In 1980, a curious new statue appeared in a courtyard in Sindh University: the statue of Udhaw Das, who started the Udhaw Das Hospital in Shikarpur.
The sculpture shows signs of damage, and Das’ carved nose and ears have an orange crack running through their skin. But Das’ presence is no less imposing: his serious, heavy eyes gaze at the viewer with casual intensity.
The sculptor has dressed him in a long, collared tunic, paired with a loose shalwar. In one hand, he holds a document — the certificate he got when he was awarded the title of Rai Bahadur — and the other hand is missing.
What was it that drove people to deface Das’ statue, not once, but multiple times?
The statue vanished at some point in the late 80s only to reappear in the Sindh University’s Sindhology department. Who was this strange man and why was his violent beheading — which is likely to create the impression that a Hindu was targeted by communal violence — not directed to his person, but to his statue?
Rai Bahadur Udhaw was a renowned trader from Shikarpur, where he founded a hospital before partition. A trader-turned-philanthropist, Das was devastated when his mother fell ill. At that time, Shikarpur lacked a hospital, and Das was spurred to do something about it.
His endeavour was undertaken during a time of political turmoil. On the one hand, the entire sub-continent was embroiled in the politics of partition, while on the other, he faced severe difficulties in securing funds for running this hospital. In the end, he personally provided 100,000 rupees for the construction — a hefty amount for the time.
Seeing Das’ efforts, some charitable Muslim personalities of the time were inspired to contribute their own bits, although their contributions were far less than those of the Hindus who took part in the project.
The statue first found its way to Sindh University during a certain Dr Ghulam Ali Alana’s tenure.
“I got a call from someone in Shikarpur 1980 or 81,” Alana recalls. He can’t remember the exact name, but the man said he belonged to the Agha caste. He told Alana that a mob, comprising activists from Jamaat-i-Islami, had attacked Udhaw Das’ statue, torn off its limbs, and 'beheaded' it.
Alana was then asked to shift the statue to the university, and help restore it to its original form.
It wasn’t the first time Das’ statue had sustained attacks. After partition, many had attempted to ruin it, particularly by trimming his nose and ears.
The final attack in 1979 by JI was triggered by a rally. According to Shikarpur-based journalist Zahid Nun, participants of the rally were carrying various iron tools. The mob stormed the statue and only backed off after it was deseated from its pedestal, and crashed to the ground.
Once the statue was shifted to the Sindhology Department, Alana says he was worried it might be attacked again. To hide it from plain view, he covered it up and placed it behind a door inside the Roshan Shah Rashidi Museum.
“Whenever a function was held at the museum, we took extraordinary precautionary measures, making sure that no one got near the statue,” he remembers.
But Alana knew the streak of luck would not last. In 1980, the museum was visited by prominent jurist A.K. Brohi, a close aide of Gen Ziaul Haq. Alana accompanied him on a tour of the museum, trying his best to keep the statue hidden, but the shroud-covered sculpture immediately drew Brohi’s attention.
He asked, “What are you hiding? Let me see it for myself!”
Alana told Brohi he feared the reaction of religious zealots, but Brohi was insistent. No matter what, he wanted to see it for himself.
Having no choice but to unveil the statue, Alana obliged. Brohi, in response, surprised him. He was immensely saddened upon seeing the statue’s condition, and said, “This is the statue of a great man — Udhaw Das. Please restore it in its full glory as soon as possible. I will bear all the expenses.”
Das’ sentiment was simple: he was driven by humanism and the well-being of other humans. Renowned scholar Anwar Figar believes Das was so driven by his commitment to others, that he sacrificed everything after setting the hospital's foundation stone on April 30, 1933.
Since funding was a constant issue, Das made his way to Bombay (present-day Mumbai) to continue collecting donations for his hospital. During his stay there, he fell sick and died. Ironically, the hospital he passed away in is attributed to another social worker, a like-minded humanitarian soul.
