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Gateway House Mumbai, a foreign policy think tank, invited me in July 2014 to a brainstorming session on Indo-Pak trade. On my right sat an elegant, smiling lady in a resplendent blue sari. Nandita Bhavnani is a chartered accountant, lawyer and investment banker who did her MA in anthropology. In addition to this, she is also an author. She informed me that her book on the migration of Sindhi Hindus after Independence was to be launched in Mumbai that very evening. I was surprised that she wanted to present it to me and that I was the first Pakistani to receive it.

In subsequent email interactions, she informed me that “after completing my MA, I started studying the Sindhi community in India as part of a research project, ‘Reconstructing Lives’, which explored memories of mass violence at the time of partition. I interviewed several elderly Sindhis in different parts of India. I learnt to speak Sindhi. Later, I also learned to read and write Sindhi in the Perso-Arabic script.”

She revealed that “In April 2001 I first visited Sindh and travelled to Karachi, Hyderabad, Larkana and Sukkur. This trip turned out to be a landmark event in my life. My interest in Sindh, its people, culture and history only deepened, and the scope of my research expanded. I visited again in December 2003 and then in April 2014 to present a paper on ‘Sindhi Media in India’ at the conference on Sindhi Media at the Federal Urdu University in Karachi.”


Decades later, the experience of Partition remains a divisive and deeply debated one


Ms Bhavnani has authored three well-researched books. The Making of Exile: Sindhi Hindus and the Partition of India (2014), a detailed and multi-faceted history of the Sindhi Hindu experience of Partition; Remembering Mohan T. Advani: The Man and His Legacy (2012), a biography of Mohan Advani who founded Blue Star Ltd in 1943 that today is Indian industry’s leader in central air-conditioning and commercial refrigeration; and I Will & I Can: The Story of Jai Hind College (2011), a story of how Sindhi Hindu Professors at DJ Science College in Karachi migrated to Mumbai after Partition and established a new college within only a few months. She disclosed that “Currently I am working on a book on the beauty of Sindhi culture and the highlights of its history.”

The Making of Exile portrays the trials and tribulations of Sindhi Hindus who, either voluntarily or unavoidably, left ancestral abodes to dwell in territories that manifested into a new beginning, more so with feared uncertainty. Sindhi Hindu exiles really did not ‘feel’ the ‘Freedom at Midnight’ experience because of the hardship, prejudice and fear.

The author takes substantial advantage of her meticulous research to ensure that the reader experiences and absorbs the mosaic of events that impacted on the immigrants, both in their halcyon past and the future. She titillates the appetite of readers with nuggets of history and background, compelling us to make their own conclusions about the facts, attitudes, legends, compulsions and bureaucratic and political decisions that this book very vividly projects.

The foreword, “In the Imagined Landscape of Sindh”, by Dr Ashis Nandy of Centre for the Study of Developing Societies and the Committee for Cultural Choices in Delhi is in itself a masterpiece and merits reading more than once.


In her prologue, Ms Bhavnani refers to the Sassui-Punhu legend. “I wanted to explore the many different bittersweet facets of the Hindu-Muslim relationship in Sindh. This would cover not only history but also prevalent myths and legends among the common people. I really like this legend because it shows the love between a Hindu and a Muslim, but they are not allowed to live happily together.”


In her prologue, Ms Bhavnani refers to the Sassui-Punhu legend. “I wanted to explore the many different bittersweet facets of the Hindu-Muslim relationship in Sindh. This would cover not only history but also prevalent myths and legends among the common people. I really like this legend because it shows the love between a Hindu and a Muslim, but they are not allowed to live happily together.”

  Nandita Bhavnani
Nandita Bhavnani

When asked to comment about why Ayub Khuhro is shown more in a less positive light and Sindhi women as a force of strength despite cultural mores and inhibitions, and why Dr Choitram Gidwani is depicted as a guardian angel, she said, “Nobody is either black or white. We are all human; we are all shades of grey. Khuhro may not have been pro-Hindu in some aspects yet it was thanks to his firm stand that there was comparatively little communal violence in Sindh prior to the winter of 1947-48. He was the one who protested the separation of Karachi from Sindh and paid the price for that stand. Partition did provide an opportunity to Sindhi women to discover their latent strength and talents, but as I have depicted, many Sindhi women could also be quite conservative. Dr Choitram Gidwani did a lot for the Sindhi Hindu community as a spokesperson for them in Pakistan and in India and representing their interests to both governments. He was foremost among the Sindhi Hindu leaders who helped in the resettlement in India, and worked tirelessly in this regard.”

On the contention that Indian bureaucracy and certain Congress leaders were roadblocks when it came to helping Sindhi Hindus, she commented: “This was true to some extent. However, the Congress government as well as the governments of princely states also took various measures for the benefit of the Sindhi Hindus. They organised their evacuation to India, put them in refugee camps and gave them rations, etc. So it was a mixed bag.”

A perception among some is that the Muslim immigrants from India exacted revenge through forceful and illegal usurpation of property and assets. She stated: “Karachi violence was motivated not by a desire for revenge, but to appropriate Hindu property and to frighten Hindus into migrating to India. In many places, minorities were attacked with this intention. I cannot comment on the ethnicity or place of origin of those Mohajirs who usurped property or indulged in violence, since I have no way of knowing this.” She describes the Karachi violence as “Karachi pogrom” and in her narrative considers it “a watershed event that convinced many Sindhi Hindus to migrate”.


The Perso-Arabic script was associated with Muslims, while the Devanagari script was associated with Hindus. Certain communally prejudiced Sindhi Hindus wanted to drop this Muslim association, and to make the language more ‘Hindu’.


On the question of changing the Perso-Arabic script of Sindhi into Devanagari although India is an assortment of multi-ethnicity and nationalities, she explained that “It was driven by two factors. Firstly, the Perso-Arabic script was associated with Muslims, while the Devanagari script was associated with Hindus. Certain communally prejudiced Sindhi Hindus wanted to drop this Muslim association, and to make the language more ‘Hindu’. The second factor was that in those days, many Indians were influenced by the Nehruvian idea that Indians should not consider themselves as Hindus or Muslims or Sikhs, etc, but simply as Indians. So the Devanagari script would have more in common with other Indian language scripts. In my opinion, the change of script was a huge blunder.”

She very emphatically underscored the “Great need for local histories or micro histories of Partition. For example, the Partition experience of Muslims in Gujarat or of Hindus and Sikhs in KPK. These are important stories that need to be told. I definitely feel the need for additional writing on the Mohajir experience of Partition, especially after their arrival in Pakistan.”

Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai very aptly described such an exodus: “They have departed now, heading eastwards. Giving up their homes here, they will settle ahead.”

Majyd Aziz is Former President of Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Twitter: MajydAziz

Email: majydaziz@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, November 30th, 2014