BOMBAY PRESIDENCY, SINDH & SINDHIS
– POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS
By Aziz Nareja, President SANA (Sindhi Association of North America)
The president, distinguished guests, scholars and Ladies and Gentlemen:
Peace be unto you:
It is good to be here in the great city of Mumbai, which is very familiar to the people in South Asia and is a major world metropolis.
Let me start with a poem that is actually a prayer by the Poet Laureate of Sindh, Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai:
“saaneen-m sadaaeen kareen mathey Sindh sukar
Dost mitha dildar aalam sabh aabad kareen”
'Oh my Lord, shower thy blessings over Sindh
Oh my Friend, bestow abundance all over the world''.
I bring greetings to you from the North American Sindhi community, especially the members of our organization, Sindhi Association of North America (SANA). I wish the organizers of this seminar a great success in their endeavor. I would like to see many more avenues like this to open in future for the betterment of our people and the preservation and promotion of our language and culture.
I am personally grateful to Dr Baldev Matlani, head of the Department of Sindhi, University of Mumbai for inviting me here to speak to you on this very important subject: “Bombay Presidency, Sindh & Sindhis – political implications”. Sindh's merger with Bombay Presidency and an epic struggle by Sindhis to gain eventual separation or “freedom”, “aazaadi”, as it was called at that time, were truly the most significant chapters in the history of the Indian sub-continent. They had very important and momentous impact on the future of British India.
Before I say anything on the subject, I would like to make a few submissions:
First I would request you not to consider this as a research paper. As I live in USA, far away from my land, and didn't have the research material available to me, I couldn't possibly write a fully researched paper. Hence, this should be treated as my observations on the subject:
We have to ask one question here: Why do we go back to history? It could sometimes be a very difficult task that might re-open the wounds that need to be healed. At other times it could create dangerous situations that may destabilize societies.
Also as most of us believe, history happens to be very subjective. Many people write it with biased minds and many more see it through tainted lenses. It is very rare to find objective accounts of history. Even those could be questionable for some.
There are also two views of history: one is by and for the scholars and the historians. That is mostly technical and too academic. The other view is that of the common folks. That view may not be authentic and could have more propaganda in it than carrying hard and verifiable facts. It could be used to devastating effect – to fabricate myths, cloud some realities and create new ones.
So why do we go back to history? Do we do it to study it as a science and ascertain facts or do we go to it to learn from it with a clear purpose to avoid any past mistakes to help build a better and more peaceful future?
Again the scholars, academia and historians would be best suited to go for the first choice.
Common folks could go for the second choice. That's how I would like to deal with this subject.
I would also like to mention here two major forces, religion and economics, which have drawn lines on many controversial subjects as the present one under discussion.
I am of the view that religion is one of the most powerful elements in people's lives. It has great influence and plays a very important role. It has the potential to cause devastating wars and shape the destinies of the people and countries. It is capable of inciting great commotion, crises and upheaval but at the same time it also helps people attain inner peace and a purpose in life.
No one should underestimate the power of religion. It becomes a lethal weapon especially in the hands of the politicians. They could use it for their purpose to the detriment of peace and progress.
That's one reason, it is advocated that religion should not be mixed with politics and statecraft. It should not have any role in public affairs, governance and civic matters. That is how secularism has grown to be an accepted norm in many societies.
Economics is the other important factor that affects the lives of the people and helps them make far-reaching decisions. The economic interests of a group, a people or a nation either bind them together or separate them from others.
That is not to diminish the role of the social, cultural, linguistic, ethnic and other factors in a society.
Ladies and Gentlemen: Sindh has had its identity from time immemorial – since the pre-historic age. It gets its name from Indus River, which is one of the world's largest rivers providing sustenance to the people in the towns and villages on its banks and in its valleys. The inhabitants of Sindh made up one of the world's oldest civilizations. It was on the banks of Indus River that great Vedas were written.
The people in Sindh had been considered well-to-do and self-sufficient. They had been engaged in agriculture, trade and entrepreneurship. They didn't need much outside help to survive. Hence they were one of the only few nations around the world that didn't invade other countries to bring riches to their land.
In the known history, Sindh has been a peaceful land believing in the pacifist philosophy that didn't need or practice any violence. They have had respect for all the religions and faiths of the world. In Sindh, followers of different religions had co-existed peacefully without feeling any insecurities or threats.
