God is one, we divide ourselves

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  1. THE SURVIVORS Part 2.

Note: This part provides the stories of the survivors based on interviews. I have rewritten the interviews into a narrative form so as to make it more interesting. I have also changed their identities to protect their privacy.

5. Protected by Muslim Family

(I)

Sita Bai was 23 years old when the India – Pakistan partition happened. She was married with two childre, living in Hyderabad Sind. She did not understand how and what happened at that time, but suddenly there were non-resident Muslims in the streets and they were harassing the Hindus. But the situation was not very bad.

The family decided to leave Hyderabad anyway. Sita Bai sold their house to a Sindhi Muslim family. The new owner in generosity let Sita Bai and her family stay in the house because her Aunt was just about to deliver a baby. The new Muslim owner protected Sita Bai’s family from harassment. Sometimes some Muslims would come the house looking for Hindu families in order to harass them or to forcefully evict them. But the Muslim house owner would tell the people that Sitira Bai and her family were their relatives, thus protecting them. Once the baby was born, the Muslim protector also helped them to get out of the city.

Sita Bai and her family left Hyderabad by ship to Singapore as her husband was working there. They stayed a few years in Singapore and then moved to Jakarta. Sita Bai had several more children. As other families, Sita Bai’s family also struggled economically during the first years. Today she is great grandmother, living amidst her family. She never went back to Sindh. That chapter is closed.

(ii)

Mina Bai left Hyderabad Sind when she was 14 years old. She could not understand why suddenly she could not go outside of her house as freely as as before. Her parents told her, if she went out the Muslims will kidnap her. One day, she went out to the market with a relative, and saw a mass gathering of people. She could hear slogans “Long Live India!” and “No to Pakistan!”. But she had no idea what that would mean for her and her family.

When the partition was finally declared, her family members began to pack their belongings. They tried to secure train tickets to get out of Hyderabad. But one night, Muslims from another Indian ethnic group broke down the doors of their house, and took away many items from their home. Some of their Sindhi Muslim neighbours came to protect them. They said to Mina Bai’s family to let the raiders take whatever they want, as long as their lives were spared.

A Sindhi Muslim person also helped Sita Bai’s family to secure a train ticket. She remembered there were violent fights in the streets as they made their way to the train station. They arrived safely in Jodhpur where they were taken in by a Marwari family. Many rich Marwari families provided shelter and food for the refugees during the partition process.

A few weeks later they were taken to a Dharmsala (sort of Refugee camp) in Ajmer. They stayed here for a few months and then went to Delhi. In Delhi, the Indian government gave them a house that was vacated by a Muslim family. Sita Bai stayed and got married in Delhi. Three years after she arrived in Delhi, she and her husband sailed to Surabaya, Indonesia. Her husband set up a shop at Bondowoso in East Java. In the 1960s they moved to Jakarta. Her husband passed away in Jakarta many years ago.

Sita Bai is now a grandmother, living with her son and family in Jakarta. Her daughters are married, some of them staying in other countries. She never went back to Sindh for a visit. Like many of the Sindhi Hindu refugees, the Sindh chapter is closed, and the next generation look forward to a peaceful life in Indonesia.

THE SURVIVORS

Note: This part provides the stories of the survivors based on interviews. I have rewritten the interviews into a narrative form so as to make it more interesting. I have also changed their identities to protect their privacy.

6. LET GO OF THE SINDH MEMORY

Shiva Kumar traveled to Vietnam in 1939, to work at his cousin’s textile shop. Born in 1924 at Hyderabad Sind, he went to a local school until grade 4 and then to an English medium school until grade 7. His father passed away when he was 12, so he had to work at the age of 15 to support his family.

In 1942 the World War broke and he had to stay in Vietnam as many travel routes were closed thus it was not possible to travel back to India. When the war ended in 1945, the British Government provided free transport so Shiva decided to take the ship to Calcutta and then went home to Hyderabad Sindh.

Mr Shiva married in 1947 with a lady whose family lived in Manila, the Philippines. When the India –Pakistan partition process started in mid 1947, Muslims came in large number from outside of Sindh and also from India to Hyderabad. They were the ones who instigated riots and violent actions, asking the non-Muslims to either convert or leave the “future” Pakistan. Many families were forced to stay at home. Most of Shiva’s male relatives were in foreign lands. So he too decided to leave Sindh with his pregnant wife. They left their home, and traveled through Karachi to Poona. They did not meet with significant problems in their journey.

In Poona, they rented a house at a reasonable price and started a new life. But times were hard thus earning a living was difficult. So Shiva decided to go to Manila and stay with his wife’s family.

