Sindhi: Tracing our Identity

Posted on

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.