Separation recorded

The Making of Exile: Sindhi Hindus and the Partition Of India
Nandita Bhavnani
Tranquebar2014,
pp 434
Rs 599

The prospect of leaving everything behind and migrating to another country, all in matter of days, is absolutely unfathomable for most of us born in post-independence India. It’s not just about moving en masse to another country, another culture, but finding your space in that country, which itself is going through a major metamorphosis.

Nandita Bhavnani’s book, The Making of Exile - Sindhi Hindus and the Partition of India, throws light on events that happened over 67 years ago in Sindh, now a prominent region in Pakistan. A book of this nature is never too late and is a must read not only for today’s Sindhi youngsters, but for everybody. It offers a reflective view into the lives of Sindhi Hindus who have gone through severe ups and downs in the last 70-odd years.

The Making of Exile... takes an in-depth look at Partition violence and the events that unfolded in Sindh region during the time of independence from Britain and the period that resulted in the traumatic Partition. It’s not about moving away, but leaving behind a comfortable life, a lifestyle, culture and heritage of the place people of Sindh have been used to. 

Even as communal violence was breaking out in Punjab, the other parts of North India, Bengal and Sindh were largely peaceful.  But the Karachi pogrom of January 6, 1948 changed things for Sindhi Hindus. The flood of migration of Sindhi Hindus, bulk of them to India and a small contingent to other countries, became unstoppable. And yet many Sindhi Hindus chose to stay back in Pakistan.

The book is a result of painstaking research into the history of Sindh during those years, interviews with Sindhis, both Hindus and Muslims in India and Pakistan, gleanings into writings, diary notes, press clippings etc. The Making of Exile... tells the story of Sindhis and Partition through three segments — the first segment looks at the lives of Sindhis before the Partition and the violence that visited the region. The second section is about the difficulties they faced as refugees settling down to a new life in India.

The third segment throws light on Sindhis who chose to stay back in Pakistan. The author of the book tells the story through accounts of people, through interviews and references to written matter throughout, which makes for interesting reading. And because the language is so lucid, the book is almost unputdownable. Even as the book is interspersed with narratives of real-life episodes, Bhavnani brings to the fore the changing political and cultural dynamics of a region that is going through cataclysmic changes. 

Communal violence came to Sindh late and in far more diminished ways than it did in other provinces such as Punjab and Bengal, Bhavnani says. Sindhi Hindus, she adds, were in an “agonising dilemma” whether or not to migrate to India. But the Karachi pogrom prompted hundreds of Sindhi Hindus to leave for India and other countries. A major reason why Sindhi Hindus chose to leave Pakistan was that, their social and political status had been eroded in a Muslim-majority country, Bhavnani asserts.

But In India, life as refugees was extremely tough for Sindhi Hindus. Crammed into refugee camps, inadequate supplies, poor-quality food, unhygienic surroundings, abysmal sanitary arrangements contributed immensely to the hardships of this community that had fairly comfortable lives in its erstwhile country. 

Bhavnani also speaks of the disillusionment that the community faced in India and of the lack of sympathy by the government and general public towards them. Over and above, they had to face “varying degrees of stigmatisation” even as they wasted no time in finding their space in the academic, professional and mercantile world. Through the narratives, Bhavnani also highlights their undying spirit, enterprise and determination in building a new life in a new country.

Many Sindhi Hindus chose to stay back in Pakistan. Many were too poor to migrate, some others were extremely wealthy and were held back by their vast property and some professionals such as doctors and lawyers stayed behind assured by their close friends among the Sindhi-Muslim elite. Sindhi Hindus who stayed back in Pakistan have now become an “invisible and negligible” minority and constantly face discrimination and violence, she points out.

Bhavnani was well ensconced in the world of finance as she was a qualified chartered accountant. But her desire to know more about the Sindhi culture prompted her to pursue an MA in anthropology and the result is this book, which provides an insight into the world of Sindhis then and now.

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