Back of the Book
landscape [of the Sindhi Hindu experience of Partition is accessed in this
book] through the anxieties, fears, resilience, hopes and self-confidence of
the Sindhi Hindus as they confronted the loss of their familiar world, and the
sense of economic security and the certitudes associated with the earlier,
pre-Partition, social life of the community in Sindh...
The story is... told through the eyes and the memories of those who had
experienced that eyes and the memories of those who had experienced that
‘history and ‘whose’ actions ultimately shaped that history... In the long run,
this book will not only retain its community’s self-reflection and, perhaps,
even a part of its on-going self reflection and, perhaps, even a part of its
on-going self-construction... Future generations of Sindhis-staying
in Sindh, India or elsewhere in the world –trying to
project their ‘Sindhiness’, will be grateful to Nandita Bhavnati for this
About the Book
To date, most
books on Partition have ignored or minimised the Sindhi Hindu experience, which
was significantly different from the trials of minorities in Punjab of Bengal.
The Making of Exile hopes to redress this, by turning a spotlight on the
specific narratives of the Sindhi Hindu community.
Sindhi was relatively free of the inter-communal violence witnessed in Punjab,
Bengal, and other parts of North India. Consequently, in the first few months
of Pakistan’s early life, Sindhi Hindus did not migrate, and remained the most
significant minority in West Pakistan.
with the announcement of the Partition of India.
The Making of Exile firmly traces the experiences of the community-that went
from being a small but powerful minority to becoming the target of communal
discrimination, practised by both the state as well as sections of Pakistani
society. This climate of communal antipathy threw into sharp relief the help
and sympathy extended to Sindhi Hindus by Pakistani Muslim both sindhi and muhajir.
Finally, it was both Sindhi and muhajir. Finally, it
was when they became victims of the Karachi pogrom of January 1948 that Sindhi
Hindus felt compelled to migrate to India.
segment of the book examines the resettlement of the community in India-their
first brush with squalid refugee camps, their struggle to make sense of rapidly
changing governmental policies, and the spirit of determination and enterprise
with switch they rehabilitated themselves in their new homeland. Yet not all
Sindhi Hindus chose to migrate and the specific challenges of those who stayed
on in Sindh, as well as the difficulties faced by
Sindhi Muslims after the formation of Pakistan, have been sensitively
documented in the final chapters.
About the Author
Bhavnani has an MA in anthropology She
is also a qualified chartered accountant with a law degree. She has done
extensive research on Sindhi culture and history. She is currently compiling
and translating an anthology of writings on the relationship of Sindhis with the city of Mumbai.
remember when I first became aware of Partition. Perhaps I had known from an
early age that, as Sindhis, both my parents had been
born in another, inaccessible land, where they had spent their childhood years.
I cannot remember when they first told me about it. They never actually spoke
about Partition specifically. My mother would speak to my sister and me, once
in a while, of her life in Sindh. She would describe
her comfortable Karachi home and neighbourhood, and mention this or that
incident from her childhood. She would tell us of the novelty of visiting her
mother's family in Hyderabad, and of the mouth-watering street food that she
and her cousins would buy for the absurd price of four piece. Occasionally, she would refer to the difficulties that she and
her family faced in the early years in India: of how she was separated from her
parents for a while when she was sent to Calcutta to live with her eldest
brother and sister-in-law; of the family's straitened circumstances; of how
she, as the youngest child, was made to sleep on top of the dining table in her
married sister's small flat in Bombay, which had been flooded with relatives
after Partition; of her beloved collection of books that she was forced to
leave behind in Karachi. So, without our being told specifically about it, the
fact of Partition was very much a part of our family background, something that
my sister and I took for granted but actually knew very little about.