Since there was no other economic means for them, Mr Shiva decided to travel to Manila, and stay with his wife’s family. During this time, Shiva’s sister and her family had already settled in Surabaya, Indonesia. They asked him to join them and so he and his family then left Manila for Surabaya in 1950. After a year working for his brother-in-law, he decided to start his own business in Jakarta. Like many Sindhis, through years of struggling, he has attained financial success.

Shiva Kumar is now a great grandfather, living with one of his sons and his family in Jakarta. At 93 years old, he is still healthy with sharp memory. It was such a pleasure to interview him. His wife passed away some years earlier.

When asked why he left Sind, he said many Hindu Sindhis were afraid of being killed by the fanatic elements of Muslims that sort of came in large numbers from outside of Sindh. When asked why he chose Indonesia, a country with one of the largest Muslim population in the world, he stressed the point “We are afraid of the fanatics, not of Muslims. The Muslims were peaceful people in Indonesia when we came here”.

Shiva had not visited Sind since he left his home land. When asked if he wishes to see his birth place, he said he does not wish to go there. “There is nothing to go back to there. We have seen the world, so just let Sindh go away from our memory”.

But he has important messages for the young Sindhis in Indonesia. First, respect your parents. Second preserve your culture, follow the rituals that your family has followed thus far. Third, preserve the language, parents must speak in Sindhi language so their children can also speak Sindhi.

In a way, I guess Shiva is saying, remain being a Sindhi, but let go of the Sindh land.

THE SURVIVORS

Note: This part provides the stories of the survivors based on interviews. I have rewritten the interviews into a narrative form so as to make it more interesting. I have also changed their identities to protect their privacy.

7. We Say God Is one, but We Divide Ourselves

Chandanmal is a 90 year old grandfather with a very sharp memory. Born in Hyderabad Sindh, he is an incredible person whose interests range from geography, history to sports. He was studying commerce in a college when the India-Pakistan partition happened. His account brings to light the partition in terms of the politics and demography. Unfortunately this well read man now cannot read as an injury on his head a few years ago impacted on his vision. But he is a storehouse of information on various aspects of the India- Pakistan partition. Here is his story.

It began in 1942, when Mahatma Gandhi launched the Quit India Movement (भारत छोड़ो आन्दोलन Bhārat Chhodho Āndolan), basically telling the British to leave India, and declaring India as a sovereign country. This was amidst the World War II in which the United Kingdom was heavily involved. The British colonial rulers reacted swiftly by putting the leaders into jail. But Independence for India was inevitable and the British knew that.

At this point the British very cleverly launched their divide and rule policy. They discussed the issue with the Muslim League. They then announced that Independence would be given if the Muslims were given their share of India. This triggered the conflict among factions in the independence movement in all of India particularly the Northwest Frontier, Baloochistan, Punjab and Bengal. The southern part of India was not much affected. When the partition was finally agreed on announced, people were not prepared for it. Thus there was confustion, riots and mass killings.

While Punjab and Bengal were partitioned based on the Hindu and Muslim communities, the entire Sindh province was marked to be part of Pakistan. It was because Muslims have been a majority in Sind for many years, while Hindus were a minority. Muslims dominated the villages and were mostly farmers. They also controlled the parliament. The Hindus were mainly in the trading, services and education sectors, thus dominated the economy. But many Hindu Sindhi men worked overseas during that time.

Chandanamal said previously Sindh was part of the Bombay Presidency under the British. In 1936, through demands mostly by the Muslim Sindhis, Sindh was detached from the Bombay Presidency and made into a separate province. This made the demand for the entire Sindh to be in Pakistan easier to execute.

Prior to the partition announcement, there were not many non-Sindhi Muslims in Sindh. The Punjabi Muslims came later. The Sindhi Muslims organized rallies and made fiery speeches, but there were little attacks on the Hindus. Unlike in Punjab and Bengal, there were less riots and killings in Sindh until the muslims from India (i.e. Punjab and Bengal) migrated to Sindh. As mentioned before, the Hindu Sindhis were of the more upper middle class and dominated the economy. The Sindhi Muslims actually said that it would be better if the Hindus did not leave Sindh. But the Hindus were terrified of the increasing riots and violence and a large part of the Hindu population left anyway.

Chandanmal left Sindh when he was 21 years old. He did not complete his college studies. His brother and sister were sent to Mumbai by his parents and so they could complete their college education. His parents left Sindh first, to Mumbai and then to Ajmer. Chandanmal was left behind to settle the payment of their house that they had given out for rent. He also helped to submerge the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book (many Sindhis follow the Granth Sahib teachings), as the priests wanted to leave Sindh and did not want the book to be desecrated by the rioters.

