SINDH AND SINDHIS,
MORE THAN A CENTURY AGO
By Dr. Motilal Butani
I have scinde (sinned)”, said Sir Charles Napier in 1843. The pun was on the word SCINDE (Sind) and sinned. He had no doubt committed a sin for in the past there were treaties between the East India Company and the Mirs of Sind. The British people had solemnly affirmed that they had no eye on the soil of Sind. The important clause in one of the treaties ran as under:- “Oh Sun, Earth and Sky witness this day that we shall not have an inch of land on either side of river Indus”. The small province was on both sides of the sacred river and the Mirs who were the rulers at the relevant period thought that they were properly saddled, since the Britishers would not occupy any portion of land either on the right or left bank of Indus. Within a couple of weeks after the treaty was signed, the East India company took possession of two islands of Sukhar and Manhora. The first was a piece of land in the bed of the river near Sukkur in the north of Sind where the sacred Sadhbela (place for Sadhus) of Hindus is situated, while the other island was in the Arabian sea near Karachi. The Mirs protested and told the company people that they had committed a breach of faith but the Britishers argued that both these places were islands and they had not occupied a single inch of the land on either side of the Indus. Whatever be the means, it was a blessing in disguise for Hindus and they had real Ramrajya for a century from 1843 to 1943. Thereafter till they left Sind in 1947 the Muslim League was at the helm of affairs.
Sind was the first place which was the target of attack by the followers of Islam in 712. For more than 11 centuries the Hindus were persecuted and converted forcibly. The learned author Burton, in his historical book, “The Unhappy Valley of Scinde (Sindh)”, has written, “Late as the eighteenth century the Hindoos of Scinde, we are informed by a traveller, were ten times more numerous than the rival sect. Hindooism, however, like Judaism, has ever been an eyesore to the Moslem, and the means which he adopts to remove it, are violent and unjust. Their houses are attacked and plundered; they are dragged before the least impartial of judges; their oaths and their testimony are regarded as the whisperings of the wind, and the scene ends either with the question, or an order to admit the accused into the ranks of the Faithful. And when once the proselyte’s (Hindus) foot has crossed the threshold of the Mosque all hope of retreat is permanently cut off; the punishment of apostasy being as certain as it is tremendous. In Scinde the same cause-bigotry, partially modified-operated to work the downfall of Hinduism, which had we not taken the country, would probably not have outlived the century.”
Sindhi Hindus trace their Social Structure, culture and civilization thousands of years ago with the historical background of Mohan-Jo-Daro. With the advent of the Aryans and the migration of the Dravidians to the South, the Indo-Gangetic plain was inhabited by people of Aryan and mixed Dravido-Aryan stock professing the Hindu and later the Buddhist faith. This continued till 712 and then by conversion from Hinduism and Buddhism to Islam and by migration from Muslim countries to Sind, the religious denomination of the people changed and in 1843, when the British conquered Sind from the Mirs, the Hindus were in microscopic minority.
The Talpurs, the last reigning family, came down from the hills of Balochistan, and settled upon the sultry plains below, first as the disciples, then as the feudal followers of the saintly race which they afterwards dethroned. Years spent in the enervating climate of the valley dulled the bravery and hardiness of the mountaineer, but left him with all his natural ignorance, and bigotry and cruelty. A Talpur chief of the last generation refused even to place a watch for repair in the hands of Hindu, idol-worshipper. Burton goes on to add: “No Hindu ventured to pronounce the name of the village Allahyara Jo Tando, because of the holy syllable that commences it; he could not touch a paper written in the Arabic language, because that character was the character of the Koran; nor dared he to open a Moslem book in his mother tongue, the Scindee, for fear of being seen to pursue the inceptive formula, “In the name of Allah, the compassionate, the merciful”. It was always in the power of two Moslems to effect the conversion of a Hindu by swearing that they saw him at a cockfight on Friday, that he pronounced, in their presence, the word Mohammed, or even that he had used some such ambiguous phrase, as “I will go with thee”. Sometimes circumcision was made the penalty of crime. Nothing easier than to make a Moslem of a Hindu in those days. The patient was taken before the judge, where, after being stripped of his old clothes, the ceremonial ablution was duly performed, and he was invested in the garments that denote the Faithful. A crowd of jubilants then chained him to the Mosque; prayers were recited over him; he was directed thrice to repeat Mohammed’s creed – next came circumcision, the eating of a bit of beef, a change of name, a feast, and, lastly a very concise course of instruction in the ceremonial part of the new faith.”