In the year
1997, several things happened. It was the 50th anniversary of Indian
Independence, which provoked, in academia and the popular media, renewed
interest not only in the freedom struggle and the moment of Independence, but
also in Partition. Concurrently, in May 1997, I completed a Master's degree in
Anthropology and wanted to pursue research on my own community, the initial
spur being a desire to explore why most Sindhis in
India do not speak their own language. A few months later, I became part of Dr Ashis Nandy's newly started
research project at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies and the
Committee for Cultural Choices in Delhi.
by the name of 'Reconstructing Lives', explored memories of mass violence at
the time of Partition, its psychological and social consequences as well as the
survivors' subsequent attempts at coping. This collaborative endeavour,
involving researchers in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, was facilitated partly
by the Ford Foundation. As part of Ashisda's project,
in those early years, I interviewed many elderly Sindhis
- in Bombay, Ulhasnagar, Gandhidham and Poona - who
shared with me their memories of Sindh, of Partition,
and of the uphill task of resettling in India. This was when I began to
discover what the experience of Partition had been for those who had lived
through it - including my parents.
years, my own research expanded to cover other phases of Sindhi history, both
before and after 1947. Ultimately, I started a book on the long-term effects of
Partition on Sindhis. When I completed the chapter on
the actual experience of Partition, I found that it had become so long and
detailed that it had acquired a life of its own. In a sense, my research and
writing had come full circle. The result is this volume in your hands.
This is the
story of an entire community that was displaced. Since Punjab and Bengal were
divided, Punjabi and Bengali refugees - in India as well as in East Pakistan -
at least had a region that they could identify with, where their mother tongue
was spoken. On the other hand, since Sindh was not
divided, Sindhi Hindu and Sikh refugees had no state that they could call their
own. They were uprooted from their land and their culture.
have tried to recreate the Sindhi experience of Partition in this book, it is
ultimately only an attempt at describing and understanding the reality of those
days. The writer Motilal Jotwani says, 'Can the
entire truth about how we lived our lives in the purusharthi camps of Deolali
and Kumar Nagar Dhulia be described?'! His rhetorical question about the
ultimate impossibility of capturing in totality the experience of refugee camp
life is equally applicable to the entire experience of living as an unpopular
minority, of uprooting and exile, and of difficult resettlement.
This book has
been a mosaic in the making: I have pieced it together using findings and
excerpts from my reading and research, extracts from my interviews, selections
from memoirs, biographies and autobiographies, various passages from the press,
legends, poetry, as well as silences. While I visited Sindh
in 2001 and 2003, the difficulties of obtaining a Pakistani visa in recent
years have limited my research there.
One may argue:
Why rake up the past, especially a painful past? Is it not time to move on,
beyond Partition? I have my reasons for writing this book.
experience of Partition has dominated popular culture in India. We have had
books, TV serials and films that depict Partition in the Punjab (although
ironically, some of the most popular TV serials, such as Buniyaad and Tamas, have been made by Sindhis). Yet, the
terrible carnage that engulfed both halves of the Punjab was absent in Sindh. Many Sindhis may not know
that Sindh witnessed much less Partition violence.
Punjab and Bengal, Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims were more or less equally divided,
and so were equally victims and perpetrators of violence. In Sindh, on the other hand, Hindus and Sikhs were a clear
minority of less than 30 per cent of the population. Consequently, the Sindhis who suffered from Partition violence were
overwhelmingly Hindu and Sikh. It would be very easy to slot the story of the
Sindhi Hindu experience of Partition into tidy categories of black and white:
Hindus (read Indians) as the victims and Muslims (read Pakistanis) as the
villains. However, the reality on the ground was far more complex.
Yes, it is
true that Sindhi Hindus did suffer tremendously due to Partition, whether or
not they experienced physical violence. Imagine packing a small bag and leaving
your country overnight, your home and homeland, assets and property, friends,
memories and a way of life, not knowing what lies at the end of the journey.
Imagine arriving in a city of strangers, with nowhere to live and no source of
income, and not knowing how or where to start a new life. This is what
thousands of Sindhi Hindus experienced.
However it is
important to bear in mind that many Muslims - whether Sindhi or muhajir - gave Sindhi Hindus help and
sympathy in times of trouble. That while the Sindh government may have discriminated against Hindus in
Pakistan, the Indian government also could display a high degree of callousness
and highhandedness vis-a-vis
the Sindhi refugees. That, on occasion, the Hindus in India looked down
upon Sindhi Hindus, making them feel unwelcome.