Chandanmal was also a member of a Hindu organisation since he was in College and was often harrased by the Muslims due to that. He was part of the volunteers the partition process to help facilitate migration out of Sindh, as well as picking up the wounded and the dead bodies after the violence at the Railway stations. Finally he left just before the partition, but went back several times to Sindh, now part of Pakistan, to collect payments from people that rented his family’s estate. He saw that more and more Punjabis and Bengalis came to Sindh, that even the Muslim Sindhis became almost like a minority. This was the time when he heard Muslim Sindhis saying “it would be better if the Hindus had stayed”.

Chandanmal settled in Delhi and stayed for about 8 months. Then he went to Singapore and got a job. When his company opened a branch in Jakarta, he was asked to manage it. And he has stayed since then in Indonesia.

Does he wish to visit Sindh again? Yes, Chandanmal said. But he is scared that his past association with a Hindu organisation might not grant him a passage to Pakistan. He told a short account of how one day at a dinner he met with the then Pakistani embassy official. They discussed the possibility of arranging a trip for the aged people so that they can at least see Sindh, their birth place before they leave this world. But this idea is yet implemented.

When asked why live in a country with one of the largest Muslim population in the world, having seen tragedies due to Hindu-Muslim, Chandanmal said “You cannot compare the Muslims in Indonesia and India, at that time. The Muslims in Indonesia were not fanatic”. He further said that the original culture in Indonesia is very much Hindu based. Although that is changing now.

How does one compare the Hindu Sindhis with the Palestinian situation, given that both are refugees driven out of their land? The Palestinians are still struggling to get back their until today, while the Hindu Sindhis never tried to reclaim their land. Chandanmal has a swift and incredibly targetted reply to this. He said, there are two reasons. First, the Hindu Sindhis were and are naturally business minded. They pay less attention to the land and political issues. Secondly, outwardly they behave in a religious manner, but in depth they do not know much about their religion. Thus despite being one of the ancient races and civilizations in the world, the Hindu Sindhis are now landless.

The Hebrews and the Jewish people are also ancient races and they have been fighting each other for more than a thousand years. And peace is as yet to be attained. Perhaps the strategy of the Hindu Sindhis is a better one: moving on.

His message for the younger generation is that they should maintain the Sindhi culture otherwise the Sindhi race would disintegrate. The Muslims in Sind are becoming more Arabian than Sindhis, and they will also face disintegration. The Hindu Sindhis, on the other hand, are spread all over the world, and are often merged with the local cultures. Thus the uniting force of the Hindu Sindhis would be their culture and language. The culture can be maintained if Hindu Sindhis also have their own writers to write their history and to encourage people to maintain the Sindhi language and culture.

Chandanmal has a final powerful message. His family is quite unique. He married a Christian but they each kept to their religion. Mrs. Chandanmal had been to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, which is the worship place of Chandanmal. “And she enjoyed it”, he said. On the other hand, Chandanmal often go to church with his wife. He has two daughters, both are married. His elder daughter, who now lives in Singapore can speak, and write Sindhi, a trait that is fast disappearing among the Sindhi younger community. His son is married to a Muslim; he and his family live with Chandanmal. And they got married in a ceremony at the Gurudwara (the Sikh Temple) and his daughter-in-law has also been to the Golden Temple in Amritsar. They each kept to their own religion, while also learning the religion of other members of the family.

That should be the way, said Chandanmal. And his final powerful message is “We say God is one, but we divide ourselves!”.


Part II: The Survivors

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This is the first part of the second section of the Sindhi in Indonesia documentation.

  1. THE SURVIVORS Part 1

Note: This part provides the stories of the survivors based on interviews. I have rewritten the interviews into a narrative form so as to make it more interesting. I have also changed their identities to protect their privacy.

1. NOT MUCH CHANGE AT PISHORI PARO

Nirma Bai, Mina Bai and Lalit bai went back to Pishori Paro, Hyderabad, Sind, Pakistan in 2007. Sixty years ago this was home. The three ladies, who are cousins, “visited their childhood home” with two male relatives. Nirma Bai wanted to see her family home, her maternal grandmother’s home and her maternal Aunt’s home. Mina and Lalit Bai are daughters of Nirma Bai’s aunt.

Going back to Hyderabad Sind after 60 years was not easy. First they had to go through a lengthy process to get a visa. They visited the Pakistan embassy in New Delhi. The officer told them they had to complete papers, get a sponsor in Pakistan and must report to authorities once they arrive in Pakistan. The sponsor was a friend of Mina Bai’s brother who married a Hindu. The three ladies told the officers they only wanted to see their childhood house as they were born in Karachi. When the officer saw their passports and indeed verified they were born in Karachi, he promised to help. And he did. So the visa was granted, although it took several days, and finally the three ladies could visit their birth place.