One can safely say that the most peaceful period in Sindh's history has been the time when it had been ruled by its indigenous rulers. In recent history, it had been the period under Soomra and Samma rule. Soomra rule began in the eleventh century and the Samma rule in the fourteenth century A.D. That period is called 'the golden period' for Sindh, which saw peace and progress and an unmatched religious tolerance with no room for discrimination on the basis of faith or belief.
At the end of Samma period in the sixteenth century, Arghus established their rule in Sindh and since then Sindh, although maintaining its identity, has virtually been ruled by non-indigenous groups with only brief intervals. During that period rulers created divisions on the basis of religion and discriminated against the minorities giving birth to ill-feelings among citizens.
British were no different an occupying force when they invaded and conquered Sindh in 1843. They followed the age-old policy of divide and rule and favored one over the other and provided more opportunities of development and progress to one than the other.
They committed another sin when they revoked the identity of Sindh and made it a part of the Bombay Presidency in 1847. That was something unnatural and unfair. Sindhis suddenly ceased to be Sindhis. They became subjects of an alien entity. They did never have any such relationship with Bombay in the history. Nor did the two have much in common.
Hamida Khuhro in her article 'British administrative policy in Sind and the role of Sir Bartle Frere' says that the two certainly had markedly different physical features, a totally dissimilar population make up and entirely different historical background. Sindh was also difficult to access from Bombay. She adds that it could be said with confidence that little benefit came to Sindh from the connection.
Other points of major difference were that Sindh had its own language and culture and economy. It had always been either an independent country or a semi-independent, autonomous state or entity paying some revenues to either Indian Kings or rulers in the North West. But Sindh had always maintained its identity and lived according to its own traditions, customs and culture.
Occupation of Sindh by Sir Charles Napier was already an ignoble act. Making it a part of a large and developed area instead of retaining it as an autonomous province was an invitation to disaster.
We have seen it in Pakistan when One-Unit was imposed on Sindh in 1955 making it a part of the West Pakistan province with hegemony of the Punjab. Hordes of immigrants from other areas of West Pakistan entered Sindh and virtually occupied all avenues of economy threatening Sindhi life and culture and subjugating Sindhi masses.
One-unit experience was disastrous for Sindh. Although the system lasted only 15 years, the province is still suffering its consequences. Compared to it, Sindh remained part of Bombay Presidency for about 90 years. One can imagine the negative impact it might have caused to the life and the economy in Sindh.
As Sindh was made a part of the Bombay Presidency, merchants and various other groups started immigrating to Sindh from Bombay and other parts of India. The ultimate decision makers in Bombay who were not familiar with the conditions of Sindh could not pay any attention to the needs of the people and the development of the area. There were long delays in decisions on important matters due to poor communication links between Karachi and Bombay.
Mr. Malkani commenting on the situation says: “Bombay officialdom treated Sindh as the Shikargah (hunting ground) during their winter visits”. The irony is that even though they either did not visit Sindh or came to Sindh for a week or 10 days in a year, 1/4th of their salaries were paid by Sindh.
Lack of development work in Sindh can be judged from the fact that for many years, Sindh did not have any center for holding matriculation examination. Students had to travel to Bombay to appear for the examination. There was no rail or road link between Sindh and Bombay. There was a boat service between Karachi and Bombay for postal communication. It carried a few people as passengers and took several days from Karachi to Bombay and back. Land travel was even more cumbersome. People had to take a long, difficult and circuitous route. It was next to impossible for poor students to take the journey closing the doors of higher education to them and hence any share in the government employment and better opportunities.
Bombay Presidency didn't help or support establishment of a University in Sindh nor did it open any colleges in arts, engineering or any other science and humanities subjects.
Bombay's lack of interest in Sindh's development was also evident from the roads and communications sector. As Rasool Bux Palijo writes in his article on “Simon Commission and denial of provincial autonomy to Sindhi” that during 70 years' rule, Bombay government constructed only 5 miles of road in Sindh. He says that in 1915-16 a sum of 803 rupees was spent on roads in Sindh while during the same period 2.1 million rupees were spent in other parts of Bombay Presidency, which had 5,118 miles of roads.
Swarna Rajagopalan writes in the “State and Nation in South Asia” that people of Sindh complained of neglect of their province by Bombay authorities. He said that the annexation of Sindh to Bombay Presidency caused important demographic, commercial and political consequences. Outside mercantile class grew in wealth and influence while the majority in Sindh remained poor and uneducated. He also says that migration to Sindh from other parts of Bombay presidency of various trading communities took place during that period.
