The Making of Exile (Sindhi Hindus and the Partition of India)

Item Code: NAJ090
Author: Nandita Bhavnani
Publisher: Tranquebar Press
Language: English
Edition: 2014
ISBN: 9789384030339
Pages: 434
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.5 inch x 5.5 inch
Weight 530 gm
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Book Description

Back of the Book


The Cultural landscape [of the Sindhi Hindu experience of Partition is accessed in this book] through the anxieties, fears, resilience, hopes and self-confidence of the Sindhi Hindus as they confronted the loss of their familiar world, and the sense of economic security and the certitudes associated with the earlier, pre-Partition, social life of the community in Sindh... The story is... told through the eyes and the memories of those who had experienced that eyes and the memories of those who had experienced that ‘history and ‘whose’ actions ultimately shaped that history... In the long run, this book will not only retain its community’s self-reflection and, perhaps, even a part of its on-going self reflection and, perhaps, even a part of its on-going self-construction... Future generations of Sindhis-staying in Sindh, India or elsewhere in the world –trying to project their ‘Sindhiness’, will be grateful to Nandita Bhavnati for this sensitive self-exploration.


About the Book


To date, most books on Partition have ignored or minimised the Sindhi Hindu experience, which was significantly different from the trials of minorities in Punjab of Bengal. The Making of Exile hopes to redress this, by turning a spotlight on the specific narratives of the Sindhi Hindu community.


Post-Partition, Sindhi was relatively free of the inter-communal violence witnessed in Punjab, Bengal, and other parts of North India. Consequently, in the first few months of Pakistan’s early life, Sindhi Hindus did not migrate, and remained the most significant minority in West Pakistan.


Starting with the announcement of the Partition of India. The Making of Exile firmly traces the experiences of the community-that went from being a small but powerful minority to becoming the target of communal discrimination, practised by both the state as well as sections of Pakistani society. This climate of communal antipathy threw into sharp relief the help and sympathy extended to Sindhi Hindus by Pakistani Muslim both sindhi and muhajir. Finally, it was both Sindhi and muhajir. Finally, it was when they became victims of the Karachi pogrom of January 1948 that Sindhi Hindus felt compelled to migrate to India.


The second segment of the book examines the resettlement of the community in India-their first brush with squalid refugee camps, their struggle to make sense of rapidly changing governmental policies, and the spirit of determination and enterprise with switch they rehabilitated themselves in their new homeland. Yet not all Sindhi Hindus chose to migrate and the specific challenges of those who stayed on in Sindh, as well as the difficulties faced by Sindhi Muslims after the formation of Pakistan, have been sensitively documented in the final chapters.


About the Author


Nandita Bhavnani has an MA in anthropology She is also a qualified chartered accountant with a law degree. She has done extensive research on Sindhi culture and history. She is currently compiling and translating an anthology of writings on the relationship of Sindhis with the city of Mumbai.




I cannot remember when I first became aware of Partition. Perhaps I had known from an early age that, as Sindhis, both my parents had been born in another, inaccessible land, where they had spent their childhood years. I cannot remember when they first told me about it. They never actually spoke about Partition specifically. My mother would speak to my sister and me, once in a while, of her life in Sindh. She would describe her comfortable Karachi home and neighbourhood, and mention this or that incident from her childhood. She would tell us of the novelty of visiting her mother's family in Hyderabad, and of the mouth-watering street food that she and her cousins would buy for the absurd price of four piece. Occasionally, she would refer to the difficulties that she and her family faced in the early years in India: of how she was separated from her parents for a while when she was sent to Calcutta to live with her eldest brother and sister-in-law; of the family's straitened circumstances; of how she, as the youngest child, was made to sleep on top of the dining table in her married sister's small flat in Bombay, which had been flooded with relatives after Partition; of her beloved collection of books that she was forced to leave behind in Karachi. So, without our being told specifically about it, the fact of Partition was very much a part of our family background, something that my sister and I took for granted but actually knew very little about.