At a hotel in Hyderabad, a waiter told them that there were little changes over the years in Pishori Paro, the area that the ladies wanted to visit. “You will notice the street names remain the same”, he said. And the waiter spoke in Sindhi language, by the way. So the Muslim waiter and the Hindu visitors could communicate in a common language. The host sponsor lent them a car to take them around Hyderabad and to the lane where they spent their childhood. Once there, they walked slowly, with uncertainty, looking at all the buildings trying to remember which is whose, what is where. “Hyderabad was clean in 1946, now its so dirty”, Nirma Bai said. The ladies finally recognized a corner called Pishori Paro. And the old houses. Yes, not much has changed.

Some houses had name plates that they could remember such as “Sirumal” a Sindhi Hindu family back in 1946. They could recognize the hospital up a small hill and it remains the same. There was an empty space at one corner of the lane, almost like a play ground near the hospital. Now it is packed with stalls and has become dusty and dirty as the road is not paved. At first, Nirma Bai could not find her family house, but Mina Bai could recognize her parents’ house. The ladies were uncertain as to enter the former grandparents’ house or not as doors were closed. What if the current owners get offended?

Having come all this way, curiosity got the better hand. They entered the compound and found the door was not really locked. A lady came out and welcomed them. It was Ramadhan time, the Muslim fasting month, and she was frying pakoras for breaking the fast. The ladies explained why they were there, and she was very understanding. She told them “you are welcome to look around”. She offered pakoras also to them. The ladies were of course hesitant as it was the fasting month. But the house owner said, “you are guests, please accept our hospitality”. And from then on, it was a process of human communication.

The house owner also pointed to the house where Nirma Bai was born, but it was locked as the current owners were out.

Nirma Bai said, we came with concerns in our mind. But once we start talking to people, those concerns disappeared, people are nice here. When she remembered the India-Pakistan partition in 1947, her memory was also about muslim neighbours who were kind.

Nirma Bai said, I did not witness much riots and violence in 1947. The major killings and riots broke after she and her family left Sind. Nirma Bai lived with her paternal grandmother and her mother, as her father and his three brothers were working in Indonesia. In 1945, Nirma Bai’s father came back with his two brothers. Nirma’s mother delivered a baby girl in early 1947, baby Jojo. The two brothers then went back to Indonesia. Nirma’s father stayed on until just before the partition. Nirma Bai was 8 years old and studying in grade two at the local school when she and her family had to flee from Hyderabad Sind.

She remembered, one evening her father coming home and telling her mother to close all doors and windows. He had just seen a Hindu father and son being beaten up in the street. The family decided to hide in the roof for a few days. The family living behind their house was a Muslim. The man came up to Nirma’s father and said, “We will protect you, and give you food”. The next day remembering that some Hindus do not eat food cooked by Muslims, he came with grocery. They also helped in taking the family out to the station.

The family now consisted of Nirma’s father, mother, grandmother, Nirma and baby Jojo, Nirma’s pregnant aunt and her family. They rushed out one day to the train station and went to Luni. They stayed 10 days at Luni Train Station, waiting for the the train to take them to the Rajasthan border, the Marwar Station. They had sold the house and some items in the house and so had some money. The cooked and ate and slept in the station platform. At the same time, Nirma’s other aunt from her father’s side also left Sind and arrived at Ajmer with her family.

When they arrived at the Marwar station, life was more difficult. Prices of food were so high they sometimes could only eat chapati (Indian flat bread) and pickles. Baby Jojo was often ill with cough, but they could not go to a hospital. Many items such as photos of ancestors were stolen. Since Nirma’s maternal aunt was heavily pregnant, the family requested authorities to let her get the first train to Jodhpur where she then delivered her youngest son.

While Nirma Bai’s aunt settled in Jodhpur, her family first came to Ajmer as refugees. They stayed in different houses belonging to their relatives. Her father sold cloth materials in the streets to earn money. The eldest brother in Indonesia would sometimes send money. With no economic advancement in sight, Nirma Bai’s father decided to go back to Indonesia. His two brothers had earlier gone back with their families. He had to first settle his mother with another brother. He also sent his widowed sister to a camp at Kalyan, where she could get some food and also the possibility of getting compensation from the government of India.

Nirma Bai and her family then went by ship to Singapore, where they were hosted by the Indian association. Her Uncle sent money to her father to buy goods to be sent to Indonesia, where they would be sold in her uncle’s shop. They left Singapore after 12 months, to Surabaya. They travelled by ship on deck class. Her uncle hosted them for 10 months and then told her father that they should now be independent. Nirma Bai’s father opened a shop in Situbondo, East Java, while her other uncle decided to settle in Nganjuk, also in East Java. Nirma went to the local school until grade six. As the eldest child, Nirma had to help her parents manage the shop in Situbondo. Her father was busy purchasing items from Surabaya and so Nirma dropped out of school to help run the shop.