Sindhi Hindus could turn against their kith and kin, or even Indian Muslims, in
the difficult process of resettlement.
The book hopes
to explore these various nuances. Further, through this book, I want to explore
how the never-say-die approach of Sindhi Hindus helped them build new lives for
themselves in India and abroad. It is a story of great courage, determination
and hard work, and often displays a refreshing absence of self-pity. Uncovering
this story made me view my parents and my extended family in a new light, and
respect them more.
this book, subsequent generations of Sindhis can also
understand their parents and relatives better, I will consider my efforts worthwhile.
In the Imagined Landscape of Sindh I
have come to suspect that it generally takes nearly two generations to
seriously and creatively negotiate memories of genocide and other similarly
traumatising instances of mass violence. Only in the 1980s did some of the more
outstanding and lasting works on the European genocide of the 1940s come out.
European literature and the arts may have responded to the experience earlier,
but those dealing with social knowledge had to wait till passions had cooled
somewhat and it was possible to be a little more distant from the events. By
that time the media had lapsed into a reasonable degree of apathy and the
general public seemed satiated with heroic or less-than-heroic reconstructions
of the past. Bloodless, archives-based, sanitised historical accounts and
officially sanctioned myths and stereotypes had already lulled public
sensitivities among both the victorious and the vanquished.
similar is happening with the mass violence that broke out when the British
partitioned India into two independent nation- states, seemingly destined to
become each other's hated, feared, and at the same time lost other. Since the
1990s, when Urvashi Butalia
and Ritu Menon in India and
Nighat Said Khan and Anees Haroon in Pakistan opened up the domain, there has been no
dearth of books on Partition in South Asian social sciences. Indeed, I do sense
a growing feeling of tiredness in many of the younger generation with what they
think is the obsession of an earlier generation. At the same time, there is
discomfort in many of their elders who believe that such efforts to rouse
sleeping ghosts may be good necromancy but is a dangerous political game. It
can do no good to society.
Bhavnani's book:, therefore,
has come at the right time.
amounts of material already generated on the subject in the last few years, it
stands out for two reasons. First, she does not try to locate the experienced
loss of a homeland and the enforced, endless journey into exile in the politics
of Partition and the institutional and social fault lines that framed them. We
already probably have had a surfeit of such political histories and memoirs in
the last 65 years. Instead, in their place, Bhavnani
attempts to bring to us the cultural self-definition of the Sindhi Hindus as a
community, the continuities and discontinuities in it, and the way that self-
definition set limits on their relationship with the Muslim Sindhis
while, at the same time, remaining incomplete without the crucial presence in
their mental landscape of their alter-egos or anti-selves - in the form of the
though Bhavnani announces at the beginning her
connection with the discipline of anthropology, this cultural landscape is not
accessed through ethnography but through the anxieties, fears, resilience,
hopes and self-confidence of the Sindhi Hindus as they confronted the loss of
their homeland, collapse of their familiar world, and the sense of economic
security and the certitudes associated with the earlier, pre-Partition social
life of the community in Sindh. (This has been the
fate of many other communities - Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and hundreds of other
small communities and tribes, many of whom have slipped into the black hole of
The story is
not told through the eyes of a historian either, despite the impression the
first section gives. It is told through the eyes and the memories of those who
had experienced that 'history' and whose actions ultimately shaped that
history. This is so even when Bhavnani locates her
narrative in a quasi-historical frame and summarises available data - mainly
historical accounts, memoirs and interviews - to set the context of her story.
important, Bhavnani in one of her other professional incarnations, was working on a long-term study of the
cultural history of the Sindhi community when I met her about 15 years ago.
