The Making of Exile: Sindhi Hindus and the Partition of India

The Making of Exile

I have read many books on the partition of India. This is a phase of modern history which interest me a lot. However, of all the books I read or material I read online/ on blogs, has all been about the Punjab partition. The fact that the loss of human life and property was highest in the Punjab, with millions of people displaced in a matter of months, amid utter violence and chaos, is may the main reason why the displacement of other ethnic groups in and after 1947 has not been as widely written about as that of Punjabi.
However, as India attained independence and a new nation was carved out, there were people other than in Punjab, who had to leave their land, property and homes to migrate to the other side of the border. Sindhi Hindus were one such community.
This book by Nandita Bhavnani talks about the movement of Sindhi Hindus from Sindh in Punjab to various parts of India post partition. It begins with a brief history of Sindhis in Sindh- undivided India, and goes on to explain how eventually after partition, Sindhi Hindus started migrating to India. The book touches upon all aspects of life of Sindhi Hindus post and pre migration. It gives us a detailed account of the prosperity and power the Sindhi Hindus enjoyed in Sindh. Though they were in minority, this community had a stronghold in Sindh by virtue of being the most enterprising and therefore most wealthy of the lot. It gives a beautiful account of the cities of Karachi, Hyderabad (Sindh) as well. When partition occurred, unlike Punjab and Bengal which were divided with each nation keeping a part of the land, Sindh was altogether given to Pakistan. This is a very interesting part of the book, where the writer explains how reluctant the Sindhi Hindus were in leaving their homeland and moving to India, and they did not start migrating immediately. Apparently the Sindh administration was much better in controlling violence and taking timely measures and spreading the message that Hindus did not need to leave Sindh, they would enjoy their civil rights in the new country. However, given the mass migration of Muslims from this side of the border to both Punjab and Sindh, made the atmosphere hostile towards Sindhi Hindus, which led to a couple of major violent incidents. However, the author highlights, that the main reason for Sindhi Hindus to migrate was the social status of Sindhis which had gone down. The Sindhi though lesser in numbers were the dominant community in Sindh. They were the traders, the land owners and controlled the economy. Moreover, the Sindhi Muslims are a moderate lot and the Sindhi culture dominated the province population. Therefore the relations among various communities were relatively peaceful. However, with the province filling up with Muhajir (Muslims who migrated from east), and eying the Hindu property, in lieu of the property they had left behind, or in many cases just being greedy, led to an overall environment of hostility towards Sindhi Hindus, who then started migrating to India.
The book then covers the whole time period of migration and settlement of Sindhis in India, the political scene, the change in demographics of Sindh- which also includes individual accounts of people on the uncertainty they underwent, the challenges they faced in the refugee camps and finally how they settled. It also talks about those who chose to stay behind and if they could continue to stay there. While we have read a lot about the challenging train journeys that carried people across the border in Punjab, this books gives a graphical account of the painful ship journeys between Karachi and Bombay. The scarcity of tickets, the bad conditions on the ships and the long-awaited waits for people’s turn to board one.
The best part about the book is that it comes across as very well researched, with live accounts of people thrown in. There are detailed accounts of people of what they felt/ went through during those times. This gives a lot of insight into the lives of people then. It gives an elaborate description of inter community relations and the religious landscape of the then Sindh. All the aspects of the migrating population starting ’47 till the time the migration kept happening in ’52-’53 has been covered in detail. It then flows seamlessly as it describes the life of Hindus in Karachi and other less progressive cities in Pakistan. The test of a good book on history is if it is able to transport you the time period it talks about, and if it makes you read about the subject more. The author has been successful in doing both.
Another highlight of the book is that it also has accounts from Sindhi Muslim on the conditions that prevailed then. The book not only talks about the physical difficulties faced by the people in resettling but also, the stigma they faced owing to their Sufi believes. The author shares how in Gujarat and Rajasthan the refugees from the neighbouring province were at times labelled “the ‘meat-eating’ Sindhi Hindus who are Muslims at heart.” Similarly, she quotes a Sindhi Muslims, who shared close affinity with Sindhi Hindus in Sindh “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.”
There are a lot of things which I learnt for the first time through the book like the Jai Hind College in Mumbai was set up by the founders of D J College in Karachi; the teachers and the staff were Hindu members of the faculty who had been displaced. Similarly, the city of Gandhidham in Gujarat was set up by one of the Sindhi philanthropist, Bhai Pratap, who was keen that Sindhis should have a linguistic territory in India too, and therefore set up this small town in the Kutch region of Gujarat. Though his dream, was not successful as the Sindhis had by that time already started settling themselves in the bigger cities and were reluctant to move.
The author has actually created a go to reference book for all Sindhis and others, those who want to study the history of Sindhi people. A must read book for those who are interested in the history of partition.