When the opportunities for conversion were rare, the Hindus were robbed on Friday which was the prayer day and was considered as Muslims’ Sunday. There were few towns in which a Hindu could safely leave his house between Thursday evening and Saturday morning. With all these persecutions, the Hindu community survived because of their superiority of intellect and other qualities. Most of the historians have correctly come to the conclusion that if the Britishers had not conquered Sind the remaining Hindus would have been compelled to embrace Islam.
Further, British rule brought about economic progress and safety for them. Karachi was developed as a major port centre of trade. The British at first, according to their policy of divide and rule preferred Hindu community in the services and trade as they had business instinct and alert mind and ignored the Muslims from whom they had conquered Sindh. Due to this discrimination and the annexation of Sind to the predominantly Hindu Bombay Presidency consisting ofWestern Maharashtra, Gujarat, Kathiawar (Saurashtra), the Hindu population of Sind increased from 10 to 25 percent. The Sindhi Hindu is always grateful to the Britishers who protected his religion and further the Hindu got an opportunity to give a clear exhibition of his qualities. The result was that in every department he was at the helm of affairs and for full one century they enjoyed peace and prosperity. Seventy-five percent of the population was agriculturists, but the Zamindars were mostly Hindus. Twenty percent of the population was the business community and commerce was entirely in the hands of Hindus. The remaining five percent were service people and leaving aside the high posts which the Britishers themselves held, the rest of the posts went to the Hindus except of the lower grade which the Hindus were not willing to accept.
Hindus from neighbouring states migrated to and settled in Sind. By 1937 when Sind became a separate state, one fourth of the population of Sind consisted of Hindus, who as Zamindars, owned 40% of the agricultural wealth and nearly all the urban wealth. By virtue of their education and commercial enterprise, and the existence of a new class of merchants known as Sind work merchants who established themselves in different parts of the world and brought enormous wealth to their tiny province, with full peace of mind that their families were safe in Sind. The Hindus from Kandhakot (North of Sind) to Karachi (in the South) became the social elite of the state. By 1921 (when Gandhiji appeared on the political map of India), the British patronage of Hindus ceased following their agitation for self-government on an all-India basis. Then came the great exodus of 1947.
LANGUAGE, SCRIPT AND EDUCATION
A century ago the people in Sind were mostly illiterate. Mr. Ellis (after whose name there is well known Ellis bridge in Ahmedabad) was the Commissioner’s Revenue Assistant and to him Sind is indebted for its regularly written characteristics, the Arabic Sindhi. Before his time the Hindus of Sind, who alone were the trading class, had an alphabet of their own, but this was imperfect and varied and exclusive. In point of time it was deemed necessary to introduce writing characters which served a general purpose and met the wants of the majority. To Mr. Ellis is due the honour of having fixed upon, and moulded the present Arabic-Sindhi alphabet now so widely used in the Province of Sind and by Sindhis all over India. It is a curious fact that Sindhi, though a distinct and separate tongue, but founded on Sanskrit and resembling the languages spoken in the neighbouring places like Cutch and Marwar, had until the annexation by British, no written alphabet. The Hindus of Sind no doubt used a script which was not uniform even in the same town and further it had no literature in those characters and by 1860 there were 17 varieties of this script. Among the Muslims only a few used Persian for their communications and all people of education and standing were expected to converse and correspond in that tongue. Although Sindhi language is derived from Sanskrit, due to the influence of Muslims it was enriched with Persian and Arabic words. The Hindus wanted that since Sindhi is originally derived from Sanskrit, the Devnagari script be used in framing the new alphabet, but as Muslim influence was predominant, the Sindhi alphabet, based on the Arabic and Persian in Arabic characters consisting of 52 letters was invented by Ellis under Sir Bartle Frere and it became the universal language in that province. In the year 1872 Hindu Sindhi alphabet based on Devnagari script was also used in schools and books were printed in Devnagari script and this was known as Bania Sindhi. However, Arabic Sindhi was officially recognised and Hindu Sindhi was almost dropped except in the town of Shikarpur where there was strong Hindu element.
More than a century ago Sind produced many poets who were believers in Sufism i.e. they were a tribe and mystic devotees for whom God was everything and human soul was the particle of the eternal spirit. They were influenced by poets like Sami, Shah and Sachal who are considered as topmost poets of Sind. Both the Hindus and the Muslims have been very much influenced and attracted during the last 100 years by the poetry of Sufi poets. The literature of those days shows that Sindhi language was not so much Persianised, but mostly Sanskrit words were used. However, as time passed, the Muslim writer adopted more and more words of oriental languages and although the language was enriched, its shape was changed.
