From school history textbooks movies, to books, to stories of Partition in art, there have been continuous efforts to document the narratives of the world’s largest mass migration in human history. However, the significantly different experience of the Sindhi-Hindu community has largely been overlooked.
On 26 June 1947 Sindh voted to join the new nation of Pakistan. In the initial period, Sindhi-Hindus, a minority community remained unaffected as the region was not partitioned demographically.
However, by August 1947, the situation began to change. Large numbers of muhajirs (muslim community from Bihar) migrated to Sindh in order to escape violence, and began to live in crowded refugee camps. Karachi saw a large number of refugee migrations as the new capital and financial centre of Pakistan. Amidst immense fear and insecurity triggered by two major incidents of violence in Hyderabad (in Sindh) on 17 December 1947 and in Karachi on 6 January 1948; the Hindus and Sikhs felt compelled to migrate.
An estimated 12,00,000 to 14,00,000 Sindhi Hindus migrated to India primarily by ship or train. Approximately 50,000 Hindus and Sikhs registered with their local Congress offices to ask for assistance to leave Sindh by mid-September 1947. By 1951, very few Hindu families remained in Sindh. This trickle of migration has continued over the years and remains a continuing process.
Resettlement of the Sindhi refugees:
Bombay welcomed the largest number of Sindhi Hindu migrants. Kalyan Camp in Thane district – an erstwhile British military barrack during the second World War – was converted into shelters for refugees arriving during 1947-48.#DidYouKnow : the Kalyan Camp in Thane district was later renamed as the new township of Ulhasnagar by the first Indian Governor General, C.Rajagopalachari on August 8 1949. Click To Tweet
Sindhi refugees also arrived in Delhi, some parts of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Punjab. In order to aid the migration, shipping companies such as the Scindia Steamship Navigation Co. and the Bombay Steam Navigation Co. increased the frequency of charters between Karachi and Bombay. When violence increased in Sindh in early 1948, the Indian High Commission in Karachi started providing free steamer tickets to all those migrating to India.
Ram Nagrani’s family migrated from Karachi to Bombay via ship. In India, they were compensated by the government for their home and land that they left behind; his lament though, is about the loss of Sindhi-culture during the Partition. In this video, he talks about the popularity of the song ‘Jhuley Lal Qalandar’ among Sindhis. Lal Shahbaz Qalandar was a highly revered Sufi saint in Sindh. Both Sindhi-Muslims and Sindhi-Hindus respected him and continue to do so till today.
Sindhi culture is marked by its own distinct language, food and customs.
Central to the Sindhi identity is their belief in Jhuley Lal (also known as Uderolal, Zinda Pir and the God of River Indus). There are several tales of Jhuley Lal known across Sindh and the global Sindhi diaspora and he is revered by both Sindhi Hindus and Sindhi Muslims. Jhuley Lal’s 16th century shrine near Tando Adam Khan (now in Pakistan) is visited by both the communities, serving as a syncretic site. The importance of the Indus in Sindhi culture can be interpreted from their intense veneration of Jhuley Lal and the Palla (Hilsa) fish on which he is shown seated.
Jhuley Lal continues to play a significant role in Sindhi cultural expressions, from festivals, to their songs and dances, and his image can be seen in almost all homes and shops, on both sides of the border.
Caste Identity during the Partition
When speaking of Partition, caste plays a very important role. Caste identity, in many cases, determined whether people could migrate, and whether they could access relief. In Sindh, the provincial government passed the Essential Services Ordinance which prevented sweepers from migrating to India. However, many still chose to migrate.
Narsingh Das, migrated from Shehdadpur in Sindh in 1947. Initially settling in Jodhpur and then Ajmer, Narsingh Das moved to Delhi’s Rehgarpura with his family in the 50s. He recalls how his family migrated to India via train, which was allotted to them after much difficulty. His family, along with other refugees, received daily rations by the government and the royal family of Jodhpur.
Rehgar Pura, located in Karol Bagh, New Delhi was initially set up for residents of Delhi,
many of whom were employed in the city municipality as sweepers. It soon became inhabited by refugees who migrated from West Punjab, Sindh, and North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).
Few Sindhi-Hindus have had the chance to visit their homeland since the Partition. Those who managed to visit, were welcomed back like family. Mr. Bijlani, born in Thatta (now in Pakistan) migrated to India during Partition. His story of revisiting his homeland 37 years after the Partition, to be warmly embraced by a Pakistani tongawala; is one that many will find endearing.
The Partition Museum – the world’s first museum dedicated to the Partition of 1947 tells the stories of the millions impacted through oral histories, archival photographs, original documents, art works and objects donated by refugees.
Mohan H. Shahani has generously donated his sister Susheila Hotchand Shahani’s Bachelor of Science degree certificate that was conferred on her in 1945. Through this, he remembers her time as a microbiology student at the D. J Sind College, in Karachi, which was affiliated to the University of Mumbai. Soon after the Partition, Susheila along with her mother, Dingibai, and two younger sisters Ratna and Baby, fled Karachi and came to Bombay by a steamer.
More than the violence, it was the loss of their homeland, which had nurtured their culture for centuries, that left a deep and lasting impact on the Sindhis who migrated to India. The Partition left them not only without a home but also alienated them from their way of life.
Now, decades later, the Partition Museum is hosting a weekend tribute (to commemorate the Sindhi experience of the Partition) on 17-18 August.
17 August 2019 marks 72 years to the day that the Radcliffe Award was announced in 1947, and also the second anniversary of the opening of the Partition Museum. The two-day event explores themes of migration, diasporic identities, and the loss of home, focusing on the impact of the Partition on Sindh and the Sindhi community. It will include exhibitions, performing arts, and panel discussions showcasing Sindh’s history and its rich culture.
The Museum will also be unveiling its new permanent section on Sindh on the same weekend. This section will delve into the Sindhi story of the Partition, by showcasing personal stories, objects, and the efforts of the community to rebuild its lost culture.
Registration for the event is still open. To register, please fill this Google Form.