In the year 1997, several things happened. It was the 50th anniversary of Indian Independence, which provoked, in academia and the popular media, renewed interest not only in the freedom struggle and the moment of Independence, but also in Partition. Concurrently, in May 1997, I completed a Master's degree in Anthropology and wanted to pursue research on my own community, the initial spur being a desire to explore why most Sindhis in India do not speak their own language. A few months later, I became part of Dr Ashis Nandy's newly started research project at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies and the Committee for Cultural Choices in Delhi.


This project, by the name of 'Reconstructing Lives', explored memories of mass violence at the time of Partition, its psychological and social consequences as well as the survivors' subsequent attempts at coping. This collaborative endeavour, involving researchers in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, was facilitated partly by the Ford Foundation. As part of Ashisda's project, in those early years, I interviewed many elderly Sindhis - in Bombay, Ulhasnagar, Gandhidham and Poona - who shared with me their memories of Sindh, of Partition, and of the uphill task of resettling in India. This was when I began to discover what the experience of Partition had been for those who had lived through it - including my parents.


Over the years, my own research expanded to cover other phases of Sindhi history, both before and after 1947. Ultimately, I started a book on the long-term effects of Partition on Sindhis. When I completed the chapter on the actual experience of Partition, I found that it had become so long and detailed that it had acquired a life of its own. In a sense, my research and writing had come full circle. The result is this volume in your hands.


This is the story of an entire community that was displaced. Since Punjab and Bengal were divided, Punjabi and Bengali refugees - in India as well as in East Pakistan - at least had a region that they could identify with, where their mother tongue was spoken. On the other hand, since Sindh was not divided, Sindhi Hindu and Sikh refugees had no state that they could call their own. They were uprooted from their land and their culture.


Although I have tried to recreate the Sindhi experience of Partition in this book, it is ultimately only an attempt at describing and understanding the reality of those days. The writer Motilal Jotwani says, 'Can the entire truth about how we lived our lives in the purusharthi camps of Deolali and Kumar Nagar Dhulia be described?'! His rhetorical question about the ultimate impossibility of capturing in totality the experience of refugee camp life is equally applicable to the entire experience of living as an unpopular minority, of uprooting and exile, and of difficult resettlement.


This book has been a mosaic in the making: I have pieced it together using findings and excerpts from my reading and research, extracts from my interviews, selections from memoirs, biographies and autobiographies, various passages from the press, legends, poetry, as well as silences. While I visited Sindh in 2001 and 2003, the difficulties of obtaining a Pakistani visa in recent years have limited my research there.


One may argue: Why rake up the past, especially a painful past? Is it not time to move on, beyond Partition? I have my reasons for writing this book.


The Punjabi experience of Partition has dominated popular culture in India. We have had books, TV serials and films that depict Partition in the Punjab (although ironically, some of the most popular TV serials, such as Buniyaad and Tamas, have been made by Sindhis). Yet, the terrible carnage that engulfed both halves of the Punjab was absent in Sindh. Many Sindhis may not know that Sindh witnessed much less Partition violence.


Also, in Punjab and Bengal, Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims were more or less equally divided, and so were equally victims and perpetrators of violence. In Sindh, on the other hand, Hindus and Sikhs were a clear minority of less than 30 per cent of the population. Consequently, the Sindhis who suffered from Partition violence were overwhelmingly Hindu and Sikh. It would be very easy to slot the story of the Sindhi Hindu experience of Partition into tidy categories of black and white: Hindus (read Indians) as the victims and Muslims (read Pakistanis) as the villains. However, the reality on the ground was far more complex.


Yes, it is true that Sindhi Hindus did suffer tremendously due to Partition, whether or not they experienced physical violence. Imagine packing a small bag and leaving your country overnight, your home and homeland, assets and property, friends, memories and a way of life, not knowing what lies at the end of the journey. Imagine arriving in a city of strangers, with nowhere to live and no source of income, and not knowing how or where to start a new life. This is what thousands of Sindhi Hindus experienced.


However it is important to bear in mind that many Muslims - whether Sindhi or muhajir - gave Sindhi Hindus help and sympathy in times of trouble. That while the Sindh government may have discriminated against Hindus in Pakistan, the Indian government also could display a high degree of callousness and highhandedness vis-a-vis the Sindhi refugees. That, on occasion, the Hindus in India looked down upon Sindhi Hindus, making them feel unwelcome.