These and many other injustices and abnormalities forced Sindhis to ask for provincial status for Sindh. A movement for separation of Sindh was launched with wide support from the masses. Initially it had support from all the people irrespective of their faith. Muslim League and National Congress both supported the movement.
It was very unfortunate that in the later stages there was a dissent on the basis of religion and Sindhi society was bitterly divided. It was ironic that the first prominent leader to ask for Sindh's separation from Bombay was Seth Harchand Rai Vishandas while Sir Shahnawaz Bhutto was against it. After the change in the situation, the two were seen reversing their roles with Seth Harchand Rai opposing the separation while Sir Shahnawaz Bhutto fighting the case of Sindh's provincial status.
As the movement grew in influence, British government sent a statutory commission also called Simon Commission to ascertain the facts and submit a report.
The leaders that represented the demand for the separation of Sindh from Bombay included Mohammad Ayub Khuhro, Barrister Mir Ayub Khan, Barrister Abdul Rahman, Wahid Bux Bhutto, Jan Mohammad Khan, Mohammad Kamil Shah, Wali Mohammad Hassanali and Ali Bux.
The leaders that represented the opposition to Sindh's separation from Bombay included Professor Chhablani, Khemsingh, Diyalmal Daulatram, M.L. Chhablani, Seth Shaukat Rai Veerumal, Harchandrai Tahalramani, Moolchand Kauromal, Seth Chelaram, Bhagwandas Ahuja, P.T. Advani and Dr D.G Advani.
The commission didn't clearly support the separation case. The Bristish government discussed the issue during round table conferences in London and finally agreed to give Sindh a long overdue provincial status but that unfortunately happened at the cost of a grave damage to a once peaceful land. The people were divided on the basis of faith – something that was alien to Sindhi culture where people had lived like a big family sharing the joys and sorrows together.
Ladies and Gentlemen: the movement for Sindh's separation from Bombay had serious political implications. It is said that the movement for Sindh's separation from Bombay actually paved the way for the future partition of the Indian sub-continent and the establishment of Pakistan. It was the Sindhi leadership that was first to demand the right of the self-determination of Muslims in October 1938. Sindh Assembly was the first provincial assembly that passed a resolution to demand the establishment of Pakistan in 1943.
Sindh's support for the demand for Pakistan was crucial as Sindh was the only province in whole India with a large Muslim majority. Bengal and Punjab did not have that large Muslim majority. There the Muslims were barely over 50%. The Frontier province did not have clear stand on the issue at that time and Balochistan didn't have the autonomous provincial status.
Another impact was the polarization and radicalization of people on the basis of religion. Before the movement grew in influence, majority of Sindhi Muslim leaders were members of the Indian National Congress. Muslim League had no significant following in Sindh up to that point. Leaders such as Ayub Khuhro, Shaikh Abdul Majid Sindhi, Abdullah Haroon and Hatim Alvi joined Muslim League in 1938.
It was two years after Sindh attained provincial status that a branch of Muslim League was formally opened in Sindh in 1938 and G. M. Syed who was a prominent leader of Congress at that time joined Muslim League.
The later events in Sindh and other parts of the Indian sub-continent led to the partition that caused one of the greatest tragedies that have ever hit the humankind.
It also caused huge loss to “Sindhi Samaj”, Sindhi society, language, culture and the people's political and economic rights.
Where do we go from here?
For one, I would caution the people to handle with care the controversial subjects such as the one under discussion here today. They have already caused too much anguish and injury to many societies around the world. We should not let them divide the people any more. Time comes in the history of the people when they should look forward and move on. Yes, we should study such subjects and see them in their true perspective but should not let them reopen the wounds and cause more harm.
I also think that it is incumbent on all the Sindhis living in as well as outside Sindh to play an effective role in the preservation of Sindhi language and culture.
I would like to make a proposal on this forum that Sindhis should celebrate all over the world “Sindh National Heritage Month” - “Sindh jey qaumi virsey jo mahinoo”. All media, related departments of academia, social and cultural organizations, scholars, historians and writers should write and produce programs on various aspects of Sindhi heritage. It could be held during the first Sindhi month “Chet” or any other month agreed upon by various Sindhi scholars and organizations.
We should do it to preserve and promote Sindhi language, literature, music, art and culture and let our younger generations and the world know what Sindh and Sindhi heritage represent.
I request all of you and the distinguished guests to support the idea. We can try to reach various organizations in Sindh and abroad in this regards. It may go a long way in preserving and promoting our heritage.
Thank you and regards.