Baby Jojo had grown up as a sickly child, and passed away at the age of 12. There were other siblings: 2 sisters and three brothers. Nirma’s father passed away in 1968 and the family then moved to Jakarta in 1980. Nirma and her family also saw the violence and riots of 1965, that reminded them of the experience in Hyderabad Sind.

Nirma has three sons. Her husband passed away many years ago and she practically raised the three boys herself with help from her family. She is now a grandmother and lives with one of her sons in Jakarta.

Having gone through this experience, Nirma said she has no message or plea to the young Sindhi generation in Indonesia. She said, my son does not even speak Sindhi. My grandchildren can only speak English, not even Indonesian. So let them be happy, I do not want to impose anything on them, she said.

In my opinion, such a thought is what made the Hindu Sindhis survivors in the aftermath of the India-Pakistan partition. Instead of living the life of refugees and victims, they have moved on and become not only survivors, but also victors.

THE SURVIVORS

Note: This part provides the stories of the survivors based on interviews. I have rewritten the interviews into a narrative form so as to make it more interesting. I have also changed their identities to protect their privacy

2. Common Toilets and Food Stamps

Note: Rani Bai has a sharp memory despite her age. She remembered her birthdate, i.e. 18 June 1936. She was born in Dadu District, Sindh. She told her story to her daughter, my school friend who then shared it with me. I decided to keep the narrative in her words with some language editing. She is a grandmother living a comfortable life in Jakarta.

I was only 11 years old living in a joint family, with my aunts, uncles and cousins,when the partition took place in 1947. My father was working in Indonesia at a very reputable firm during that time. My other uncles also worked abroad. My eldest uncle was the only one who took care of all of us in Sindh. I remember living in a huge house or rather a mansion with lots of rooms and a beautiful terrace. Our life was very comfortable.

Suddenly in mid 1947, things changed drastically. At that time, I had no understanding of what was happening but heard family members whispering that we had to leave Sindh. So, we were instructed to pack up everything that we had in the house including furniture, clothes, and valuables and migrate to Bombay, via Karachi. We stayed in Karachi for a month waiting for the social leaders to arrange tickets for the Sindhi Hindus to go by refugee ships and trains.

The date January 6th, 1948 , is firmly etched in my memory; the situation in Karachi had worsened. Suddenly there were lots of riots, looting, and people were harshly murdered and they were screaming out loud “loot them, kill them, make them leave now!” We had no choice, everyone had to leave Sind forcefully.

We sailed for Bombay from Karachi along with our many relatives by refugee ship which could actually accommodate only 300 people, but there were almost 2000 people on the ship. After three full days, we finally reached Mumbai Port on 30thJanuary,1948, the day Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated. Due to this, everything came to a standstill. We were not allowed to disembark as the authorities had ordered a curfew.

Unfortunately, we had to remain at the port for a few days; we ate, and slept there till the social leaders were able to find accommodation for so many of us. Some families were sent to Devlali Army camp (near Nasik), some to Pipri Camp, Pune and some to Ulhasnagar.. The barracks were in a very bad shape – dirty with no facilities; broken roads, no electricity. And we had to share common toilets. We had to queue up for our daily needs such as water, food, and grocery. We were given food stamps with the name of each one of the family members.

It took a year of struggling and suffering for my family, before my father and uncle could arrange for funds to settle in a decent place. Finally, the day arrived, with help of some relatives, when we were able to rent a house in Pune where the whole family lived comfortably.

Gradually, my father and uncles would come to visit and later took the families back with them; parts of the family left for West Africa and the other parts went to Jakarta in September 1950. We have been living in Indonesia until today.

THE SURVIVORS

Note: This part provides the stories of the survivors based on interviews. I have rewritten the interviews into a narrative form so as to make it more interesting. I have also changed their identities to protect their privacy.

3. Losing The Freedom to Walk in the Streets

Moti Bai was 12 when she, her younger sister Nita Bai, and her family had to leave their hometown Tando Mohammad Khan, in Hyderabad Sindh. She could not precisely remember which year that was. “Just before the riots happened, but after the India-Pakistan partition was announced” she said.

Her father, Puranmal, had just opened a shop with money earned while he was working in Indonesia. His wife passed away recently. He was so much away that he did not realise his wife was ill and she passed away while he was in Indonesia. He came back so he could stay with his two daughters. He made a decision to stay on in Sind, and so he opened a shop. His elder brother has also just came back from Indonesia, with his son.

Puranmal’s father was some sort of a village head. When his father passed away, the task was handed over to Puranmal’s mother who also led the community with a strong hand. Thus the family was well respected as they provided a community leadership in the village. Puranmal’s elder brother even taught at the village school before he left for Indonesia. Puranmal’s youngest brother was at home in Tando Mohammad Khan. “Life was good for us at that time, except that my father and uncle were away for a long time in Indonesia” Moti Bai said. Both she and her sister attended the local Sindhi school.

