Genesis of Separatist Sentiment in Sindh
Sirajul Haque Memon
Daily Dawn Pakistan Day Special Issue - March 23, 2001
History, as recorded in the Indian subcontinent, has seldom dilated upon the real sentiments of the nations, peoples or the masses inhabiting various politically sovereign territories comprising the region. The reason is not far to seek. "Historians", travelers and authors through ages, without exception, have been courtiers of the ruling dynasties, most of whom in turn have been installed by marauders and plunderers of yore. Such historiographers have, without blinking their eye-lids, eulogized the most despicable rascals as most eminent monarchs, defenders of faith and purveyors of justice, virtue and generosity. On the other hand, they have castigated and ridiculed the rulers and leaders of the people, indeed the people themselves, who were subjugated or enslaved, as despicable scum of the earth only to be punished, crushed and beheaded for the slightest provocation.
Take the example of Nadir Shah's historiographers who accompanied him on his campaign against the Mughal King of Delhi or against Sindh under Mian Noor Mohammad Kalhoro. Nadir Shah has been praised beyond belief as the most benign defender of the faith of Islam, and the rulers of Delhi and Sindh have been depicted as weaklings, mischief mongers, heathens.
In the plethora of gibberish written by such "intellectual courtesans", one can only find oblique references to rebellions, uprisings and struggles for freedom by the subjugated peoples and nations like Sindh.
The tradition of such falsification of history has continued to this day, albeit with some sophistication and subtlety. Sophistication of the British historians is exemplified by the narrations of authors like Richard Burton on Sindh. The history of post-British period, authored by Dr Ishtiaq Husain Qureshi, which is now the basis of all text-books of history in the educational institutions of Pakistan, is another example of this falsification.
A new trend has now emerged in the writings of Ayesha Jalal (see her "The Sole Spokesman" and "Self and Sovereignty" published by Cambridge University Press and Oxford University Press respectively) and Aitzaz Ahsan's "The Indus Saga", published by Oxford University Press. Both these venerable authors have adopted a so-called modern and liberal methodology which conveniently glosses over the "separatist sentiment" by clever presentation of a larger canvass of South Asia or in the case of Aitzaz Ahsan, the Indus region comprising the whole of present Pakistan.
Aitzaz has made a Herculean effort to depict the wishful embroidery of contrast between the Gangetic plain and the Indus Valley. Both the learned authors have tried to submerge the nationhood of Sindhis, Punjabis, Pakhtoons and Balochies in a larger conundrum of South Asian polity or the myth of Indus persona.
To understand the separatist sentiment in Sindh, let us have a look at the universally accepted definition of a "nation". The Black's Law Dictionary defines the nation as under:
"Nation: A people, or aggregation of men, existing in the form of an organized rural society, unusually inhabiting a distinct portion of the earth, speaking the same language, using the same customs, possessing historic continuity, and distinguished from other like groups by their racial origin and characteristics, and generally, but not necessarily, living under the same government and sovereignty."
The Sindhis feel that they are a separate and full-fledged nation, according to the recognized political, social as well as cultural principles. They are proud of their past, their language, their culture, their literature and their folklore. They are proud of the resistance movements of their forefathers against the Greeks (Alexander the Great), the Achaemenids (Darius-I), the Arabs, the Taghlaks, the Mughals and the Arghuns, Nadir Shah and the Afghan marauders like Shah Shuja and lastly the British.
The battles of Miani and Dabo against the British which resulted in the enslavement of Sindhis have a central place in their folklore and poetry, especially the bravery and sacrifices of heroes like Hoshu. Language and literature play a very vital part in the building blocks of nationalism - call it separatist sentiment or give it any other derogatory name. The fact is that Sindh has an extremely rich literature which has inspired its people for centuries to fight for their freedom and liberty.
It is in this background that the recent past has to be evaluated. The British introduced the people of Sindh to modern education through their mother-tongue. Sindhi language not only became a vehicle for education but it also acted as a political tool through the medium of journalism. By the 1930's, a number of daily and weekly newspapers were published from Karachi, Hyderabad and Sukkur.
On annexation, the British Government had amalgamated Sindh into Bombay Presidency. A campaign was started through the vernacular press for separation of Sindh from Bombay. It gathered momentum when looking at the trend of public opinion, political parties such as the Congress and the Muslim League too joined in. No political party could survive in Sindh if it opposed the Separation Movement. Hindu Maha Sabha was the only party which opposed the separation being mostly financed by merchants of Bombay. But soon it lost face in the towns and villages of Sindh and slowly and gradually it ceased to be an influential political party in Sindh.
