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Past present: The exodus of Sindhi Hindus

Past present: The exodus of Sindhi Hindus

Concerned and rather depressed about the communal situation in Sindh, Koli, a Hindu friend of mine from Hyderabad called me up when in 2014 some miscreants burnt a Hindu temple in Larkana and anti-Hindu riots followed in Badin. He told me that the Hindus had always regarded Sindh as the land of Sufis, where peace and harmony prevailed among all religious communities. But this development shattered all their feelings of security and safety in the land of their ancestors.

There was a disturbing pain and agony in his voice. He told me that his ancestors had been living in Sindh way before the Arab conquest. His concern was that the incident which had transpired was not the outburst of some immediate cause but a gradual development against the Hindu community. On analysis, one finds that there are several reasons that fuel the anti-Hindu sentiments, a major cause being our textbooks that are responsible for creating prejudice and hatred against Hindus.

In our textbooks, attempts are being made to highlight the social, cultural and religious differences between the Hindus and the Muslims but no efforts are made to bring about harmony and integration. For example, it is asserted that the struggle for Pakistan was not only against the British but also against the domination of the Hindus. The authors of these textbooks further mark the differences in dress, food, rituals, ceremonies and festivals. One author goes to the extent that he has even classified trees and animals as Hindus and Muslims. According to him, the peepal and burgad (banyan) are Hindu trees, while the date and olive are Muslim trees! Not just that but he rendered the cow a Hindu, while the camel and horse as Muslim. The result of such textbooks is damaging and creates hatred between these two communities, leaving no space to meet on the basis of peace and love.

Our textbooks as well as other history books completely ignore the role of Sindhi Hindus before partition. When the British conquered Sindh in 1843, the rule of the Talpurs came to an end. The Hindu community of Sindh took full advantage of the political change and started to learn modern values and traditions and transformed their community. Since most Sindhi Hindus belonged to the middle classes, they adopted a modern, colonial education. Under the influence of the Hindu community, cities of Sindh such as Shikarpur, Larkana, Sukkur, Hyderabad and Karachi were transformed on the basis of modern city planning. They built schools, colleges, public buildings such as gardens, libraries, public halls, hospitals and clubs, changing the entire social and cultural milieu of Sindh. The process of cultural development seized in 1947, after communal riots broke out in some cities of Sindh. Disappointed and disillusioned, the educated and progressive Sindhi Hindus migrated to India en masse leaving behind a small section of the Hindu population in Tharparkar and other small towns.

After the independence of Bangladesh, anti-Indian sentiment intensified as a result of which the Hindus of Sindh were victimised. Periodic incidents of religious extremism that followed have further deteriorated their condition. Feeling insecure and unprotected, they are in a dilemma as to where to go.

Sadly, in a country where the state is not neutral in the matters of religion, religious discrimination works to disintegrate the nation. When Pakistani nationhood is defined on the basis of religion, it excludes the non-Muslim communities from its fold. The question is should non-Muslim communities in Pakistan be included into the broader definition of nationhood or excluded and treated as second rate citizens and their talents and services disregarded?

It is high time that we should learn lessons from history and adopt policies to unite all minorities, religious or ethnic, as one nation. We must correct our text books and recognise the contribution of Sindhi Hindus before partition so that the memories and the heritage that they left behind is not erased.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, June 28th, 2015

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