The educated class among the Hindus was called ‘Amils’ derived from the word “Amaldar” i.e. the officer class. The Amils held high posts during the Muslim rule and after the annexation of Sind they were at the helm of affairs and were trusted by the Britishers. One of them was Gidumal. His descendants are known as Gidwani. At this stage it might be of interest for some of us to know about Sindhi surnames. They generally end in ‘ani’ derived from the Persian word ‘Avardan’ which means to bring forth. Samtani, Butani, Vaswani, etc are the common surnames amongst Sindhis. The descendants of Dewan Butasingh are called Butani i.e. Butasingh brought them in this world; so also Mirchand’s children are known as Mirchandani. Gidumal was a trusted man of the Mirs whose feudal lord was Raja Ranjitsingh. Every year Gidumal took a caravan loaded with precious materials as presents for the Sikh leader and this continued till the Mirs surrendered their kingdom to Sir Charles Napier.
The pioneers of education in Sind a century ago were mostly Maharashtrians and one of them was Narayan Jagannath whose name is immortalized and the oldest school in Karachi is known as Narayan Jagannath High School. Exactly a century ago he selected some intelligent lads and offered them Government scholarships and gave them high education. One of them rose to secure first class first at the Poona Engineering College in 1875 and his name was Dewan Pritamdas Pursumal Chandnani. This name could be seen even today in the main hall of the Poona Engineering College. He was the first Engineering graduate from Sind and after him more and more Hindus took to education on Bombay side. Sind was not connected by rail with Bombay in those days and the students had to sail by boat from Karachi to Bombay.
A century ago there were two principal families of Brahmins in Sind, the Pokarno and the Sarsat who were also called Saraswat. The Pokarno Brahmins came from upper India and were the worshipper of Vishnu. They were scholars in Sanskrit, astronomy and were well-versed in Hindu law. The Saraswats were the worshippers of Shiv and they were more dignified in appearance, manners and were also educated persons. In Sind they also learnt Persian language and they performed all the religious rites of the Hindus. The Brahmin shaved their heads leaving a single lock of hair. Upon his forehead a Brahmin had a horizontal or perpendicular mark. His dress was of a trader consisting of a white or red turban, a cotton coat and a Shawl or a short cloth thrown loosely over the shoulders and the Brahmins used slippers of anything but of leather. In his hand he carried a sandalwood rosary of 27 beads and he had the constant habit of muttering the name of God.
Next to Brahmins were the Banias or the trading community and they were divided into five sub-castes consisting of the Lohana, Bhatia, the Sehta, the Vaishya and the Punjabi. Each sub-caste was again sub-divided into a number of divisions. Broadly speaking, the Hindus divided themselves in two classes. Those who dealt in business were called the Banias or the Bhaibunds and those who took to Government jobs assumed the title of Amil. The Amils were mostly from places like Sehwan, Sahiti, Hyderabad and Larkana.
DIET & DRESS
Regarding diet and dress of Sindhis a century ago, due to the Muslims influence the Hindus were mostly non-vegetarian. Many of them left dhotee and adopted a modified form of Muslim Salwar known as Pyjama. The Hindu woman was superior in her personal appearance in comparison to males and many of them had sharp features. While moving out of their house they covered their head and face with a big white chadar and only one eye was left uncovered so that the lady could see the road. The petticoat went even below the ankles and it was difficult even for a husband to identify his wife on the road. This was in a way a modified form of Burkha used by Muslim woman. There was comparatively a long blouse to cover the body and a black-coloured pair of slipper was used. The high class Hindus used long coats and a Talpur type cap which was 9 inches in height. The ladies were not fond of drinking, but some males were. The common drink was Bhang and those who were addicted to it were known as Bhangis. The daily bread in the mofussial consisted of Bajri Chapati and butter-milk. Milk was the bed-time drink and on festival occasions different kinds of Pillaus (preparations of rice) were served. Many grown-up people smoked Hookah and Shikarpuri tobacco was well-known. Sindhis were also fond of various kinds of drinks and many alcohols were distilled from dates and jaggery. Even the sadhus and saints took Bhang and this was a common drink offered to guests. Many times social gatherings were held for having a cup of Bhang where young and old poets gathered and changed the meeting into a Sangeet Sammelan or Mushiara (Gathering of poets). Many Sindhi folk songs were sung on these occasions and thus they came to be remembered by one generation after another.
The writer Mr. Motilal L. Butani, was District and Sessions Judge, Bombay and Principal Hinduja Law College, Bombay. He is auther of several books in Sindhi, Gujarati and English.