That sometimes Sindhi Hindus could turn against their kith and kin, or even Indian Muslims, in the difficult process of resettlement.


The book hopes to explore these various nuances. Further, through this book, I want to explore how the never-say-die approach of Sindhi Hindus helped them build new lives for themselves in India and abroad. It is a story of great courage, determination and hard work, and often displays a refreshing absence of self-pity. Uncovering this story made me view my parents and my extended family in a new light, and respect them more.


If, through this book, subsequent generations of Sindhis can also understand their parents and relatives better, I will consider my efforts worthwhile.




In the Imagined Landscape of Sindh I have come to suspect that it generally takes nearly two generations to seriously and creatively negotiate memories of genocide and other similarly traumatising instances of mass violence. Only in the 1980s did some of the more outstanding and lasting works on the European genocide of the 1940s come out. European literature and the arts may have responded to the experience earlier, but those dealing with social knowledge had to wait till passions had cooled somewhat and it was possible to be a little more distant from the events. By that time the media had lapsed into a reasonable degree of apathy and the general public seemed satiated with heroic or less-than-heroic reconstructions of the past. Bloodless, archives-based, sanitised historical accounts and officially sanctioned myths and stereotypes had already lulled public sensitivities among both the victorious and the vanquished.


Something similar is happening with the mass violence that broke out when the British partitioned India into two independent nation- states, seemingly destined to become each other's hated, feared, and at the same time lost other. Since the 1990s, when Urvashi Butalia and Ritu Menon in India and Nighat Said Khan and Anees Haroon in Pakistan opened up the domain, there has been no dearth of books on Partition in South Asian social sciences. Indeed, I do sense a growing feeling of tiredness in many of the younger generation with what they think is the obsession of an earlier generation. At the same time, there is discomfort in many of their elders who believe that such efforts to rouse sleeping ghosts may be good necromancy but is a dangerous political game. It can do no good to society.


Nandita Bhavnani's book:, therefore, has come at the right time.

Despite huge amounts of material already generated on the subject in the last few years, it stands out for two reasons. First, she does not try to locate the experienced loss of a homeland and the enforced, endless journey into exile in the politics of Partition and the institutional and social fault lines that framed them. We already probably have had a surfeit of such political histories and memoirs in the last 65 years. Instead, in their place, Bhavnani attempts to bring to us the cultural self-definition of the Sindhi Hindus as a community, the continuities and discontinuities in it, and the way that self- definition set limits on their relationship with the Muslim Sindhis while, at the same time, remaining incomplete without the crucial presence in their mental landscape of their alter-egos or anti-selves - in the form of the Sindhi Muslims.


Secondly, though Bhavnani announces at the beginning her connection with the discipline of anthropology, this cultural landscape is not accessed through ethnography but through the anxieties, fears, resilience, hopes and self-confidence of the Sindhi Hindus as they confronted the loss of their homeland, collapse of their familiar world, and the sense of economic security and the certitudes associated with the earlier, pre-Partition social life of the community in Sindh. (This has been the fate of many other communities - Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and hundreds of other small communities and tribes, many of whom have slipped into the black hole of history.)


The story is not told through the eyes of a historian either, despite the impression the first section gives. It is told through the eyes and the memories of those who had experienced that 'history' and whose actions ultimately shaped that history. This is so even when Bhavnani locates her narrative in a quasi-historical frame and summarises available data - mainly historical accounts, memoirs and interviews - to set the context of her story.


Even more important, Bhavnani in one of her other professional incarnations, was working on a long-term study of the cultural history of the Sindhi community when I met her about 15 years ago. That ongoing study scaffolds the present story. Yet, flouting conventions, she has allowed the voice of her informants - in addition to the data they have supplied - to be one of the salient voices in this book. Not only has she woven her narrative around their experiences, she has allowed them to shape her story. They appear not as informants or interviewees but as witnesses giving testimony on their past for the future of all of us. The long quotes from the survivors' stories are not intrusions into the smooth flow of the larger story; they participate in telling the story. In the process, Bhavnani finds space in her account for the stereotypes, prejudices and the darker side of inter- community relations that others would have been too coy to handle so directly. In that sense, this whole exercise is partly a people's history of Partition.