Two dedication tablets commemorate Das, one in English and an identical one in Sindhi:
Late Rai Bahadur Udhaw Das Tara Chand, 73, passed away from this physical realm. [Udhaw Das], personifying sacrifice, surrendered his soul for the hospital which he cherished like a temple. This generous soul had gone to Bombay for collecting donations, where he got ill because of his incessant efforts. He was shifted to Sir Hari Kishan Hospital for treatment, where he breathed his last on January 17, 1943.
After Brohi’s generous declaration, the job of restoring Das’ statue was handed to Azeem Chandio and Ali Nawaz Phulpoto. Chandio himself had travelled to Shikarpur to procure the statue, a journey that was marred with difficulty and a lack of cooperation.
When he reached the hospital, he remembers failing to secure any information. He asked people to tell him where the ‘conquered’ state was kept, but no one was willing to help him out.
He went from one department to the next, ending up in the office of the municipal committee. Here, he noticed that employees were trying to bar his way to a certain section of the premises. Upon insistence, he was finally accompanied to the place — albeit reluctantly — but to his disappointment, he found nothing.
Then he noticed a door which was being treated with similar secrecy. When he inquired further, he was told it contains only ‘useless scrap’. Unconvinced, Chandio asked them to let him in.
Inside the room he found not one, but two statues (the author will dwell upon the story of the second statue in a future blog post). Both statues were in terrible shape; they were defaced and mutilated, and shared one common feature: both were missing ears and noses, and their faces were painted black. Back in Jamshoro, Chandio was determined to restore the statue at all costs.
He meticulously began measuring the sculpture, from its various lengths, to the details of pieces broken off from it. He then used a chemical to remove tar and paint off the statue’s face. Restoration started once it was cleaned up, and Chandio faced the greatest difficulty in re-fixing Das’ nose and ears, which he says had been chopped off with a vengeance.
The statue today is a triumph of Chandio’s patience and efforts, but when he worked on it, Das’ arm was missing just one finger. Chandio is baffled by the missing hand; he does not know when it was removed from the statue.
“Maybe it was removed by some zealot,” Chandio belives. “Who succumbed to the depths of faith.”
I believe Udhaw Das was a conscientious and intelligent man, who somehow foretold what would befall his statue. He figured out a way to evade the vagaries of time and whims of man.
All those who visit the hospital are not even aware that on the steps of the hospital’s entrance, they are treading upon Rai Bahadur Udhaw Das’ name — this was not damaged in any way by the mob of zealots who attacked and defaced and mutilated his statue.
Time, like man, has also been unkind to plaques affixed in the hospital as the ink and letters are dimmed. Two couplets penned by Udhaw Das himself still grace the pedestal on which his statue was affixed, one of which reads as:
Ill people visit and stay here
They depart after getting well
They come moaning and screaming
But have nothing but prayers
On their lips when going home
I wish I could become a priest
On the steps of this temple
I wish to host all ill and despairing
Making them feel extraordinary
In a sense, Udhaw Das is fulfilling his wish: everyone who frequents this hospital treads on his name on the steps of this hospital. And despite attempts at erasing Das’ name and contributions, both his statue and his legacy continue to survive.
Dr Alana remembers the time he was visited by Sindh’s minister for health, Ahad Yusuf, who was seeking advice. Yusuf told Alana that religious organisations were pressing him to rename the Udhaw Das Hospital.
For a moment, Alana remembers sitting immobile. He then told Yusuf, simply and assertively: the legacy of a great man, who gave his life for building this hospital, is now faced with the prospects of being renamed. You have the authority to do so, but keep in mind that history will neither forgive you, nor will it remember you in glowing words.”
Yusuf simply rose up and went away without responding to Alana’s emotional outburst. Alana says he doesn’t know if his words had any effect on the former, but the hospital’s re-naming was never authorised.
Translated by Ghouse Mohiuddin in English from the original in Urdu here.