If one reads the newspapers of those days, one finds a strange undercurrent of a freedom movement. It appears as if the struggle was not merely for a provincial status of Sindh but for an independent Sindh. In 1936, Sindh attained the status of a separate province. Daily "Alwaheed" published a voluminous "Azadi Number". So did other newspapers and journals. The central theme of literary output of the 1930's was "Azadi", i.e., freedom. Separation of Sindh from Bombay was equated with freedom and liberty of a subjugated nation.
This theme of freedom and liberty was not transitory. It continued in the following decades but it got mixed up with freedom movements against the British rule by the Congress as well as the Muslim League.
The Hur Movement was a watershed in the political development in Sindh. On the one hand it introduced the element of violence and dacoities, and on the other, it resulted in a confusion of perceptions. Some interpreted it as a struggle for a "Free Sindh" for which Pir Sahib Pagaro was waging a war against the British. The British propaganda portrayed it as a fascist conspiracy with covert support of the Nazis. The confusion still persists in scholarly writings on the subject as to whether it was a "freedom movement" or an effort to destabilize the British Government in India in its fight against Germany. Nevertheless, literary output on atrocities of the British troops against the Hurs and the aerial bombardment of unarmed villages in the Makhi area contains some of the most moving pieces of literature.
The Sindhi nationalism which succeeded in the separation of Sindh from Bombay was overtaken by the Hur Movement, and later by the freedom movement of India against the British on the two parallel platforms of the Congress and the Muslim League.
When the Muslim League passed the Pakistan Resolution on 23rd March 1940 at Lahore, visualizing a Confederal arrangement where the units or states will be autonomous and sovereign, the Sindhi nationalist element was, to a large extent, satisfied. A sizable minority of intellectuals and writers, however, was of the view that since Sindh was an independent country in 1983 when the British annexed it, in the eventuality of the British quitting India, it should be restored as an independent state. It was in this context that pamphlets like "Save Sindh, Save the Continent" were published and widely circulated.
With the "freedom", came the partition of India and the holocaust. Hundreds of thousands of Hindus, mainly the emerging middle class, started migrating from Sindh and hundreds of thousand of Muslim refugees started arriving in Sindh completely changing the ground realities, as also the political and social complexion of Sindh. Sindhis were aghast at this colossal change. Sindh was perhaps the only province where the two communities - Hindus and Muslims - were living peacefully despite political differences among them. But the arrival of Muslims who had been the victims of violence in India, changed the atmosphere of peace and tolerance.
In Karachi and Hyderabad Hindus were attacked and killed beginning the exodus of Hindus from Sindh. Most of the fleeing Hindus were either merchants or professionals, teachers, government servants, writers and intellectuals. With their departure, the Sindhi Society felt culturally orphaned. The newly arriving Muslims were an unknown quantity and above all they were in a pitiable condition.
The Sindhis did whatever was humanly possible to accommodate and help the new arrivals to settle down. However, the difference of language and culture created a lack of understanding and mutual acceptance. This imbalance initially was merely irritating, but later it created situations which destabilized not only the socio-political setup in Sindh but also had far reaching socio-economic repercussions on Sindh.
Almost the entire bureaucracy at the federal level comprised either of officers belonging to Punjab or of immigrants who had opted to join government service in Pakistan. As a consequence, policies made and decisions taken at the highest level did not take into consideration sensibilities of the local people.
The allotment of lands, houses and shops left by Hindus to the immigrants on a preferential basis and by introduction of a partisan legal system not only created disenchantment in the local population but created a system of bribery, jobbery and corruption which, almost every sociologist agrees, is the root-cause of the present level of corruption in Pakistan. Sindhis not only resented this but took it as an affront which normally arouses inimical and separatist sentiments and tendencies.
Separation of Karachi: While these economic factors were creating heart-burns and bickering, suddenly Mr Jinnah took a unilateral decision of separating Karachi from the province of Sindh. This decision had almost the same impact as that of his decision announced in Dhaka that Urdu was going to be the sole national language of Pakistan. The latter decision, it is now recognized, sowed the seeds of secession of East Pakistan. The entire Sindh was aghast at this announcement.
The old sentiment, that emergence of Pakistan may be detrimental to Sindh, resurfaced. Even Muslim League leaders like Mr Mohammad Ayub Khuhro strongly protested against this decision. The entire community of students, teachers, writers, intellectuals and other literate segments of Sindhi society expressed their extreme resentment. But the wishes of the people were ignored, sowing the seeds of separatist sentiment once again in Sindh. The reaction in Sindh was not as violent as in East Pakistan on the language issue, but the feelings were as strong as could be.
