The Burden of Refuge (The Sindhi Hindus of Gujarat)

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Item Code: NAG520
Author: Rita Kothari
Publisher: Orient Longman Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2007
ISBN: 9788125036739
Pages: 224
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5 inch x 5.5 inch
Weight 280 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

The Burden of Refuge tells the story of the Sindhi Hindus of Gujarat beginning with colonial Sindh and tracing the socio-political dynamics of the pre-partition days. Through personal narratives, Kothari brings to life the story of various Sindhis as they migrate to India and begin their process of resettlement. She delineates the contexts that made an atypical community like the Sindhis re-modify themselves to suit more textbook notions of Gujarati bourgeois society. In their desire to assimilate with India (especially Gujarat), the Sindhis have risen from the ashes of partition as a model immigrant community, the Sufi syncreticism that informed their former life has been tragically damaged and they have also suffered the loss of their language. In Gujarat, these losses are accompanied with a desire to become 'proper' Hindus by adopting a more monolithic Hindu identity and by denying their 'Sindhiness'.

Using intergenerational voices and combining history with personal narratives, Kothari's book examines the phenomena of psychological violence during and after partition, and explores a different facet of partition studies. Going beyond partition studies, this book also makes an important contribution to the area of identity politics in contemporary India. This multidisciplinary study is relevant to everyone interested in India's past and present.


About the Author

Rita Kothari's works include Modern Gujarati Poetry: A Selection; Coral Island: Poems by Niranjan Bhagat;Angaliyat (The Stepchild); Translating India:The Cultural Politics of English and Speech and Silence: Literary Journeys by Gujarati Women. She is currently engaged in translating a collection of Partition stories by Sind hi writers from India and Pakistan. Kothari lives in Ahmedabad and teaches at St. Xavier's College where she also runs the Katha Academic Centre.



At the turn of the previous century, my grandfather who lived in Shikarpur, Sindh, moved like a temporary migrant from Sindh to Bukhara and back. Shikarpur was the heart of commercial activity in Sindh, and his foray into Central Asia was part of a financial network which developed in the second half of the eighteenth century. This surge ofIndo-Central Asian trade lasted until the time of the Russian Revolution. In 1947, my father moved from Sindh to India and his movement was part of a historical exodus of Partition migrants from Sindh. In the 1960s, my cousin moved from Bombay to Hong Kong and like many other Sindhis, made a niche for himself in the electronics market until Hong Kong ceased to be a British possession and joined China. All three men represent different diasporic moments and also voluntary and some not-so-voluntary contexts of crossing borders and the consequent separation from "a real and/or imaginary homeland" (Braziel and Mannur 2003, O. The three moments also reflect the frequent subjection of the Sindhi community to larger historic forces. For the purposes of this book, my concern lies in the movement my father and one million odd Hindus of Sindh made-the contexts that made them feel that they must leave their land, and the consequences this has had on them and the two successive generations that grew up in a divided India.

In the academic and literary discourse on Partition, it is a fact little documented and discussed that like the Punjabis and Bengalis, the Indian Sindhis also had a homeland in what is now Pakistan, and that there was a mass exodus of over 700,000 Sindhi Hindus from the province of Sindh during 1947.1 The Sindhis drew little attention from the state and subsequently, from Partition Studies, because they had arrived 'safely'. The Sindhi story of Partition does not live up to the archetypal images of blood and gore. There were few instances of violence in Sindh, and many cases of loot and hooliganism, but these occurred some months after Partition. They are considered, by both the Hindus and the Muslims of Sindh, as results of the influx of Indian refugees into Sindh, and not as reflections of communal tensions within the province. This changes the contours of the Sindhi experience of Partition, which was perhaps more traumatic in its moment of resettlement in India, than in the departure from Sindh.

It is an equally unacknowledged fact that there was no 'Indian' part of Sindh that the Sindhis were coming to. Sindh, in its entirety, went to Pakistan, and a majority of the Hindus who constituted its religious minority, fled from the province. Thus one of the richest, globally diasporic communities arrived in India as stateless and penniless immigrants and restarted life amidst the resentment and reluctance extended by host communities. The religious minority of Sindh was now the linguistic minority of India, accompanied by a considerable diminution in their social standing. In fact, their Hinduness, the chief reason for their migration, was also put to question in states like Gujarat and Rajasthan, and in parts of Uttar Pradesh. As a community that ate meat, eschewed traditional Hindu practices such as untouchability, and hailed from 'Pakistan', the Sindhis were considered 'Muslim-like' and 'untouchable' in staunch vegetarian states such as Gujarat and Rajasthan.