That ongoing study scaffolds the present story. Yet, flouting conventions, she
has allowed the voice of her informants - in addition to the data they have
supplied - to be one of the salient voices in this book. Not only has she woven
her narrative around their experiences, she has allowed them to shape her
story. They appear not as informants or interviewees but as witnesses giving
testimony on their past for the future of all of us. The long quotes from the
survivors' stories are not intrusions into the smooth flow of the larger story;
they participate in telling the story. In the process, Bhavnani
finds space in her account for the stereotypes, prejudices and the darker side
of inter- community relations that others would have been too coy to handle so
directly. In that sense, this whole exercise is partly a people's history of
In the long
run, this book will not only retain its intellectual relevance, but will also
become a crucial part of a community's self- reflection and, perhaps, even a
part of its ongoing self-construction. This could be significant because,
during the last five decades, I have found in most of my Sindhi friends and
acquaintances an almost desperate search for integration in 'the Indian
mainstream. This search is not a unique feature of the Sindhi Hindus; it has
been found among first generation expatriates and summarily displaced
communities in many parts of the world. It begins to disappear in a generation
or two, though by that time it becomes more difficult to ensure continuities
with the past and to reconnect with those parts of tradition that are not based
on texts and rituals but on shared memories transmitted over generations.
I now feel that, for the Sindhis, that option of
complete immersion in the mainstream was particularly seductive. As a
community, they had a strong commercial tradition and significant sections of
the community were traders having connections with other South Asian and
Southeast Asian countries. Their connections with Arabia, Central Asia and
China, too, were if not particularly deep, certainly very old. Scattered
ethnographic works also throw up clues that these links encouraged a culture
and psychology of, what could be called, a 'sense of controlled exile'.
have named such exposure and the consequent ability to live with radical
cultural diversities, while at the same time safeguarding one's own cultural
self-definition, 'silk route' cosmopolitanism. It is different from the
dominant form of cosmopolitanism, which has an implicit melting-pot model built
within it. The author feels that the Sindhi Hindus in India have already moved
to the dominant global model of cosmopolitanism and accepted its ethnocidal thrust as an inescapable part of the
This book is
also about how the memories of a lifestyle re imagined as a lost utopia ruptured
by Partition, turned the Sindhi Hindus overnight into a wandering tribe.
Scattered among a number of language groups and cultural zones, many of them
had to not only cope with a diversity of social environments but renegotiate
their own selves in response to strange stereotypes, prejudices and suspicions
of their new neighbours. Sometimes these neighbours could also be insensitive,
hostile, cruel and a source of humiliation like the much hated Sindhi Muslims.
I still remember a soft-spoken Gujarati couple 'confidentially' telling me in Ahmedabad many years ago that many Sindhis
were actually Muslims masquerading as Hindus; not only did they eat meat, they
also sometimes swore by Allah. But there is little chance of that primordial
rupture being healed and that lifestyle being restored.
When after a
massive trauma the time for self-rediscovery comes, it releases strange forms
of psychological forces. It probably has dawned on a community that what can be
protected as a heritage of Sindhi Hindus is not only their business acumen and
the resilience that saw them through the mass violence, displacement and
humiliation, but also their powerful spiritual tradition that carried forward
the rich heritage of the cross-religious, cross-denominational lifestyle that Sindh had developed during the previous 1,300 years.
As" in Punjab and Bengal, that heritage is incomplete without a continuous
dialogue with Sindhi Muslims and their distinctive Islamic heritage. That
dialogue requires a different kind of self-transcendence and a different form
of dialogical enterprise, not only with others but
also with one's own self I like to believe that the community's style of
modernisation has not taken too heavy a toll of this part of its distinctive
culture. I notice with some sadness that when talking of relocation of some of
the well-known temples of Sindh in India, Bhavnani has not noticed any serious effort to acknowledge Sindh's ecumenical spiritual traditions. Yet, to launch the
kind of dialogue we are talking about requires one to pay homage to the ancient
ecumenism of Sindh.
This book does
not open that dialogue, but its compassionate empathetic description of the
context within which violence of Partition acquired its more sordid, sinister,
sadomasochistic tones can be an invitation for such a dialogue. Future
generations of Sindhis - staying in Sindh, India or elsewhere in the world - trying to protect
their 'Sindhiness' will be grateful to Nandita Bhavnani for this
Map if Sindh
Map if Western and Central India
on the Eve of Partition: June 3 to August 15 1947
A Bloodstained Freedom
Alienated at Home
The Role of the Sindh
A New Geography
The Role of the Indian Government
Picking up the Pieces
Counting the Costs
Looking Over their Shoulder
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