Life changed when news about the India-Pakistan partition reached their village. There were rumours about forced conversion. “We heard in the streets that if Hindu Sindhis want to stay in the future Pakistan, they have to convert to Islam” Moti Bai remembered. This was strange as in the little hamlet in which they lived, all the families were Hindus. But they could see that a different development was taking shape. The greatest fear of the Hindu parents was that their daughters would be kidnapped and then forcefully converted to Islam by marrying them off to Muslim men. Apparently they heard this in speeches in the markets. So Puranmal told both his daughters to put on put on nose ring, earrings and cover their faces when they went out so as to look married. The girls began to understand the changes: “life was no longer good, they had lost the freedom to roam in the village streets”.

Meanwhile Puranmal remarried before the actual partition process took place. As the partition process deepened the family decided to leave Tando Mohammad Khan, before the riots and mass murders occured. Puranmal’s elder brother left first with his son. The rest of the family left later, quietly one day on a train to Jodhpur. “I had no idea how we got the tickets”, said Moti Bai. They just abandoned their big house, sold the goods at the new shop, took whatever money and jewelry and things that they could carry. Puranmal left with his wife, two daughters, his younger brother and his wife, his elder sister-in-law. They huddled together in one closed compartment in the train, so no one could see them. But as they embarked on the train they could feel the tension among fellow passengers. They arrived safely in Jodhpur, which was a miracle given the many mass murders conducted on trains at that time.

Moti Bai and her sister had stayed in a rented house in Jodhpur previously, when their mother was ill. This time, their step mother’s family helped them to secure another rented house. Their half sister was born in Jodhpur. After some time, they left Jodhpur and went to a refugee camp in Mumbai. It was not clear why they moved from a rented house to a refugee camp, but perhaps because as refugees they would be taken care of by the Government of India. For instance, they received compensation money for the house they left in Sindh.

In Mumbai, they lived in two different camps. Puranmal and his family stayed at a camp (that they forgot the name) in one part of Mumbai. Puranmal’s elder sister-in-law and his younger brother stayed at Akbar Camp, not so far away. Food and shelter were provided by the Government of India. A makeshift school and teachers were also provided. Moti Bai and Nita Bai went to school again at that time. They remembered this Camp as a “good” refugee camp, except for the bathroom and water supply. They used to queue up to go to the bathroom, and they saw other refugees quarelling over who has the right to go to the bathroom first. Those who go to work in the morning were given the prioirity to use the bathroom first, but often this “unwritten” rule was broken and thus it triggered the bickering. Water supply was also limited, and each person had to ensure they did not use more water than what is available. Despite this, Nita Bai said, they were very grateful to the Government of India for providing the refugee camp and then later for the house provided in Kalyan.

The girls remembered that they were in the camp only for about 6 months, after which they moved to Kalyan into the house given by the government. Puranmal tried to look for a job but times were difficult. So in 1949 he decided that the family should move to Indonesia. They left by ship, and their first port of arrival was Jakarta. A Sindhi businessman, who had settled here, provided shelter for every Sindhi who left India after fleeing Pakistan. He lent them a house to live in until they decided what to do. Then Puranmal’s brother asked them all to join him in Surabaya.

From Surabaya, the family moved to Jombang, a small city in East Java. The three brothers divided their capital among themselves and each opened a shop. Puranmal decided to open a shop and settle in Kertosono, a smaller city about 26 km away from Jombang. But then the Government of Indonesia issued Presidential Regulation No. 10 in 1959 which banned foreign citizens from conducting and owning retail business in administrative areas lower than the Kabupaten (Regency). Kertosono is a sub-regency (kecamatan) in Nganjuk. So Puranmal, once again, had to close his shop and moved back to Jombang. He rented a house and a small shop in Jombang, while also did some inter-city trading in the surrounding areas. Puranmal’s nine other children were born in Jombang.

Moti Bai married in the mid 1950s and moved to Madiun, where her husband and his family resided. They then moved to Jakarta. Nita Bai married in the mid 1960s and settled in Jakarta. Puranmal’s entire family then moved to Jakarta in 1970. Puranmal’s elder brother passed away in Jombang, and his son continued the shop business.

The three brothers and their spouses passed away, leaving a big family spanning three generations most of them born in Indonesia (except Moti Bai, Nita and one other sister), mostly living in Jakarta. Moti Bai is now in her mid 80s and Nita Bai in her 70s. They shared this story with us.

They fled Sindh, because they were afraid of forced conversion to Islam, and yet the family decided to settle in Indonesia where the population was (and is) largely Muslims. I asked how do they feel about this? They said, the Muslims in Sindh at that time were totally different from their encounter with the local Muslim population in Indonesia. The Indonesians were not fanatic, Moti Bai Said. In fact, Indonesians like Indians, Nita Bai said.

