WE have seen a number of books on the massive cross-migration of population on communal lines as a result of riots in Punjab and Bengal in the wake of Partition but not many, at least in English, have appeared on the migration of Hindus from Sindh. The point has been validly raised by scholar Nandita Bhavnani in her well-researched book, The Making of Exile: Sindhi Hindus and the Partition of India. Bhavnani was born into a family which migrated from Sindh soon after Partition, and yet she doesn’t let the stories she heard cloud her objectivity, remaining impartial to the core.
She writes about how Sindh was the land of Sufis and saints and thus did not breed hatred and that Sindhi Hindus suffered much less than the Hindus, or for that matter Muslims and Sikhs, in Punjab and Bengal. Unlike in the two Punjabs, there are areas in Sindh where Hindus and Muslims live together amicably. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in Tharparkar, where they swim and sink together. A case in point is the current drought where the members of the two communities continue to suffer at the hands of nature and government apathy.
Bhavnani recalls that riots didn’t take place in Karachi in 1947 but erupted later when Muslims from across the newly carved border landed in large numbers in the city. They were empty-handed, and in many cases they had left some of their close relatives behind. She compares the situation to the riots in Delhi where the Hindus and Sikhs, in no better condition than the Muslims who fled to West Punjab, sought refuge in over-crowded camps. She hastens to add that the violence in Karachi was less intense and less prolonged than the riots in Delhi.
Bhavnani also feels that sex crimes against women in Sindh at the time of Partition were much less than in the two Punjabs. “Many personal narratives of Sindhi Hindus who lived through Partition do not mention abductions and rapes,” she states.
Bhavnani’s many conclusions are based on narratives not just from Hindus but also from some Muslims. In addition, she digs into newspapers of the times, quotes from Sufi poetry and myths, and interviews people directly or indirectly affected by Partition. One such instance is of her quoting a Muslim who said in January 1948, “Sindhi Muslims are peace-loving people. They are hospitable and work with patience and deep-thinking. The result has been that Sindhi Muslims have been accused as dishonourable, pro-Hindu and anti-Islamic.” She also points out that in Gujarat and Rajasthan the refugees from the neighbouring province were at times labelled “the ‘meat-eating’ Sindhi Hindus who are Muslims at heart.”
The first part of the book explores the position (read fate) of Hindus in Sindh, while the second part deals with their resettlement in India. There are graphic details of the squalid conditions in refugee camps as described to Bhavnani by immigrants and / or their children. Much of the brunt of the burden was borne by Bombay.
According to an estimate, out of 290,000 Sindhi Hindus who migrated between August 1947 and mid-January 1948, as many as 240,000 went to Bombay province. This was because not too long ago Sindh was a part of the Bombay Presidency and even at the time of Partition the colleges in Sindh were affiliated to the University of Bombay.
While one has read much about the trains that brought refugees from India to Pakistan and vice versa, not much has been written about the plight of the displaced persons who sailed from Ka-rachi to Bombay, and from Bombay to Karachi. Tickets for steamers were difficult to get even if one was prepared to pay an extra amount, illegally of course. The voyagers were huddled in camps at docks on both sides. The steamships carried four times the number of passengers they were designed to transport. One major advantage that the ships offered over trains was that of security. While trains were attacked with alarming frequency, vessels sailed without any such threat.
Bhavnani raises another point which is not generally kept in mind when she says, “Since Sindh had not been partitioned and had, in its entirety, become a part of Pakistan, there was no part of India which the Sindhi Hindus could claim as their own. Wherever they went, they were refugees and, ethnically speaking, outsiders.” In other words, they were denied “the privilege of a lin-guistic territory”.
Those associated with the prestigious D.J. College in Karachi would be interested to learn that at the time of Partition some Hindu members of the teaching faculty, who migrated to Bombay, set up a college in Bombay which soon won recognition for its excellence. It was called Jai Hind College but was nicknamed Jai Sind College. Many non-Sindhis got admission in the institution and at the end of the first five years of the institution’s existence Sindhis formed half the number of students.
The Making of Exile has a thought-provoking foreword by renowned sociologist and political psychologist Ashis Nandy, who specialises in violence. One can’t agree with him more when he concludes “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 the sensitive self-exploration.”
The Making of Exile: Sindhi Hindus and the Partition of India
By Nandita Bhavnani
Westland (Tranquebar Press), India