxfordUniversity Press, New York.

Yusuf, Zohra (1997): ‘Ghetto Politics’, The Herald, Karachi, February.

Economic and Political Weekly November 25, 2006

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