Then I asked them if they ever felt they wanted to go back for a visit to Sindh. Definitely, they replied. “But now we do not have the energy to travel that far. And we are not sure that Sindh is even safe today”, they said.

Finally a message for the Sindhi younger generations. “Please know and understand the history of India and the Sindhis and where your ancestors came from. The younger generation need to value their own language. If they can speak Sindhi, anywhere they go, they can speak in their language if they need to discuss something that they do not want other people to know about”. This is a message that is resonated by many of the respondents.

THE SURVIVORS

Note: This part provides the stories of the survivors based on interviews. I have rewritten the interviews into a narrative form so as to make it more interesting. I have also changed their identities to protect their privacy.

4. The Zamindar, the Maharajah and the Marwaris

Bhagumal lived with his family in Tando Alam Khan Marie, Sindh in 1946. He was about 13 years old and was working with an influential zamindar (land owner) and businessman. He also went to a sindhi school . Then the news broke about the partition, and things began to change.

As with most other Hindu Sindhi families, Bhagumal’s family also decided to leave Sindh. “We feared forced conversion into Islam”, he said. He also remembered that the Hindu and the Muslim Sindhis were good neighbours. The threat came from Muslims of other ethnic groups that came in large numbers from India. “They are the ones who spread the fear among Sindhi Hindus and triggered our decision to leave”.

The process of leaving Sindh was not easy. First the family had to go to a safe place and wait for train tickets and space availability. Bhagumal’s boss helped them to secure seats on the train. When the time came to leave, Bhagu’s Muslim neighbors made sure they got safely on to the train and helped them with their luggage. Finally they left on a train heading for Ajmer.

In Ajmer, they stayed at the barracks provided by the Maharajah (king) of Jaipur. They rented two rooms at reasonable rate. They also had some money for food. They were grateful that the Maharajah of Jaipur guaranteed a safe place for them. During this time Bhagumal went back and forth to Sindh while still working for the Zamindar, his old boss. In that process, he also traded goods between Sindh and Ajmer. This was not easy to accomplish given the volatile situation at that time.

After three years, he stopped this work as it was getting more difficult to enter Sindh, now part of Pakistan. Jobs were not easily available at that time. So the family decided to move to Mumbai, where Bhagumal got married, and then on to Kota where the Government of India provided houses for the refugees from Pakistan. In Kota, many Marwari families supported the Hindu Sindhi families financially, for instance by helping to pay electricity and water bills.

To make ends meet, Bhagumal bought and traded goods between Kota and Mumbai. After sometime, Bhagumal’s father-in-law came to visit. He already had a business in Indonesia. Seeing that Bhagumal’s family is still struggling financially, he suggested that Bhagumal and his wife come to Indonesia. Thus Bhagumal sailed to Surabaya and was asked to manage his father-in-law’s shop. After some years, Bhagumal and his family moved to Jakarta.

Bhagumal is now a 91 year old great grandfather, living with his family in Jakarta. When asked what is his message to the younger generation, he said “Please learn the Sindhi language as a heritage. Sindhi culture is the best in the world, and Sindhi people are very cordial and friendly. So be proud that you are a Sindhi”.

He also felt it would be a good idea to arrange a trip to Sindh for a group of people like him. After all, we were born in Sindh, he said.

 


Sindhi: Tracing our Identity

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This is a temporay category to house a work in progress. It involves documenting the stories of Hindu Sindhis that left Sindh (now in Pakistan) to settle in Indonesia. Please feel free to add on, provide new stories or snippets, and comment for improvement. But please ignore typo and grammatical mistakes as they will be edited.

If you have comments and contributions please email me at hira@bebaspikir.com.

This documentation begins with introduction as provided below. The first part is a brief description of Sindh: its history, geography, socio-culture and also culinary. It is under construction.

The second part is the stories of respondents, those who survived the India-Pakistan partition and moved to Indonesia. This part is provided in two articles.

The third is a relection about where we are and where to move on to. It is also under construction. Happy Reading

FROM PARTITION WITH VICTORY

The Hindu Sindhis in Jakarta

Hira Jhamtani

Dedication

This his story and her story booklet is dedicated to my nieces, nephews, grand nieces, great nephews. I hope this becomes a bridge between past generation and the future generation.

To the refugee generation, especially the respondents, who braved through the partition and the refugee camp to emerge as winners in Indonesia, while still being Sindhis, outside of Sindh.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I would like to thank

Ujjwal Pradhan who planted the seed of thought into my head and heart; it took a long time to grow, but it did grow.

Bina K, Jyoty, Indu, Naina, Johnny, Haresh for providing contacts and space so I could meet the respondents.