In the long run, this book will not only retain its intellectual relevance, but will also become a crucial part of a community's self- reflection and, perhaps, even a part of its ongoing self-construction. This could be significant because, during the last five decades, I have found in most of my Sindhi friends and acquaintances an almost desperate search for integration in 'the Indian mainstream. This search is not a unique feature of the Sindhi Hindus; it has been found among first generation expatriates and summarily displaced communities in many parts of the world. It begins to disappear in a generation or two, though by that time it becomes more difficult to ensure continuities with the past and to reconnect with those parts of tradition that are not based on texts and rituals but on shared memories transmitted over generations.


Looking back, I now feel that, for the Sindhis, that option of complete immersion in the mainstream was particularly seductive. As a community, they had a strong commercial tradition and significant sections of the community were traders having connections with other South Asian and Southeast Asian countries. Their connections with Arabia, Central Asia and China, too, were if not particularly deep, certainly very old. Scattered ethnographic works also throw up clues that these links encouraged a culture and psychology of, what could be called, a 'sense of controlled exile'.


Elsewhere, I have named such exposure and the consequent ability to live with radical cultural diversities, while at the same time safeguarding one's own cultural self-definition, 'silk route' cosmopolitanism. It is different from the dominant form of cosmopolitanism, which has an implicit melting-pot model built within it. The author feels that the Sindhi Hindus in India have already moved to the dominant global model of cosmopolitanism and accepted its ethnocidal thrust as an inescapable part of the contemporary world.


This book is also about how the memories of a lifestyle re imagined as a lost utopia ruptured by Partition, turned the Sindhi Hindus overnight into a wandering tribe. Scattered among a number of language groups and cultural zones, many of them had to not only cope with a diversity of social environments but renegotiate their own selves in response to strange stereotypes, prejudices and suspicions of their new neighbours. Sometimes these neighbours could also be insensitive, hostile, cruel and a source of humiliation like the much hated Sindhi Muslims. I still remember a soft-spoken Gujarati couple 'confidentially' telling me in Ahmedabad many years ago that many Sindhis were actually Muslims masquerading as Hindus; not only did they eat meat, they also sometimes swore by Allah. But there is little chance of that primordial rupture being healed and that lifestyle being restored.


When after a massive trauma the time for self-rediscovery comes, it releases strange forms of psychological forces. It probably has dawned on a community that what can be protected as a heritage of Sindhi Hindus is not only their business acumen and the resilience that saw them through the mass violence, displacement and humiliation, but also their powerful spiritual tradition that carried forward the rich heritage of the cross-religious, cross-denominational lifestyle that Sindh had developed during the previous 1,300 years. As" in Punjab and Bengal, that heritage is incomplete without a continuous dialogue with Sindhi Muslims and their distinctive Islamic heritage. That dialogue requires a different kind of self-transcendence and a different form of dialogical enterprise, not only with others but also with one's own self I like to believe that the community's style of modernisation has not taken too heavy a toll of this part of its distinctive culture. I notice with some sadness that when talking of relocation of some of the well-known temples of Sindh in India, Bhavnani has not noticed any serious effort to acknowledge Sindh's ecumenical spiritual traditions. Yet, to launch the kind of dialogue we are talking about requires one to pay homage to the ancient ecumenism of Sindh.


This book does not open that dialogue, but its compassionate empathetic description of the context within which violence of Partition acquired its more sordid, sinister, sadomasochistic tones can be an invitation for such a dialogue. Future generations of Sindhis - staying in Sindh, India or elsewhere in the world - trying to protect their 'Sindhiness' will be grateful to Nandita Bhavnani for this sensitive self-exploration.










Map if Sindh



Map if Western and Central India



Foreword by Ashis Nandy









Sindh on the Eve of Partition: June 3 to August 15 1947



A Bloodstained Freedom



Alienated at Home



Setting Sail



The Role of the Sindh Government



Sudden Blood



6 January












A New Geography



The Role of the Indian Government



Picking up the Pieces






Counting the Costs









Looking Over their Shoulder












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