The over-pragmatic Sindhi did not 'indulge' in nostalgia for the Home land for he became the petty and pushy trader who undercut profit and thus re-established himself once again as one of the most successful businessmen. The community's collective forgetting enabled individuals to become model migrants who got on with life and were soon established and affluent, almost as if Partition had never happened. Save a handful of Sindhi writers (who speak largely to their own tribe because nobody else reads them) and the surviving members of the migrant generation, a large majority of the Sindhis in India hardly ever think of themselves as a post-Partition community. The migrant generations seldom told stories about their past to the younger generations, or perhaps, the latter had no desire to hear them. The shared codes of language, legends and community networks also became difficult to sustain because the Sindhis have been dispersed across many states in India. Their inability to 're-create' a Sindhi history and culture in a divided India contrasts with their phenomenal economic success, making them textbook examples of migrant adjustment.

There is little incentive to speak in Sindhi because it is not a language that the Sindhi needs for educational or business opportunities. Moreover, the Sindhis of India are surrounded by negative stereotypes which also make the post-Partition generations avoid speaking the language to an extent that makes Khushwant Singh remark that the Sindhis will soon become, "a relic of the past" (10 July 2004, Tribune). Besides the loss of language, the Sindhi story of 'success' after Partition also fails to register the loss of unique socio- religious traditions that beautifully amalgamated elements from Sikhism, Hinduism and Sufi Islam. The desire to be like everybody else has made the Sindhis iron out the distinct features that were a result of their long-standing proximity to Islam and Sikhism. The losses incurred by the Sindhis remained unacknowledged by both non- Sindhis and the Sindhis themselves, and yet, they are manifest in the fragmented and ruptured history of the community. As a member of this community, I too was busy shedding the elements that identified me as a Sindhi. Given below is an account of my personal journey towards this book.

It is difficult to go back in time and locate the precise moment when my discomfort as a Sindhi in Gujarat led me to a larger historical pursuit. Did it happen when I found that discomfort mirrored in many other Sindhis-anxious to discard the language, or to hide it behind the mask of Hindi, to claim 'difference' from a 'typical Sindhi', to maintain silence about family and home, to follow the practices of their Hindu Gujarati neighbours? I suspected that there was a sense of 'shame' in being a Sindhi and recognised its contours. For instance, at . least five Sindhi female students in my college had put down Hindi as their mother tongue in their admission forms, although they spoke only Sindhi at home; the posters of a cultural organisation in Vadodara that carry the caption "Speak Sindhi, feel no shame"-all these indicated poignantly how Sindhiness was an undesirable identity, at least in the state of Gujarat. I was also intrigued by the fact that I never had a simple, straightforward answer when people asked me, "Why do you go to temples as well as gurudwaras?" "Why do you worship both Krishna and Shiva?" After marrying into a genteel, upper caste Gujarati family of Ahmedabad, I also noticed how people who have had an unbroken past and unbroken traditions, legacies and heirlooms, enjoy a far more coherent sense of identity than the one I experienced. This sense of fragmentation was much stronger in me than in my sisters, who have married into Sindhi families and hence, have little else to compare themselves with. At the same time, they have also expressed from time to time their dislike of being Sindhis. I remember when I decided to learn to read and write the Perso-Arabic script of the Sindhi language, my sister Mala remarked, ''Are you mad? What have we achieved by learning Sindhi? You were lucky to go to an English medium school, why bother with this now?"

Whether the disavowal of Sindhiness I had observed in myself and others was a Partition phenomenon common to all Sindhi generations, or unique only to the Sindhis of Gujarat was something I could not judge then. It is true that in Gujarat, as elsewhere in India, the Sindhis live amidst many negative stereotypes about appearance (they are always fat), hygiene (they are dirty), and a general lack of education and sophistication. More importantly, the 'success' of a community that progressed from rags to riches evokes suspicion about its business ethics. Like the Jewish moneylender, the Sindhi businessman is a disliked figure, and very often, the laughing stock in Hindi cinema, who simply keeps saying, "Vadi saiin", However, there is a different sharpness and contempt in the perception of the Sindhi in Gujarat. There are two contexts to this dislike: firstly, the Sindhis came to the mercantile state of Gujarat as competitive traders, who very often threatened local business; secondly, the Sindhis were a meat-eating community hailing from an Islamic province, arriving at a staunch vegetarian state. All of this has made the Sindhi identity in Gujarat a negative one, a fact that has been internalised by young Sindhis who are anxious to erase and/or modify this identity.




  Acknowledgement viii
  Preface x
1 Introduction: Sindh and its People 1
2 Colonial Sindh (1843-1936) 16
3 Run-up to Partition (1937-1947) 45
4 Leaving Sindh 68
5 Refugees in India: Nirvasit in Gujarat 112
6 Stigma in Gujarat 146
  Appendix 1 178
  Appendix 2 179
  Glossary 180
  References 183
  Index 194

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