Of course the respondents, whose enthusiasm went beyond my expectations.

the reviewers :

Deepak, my life partner, as ever for being part of my crazy ideas coming to life.

INTRODUCTION: TRACING OUR IDENTITY

When Pakistan happened” (jdhehe Pakistan thyo) was a phrase that my parents, my uncle and my aunt used to utter during conversations about their life in Sindh. And later on, I often heard my mother-in-law also saying this phrase. I and my siblings did not provide too much attention to that phrase. Growing up in a small city in East Java, I identified myself as “Indian” and thought that Sindhi, as spoken and taught to us by our elders, was the Indian language, together with Hindi, the language of the films that we used to watch in the cinema.

Later on, when my family moved to Jakarta, I found out that there are many other Indian ethnic groups in the city. The Punjabis came from Punjab, the Gujaratis came from Gujarat, so the Sindhis came from Sind. But according to our history book in school Sindh is now in Pakistan, because of the India-Pakistan partition in 1947. That is what was meanth by the phrase “ when the Pakistan thing happened”. So are we Indians or are we Sindhis? Because definitely we are not Pakistanis. But Sindh is in Pakistan? So what are we? If you are a Hindu Sindhi, and this question came to your mind at one point, then this booklet is for you to read. If the question never came up in your mind, this booklet would hopefully be useful to provide an insight into the Hindu Sindhi identity.

The India-Pakistan partition displaced between 10 and 12 million people along religious lines1. Collins and Lapierre, in their book Freedom at Midnight termed this as the “Greatest Migration in History”2.So do many other writers that you can browse in the Internet. Most of the reports and narratives on Partition were on the Punjab and Bengal states, where there was large-scale violence, with estimates of loss of life accompanying or preceding the partition disputed and varying between several hundred thousand and two million. The Sindhi community did not face large scale violence, but felt deprivation of homeland and culture3. This event claimed more lives than even the Great Holocaust.

Having read Freedom at Midnight, I began to understand the expression of “When Pakistan happened”. Its a statement saying, first of all that Pakistan was created, and therefore they (our parents) had to flee. They fled to India as refugees, so that made them administratively as Indian citizens. The questions then arise: what did they feel? How did they flee from Sindh to a refugee camp in India (or any other place) and then arrive in Indonesia?

Over the years, in my interaction with people, I am often faced with the question about my identity, as an Indonesian of Indian origin My standard answer to such a question, until now is, “I was born in East Java, my parents came from India”. Next question would be “which part of India”. That is the tricky one. For this too I developed a standard answer “ We are Sindhis, my parents came from Sindh, which is now in Pakistan. They fled Sindh during the partition and became refugees in India, then migrated to Indonesia”.

It was during such a conversation that one of my friends raised the question “why choose Indonesia?”. He raised two important issues. First, how did my parents feel about fleeing Pakistan to avoid religious tension, because they were Hindus, and then settling in the a country where the majority of the population are Muslims, i.e. Indonesia. The second was a suggestion that I document the stories of the Hindu Sindhis who fled during the Partition, as an important historical record. I realized the significance of these two issues. That was ten years ago. And finally I took the plunge and encouraged myself to start this booklet. It is based mainly on internet research with the sources provided as footnotes. The core part consists of the stories narrated by the respondents about their journey from Sindh to Indonesia. I have changed their identities to protect their privacy.

The intent of this booklet is to provide a brief insight into our history as the Hindu Sindhi community in Indonesia, especially for the next generation. Any political or religious accounts are purely due to the circumstances of the India – Pakistan partition rather than intent. As you read through, you will understand that communities often help each other in times of crisis, while politicians try to divide them up. I urge you to read especially the section “God is one, We divide ourself”

The first part of this booklet deals with brief description of Sindh before the partition and the general account of Hindu Sindhis exodus from Sindh. The second part describes personal stories of people who fled Sindh and then settled in Indonesia, based on interviews. The final part is my personal reflection and insight into the Hindu Sindhi community as the landless refugees who has emerged as winners, moved on with life based on their own determination.

Hindu Sindhis are scattered all over the world. I have met a Hindu Sindhi dress maker in a hotel at Bangkok, a shop keeper in a market in Vientiane, Laos, and grocery seller in the traditional market in Burma. Many people from the refugee generation are no longer alive, perhaps their stories have never been told. They were refugees, but they are also survivors and their families won the economic battle for future survival, without land, without language and without political rights.

I feel the stories, however short, need to be told, if we want to understand our identities as Sindhi. My generation missed the significance of understanding the phrase “when Pakistan happened”. If you happen to have elderly relatives who sometimes still say “when Pakistan happened”, do listen and record, it might be part of your history and self identification as Hindu Sindhis – the community that emerged victorious from the largest migration in history!

2. Collins, Larry and Lapierre Dominique, 1977. Freedom At Midnight. London, Pan Books.