Separation of Karachi from Sindh was only a beginning. Sooner rather than later, the very existence of Sindh was at stake. In order to meet the challenge of resentment in East Pakistan over the language issue and the economic disequilibrium, including uneven employment opportunities, the leadership at the federal level thought of a clever scheme of parity between the country's two wings. In pursuance of the Scheme, existing provinces in the Western wing were to be merged into a new bigger province of West Pakistan under a legal arrangement notoriously known as One Unit.
All hell broke loose when it was decided to have the "Establishment of West Pakistan Act, 1955" endorsed by the provincial assemblies. There were widespread riots. When the voice of the people - to undo One Unit, to protect Sindhi language and culture, to restore the economic rights of the Sindhi people - reverberated in the halls of West Pakistan Assembly, the civil and military bureaucracy conspired to dissolve the assemblies and impose Martial Law in 1958.
It has become almost an unwritten convention of Pakistan that whenever the legitimate rights of people have to be denied, or whenever the crises have reached a stage where there is no alternative but to yield to popular demands, the establishment has conspired to create yet another alternative of the imposition of Martial Law.
With every such deviation, Pakistan has lost its credentials as a legitimate state in the modern sense. During each of the military takeovers, whatever may have happened to the socio-political status quo in the country, Sindh has been robbed of its resources, by overt and covert acts of the establishment.
During these periods of army rule, federal agencies have taken over lands on one pretext or another in the most fertile areas of Sindh and distributed them among military officers. Today, over a million acres have been allotted to senior and junior members of the armed forces mostly during the periods of military suzerainty. This tradition of usurpation is then adopted by the civil bureaucracy too for their advantage. It is on this account that we find large tracts of fertile farms in the names of families of civil and military bureaucrats.
The other consequence of military takeovers has been that the Sindhis have been deprived of employment opportunities even of petty jobs. Each officer posted in Sindh has to his credit at least four jobs for his relatives or "graeens" as they are called. During a recent survey carried out by an NGO, as against the rural Sindh quota of 11.5 per cent in the federal jobs, actual employment is about 3.72 per cent. This percentage must have reduced under the present dispensation because under the garb of right sizing or down-sizing under instructions of the federal government, more than sixty thousand Sindhis have lost their livelihood on one pretext or another.
One can go on and on counting the inequities done to Sindh and its people during the past five decades. But the most harrowing is the deprivation of water from the Indus river system.
It was again during a military rule that the Indus Basin Treaty was conceptualized and put into effect. Under the treaty Pakistan was to surrender three of its rivers to India in exchange for investment by the World Bank and other international donor institutions for the construction of Mangla and Tarbela dams as reservoirs. Sindh, being a lower riparian and the three rivers being tributaries of the main River Indus, it was apprehended that at some point in future when, due to climatic changes and silting of the reservoirs, the river water would become scarce, it would only be Sindh which would suffer the consequences. A number of seminars and rallies were held against the proposed treaty. It now appears that the apprehensions were true and what the Sindhi engineers had foreseen has come true. The present water crisis is a direct result of the surrender of available source of water of three rivers which contributed to the flow of the Indus. The new reservoirs acquired in exchange are the main source as arteries to the irrigation system of Punjab. The new canal system, derived from the new dams and reservoirs, gave an upper hand to Punjab. It being the upper riparian could easily divert and utilize the water which in fact was allocable to Sindh and Balochistan. This is exactly what has actually been happening.
The present crisis is having a far reaching effect on the minds of Sindhi people. The water accord of 1991 arrived at by a consensus of all the parties is being disregarded by Punjab and in spite of a decision to the contrary by IRSA or the federal government, water is released or diverted to Punjab at the cost of Sindh. Punjab also has a natural advantage of its ground water being sweet and potable while the ground water in Sindh is brackish and of no use for irrigation or drinking.
Thus the present crisis has resulted in almost complete destruction of the irrigation system in Sindh. All the crops sown in Sindh have the prospect of drying up without an ounce of produce. There is general sense of loss and helplessness. Newspapers show the bed of the mighty river Indus at Kotri as barren as the Thar Desert. There have been famine conditions in Thar and Kohistan for the last two years. Almost an identical prospect is apprehended all over the province.
There is a roar inside the hearts and minds of the people of Sindh. The sea of hopelessness is seething resulting in foaming wrath against whoever is or was even remotely connected with the governance of Sindh, past and present. It is not merely a separatist sentiment. It is a sentiment to seek survival. How they plan out and sublimate their wrath or the separatist sentiment is a phenomenon which cannot be avoided provided an honest, unbiased and objective analysis is made in historical perspective. Only an honest effort can avert the deja vu of break-up of the country in 1971.