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Sindh and the Muhajir question - refugee rehabilitation in post-partition Pakistan

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Sindh and the Muhajir question - refugee rehabilitation in post-partition Pakistan
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  1 | Page   Pakistan and Modern South Asia Instructor: Dr Waleed Ziad Ethnic strife and the politics of rehabilitation  –   Sindh and the Muhajir question Mahnoor Khan mk03464 For the first time in human history, nation states came into being in the part of the world known as the Indian subcontinent when the British colonial apparatus, having sustained a serious blow to its administrative echelons after the Second World War, was left with no choice but to concede to the dismantling of its empire. The partition resulted in the largest cross-border migration known to man, with roughly 50 million people on each side leaving their ancestral homes overnight to depart for the other side of the border. This paper will be focusing specifically on the absorption of the modern province of Sindh into what had now become Pakistani territory, and the Sindhi-Muhajir rift that ensued as a newly-arrived Urdu-speaking  population gradually settled in the province. It will look critically at some of the most major challenges that arose as the Muhajir community looked to make Sindh their new home, and some of the ways in which the events of the first few years after the partition shaped the social,  political, and economic landscape of the region for the years to come. This paper attempts to examine this phenomenon of ethnic rivalry by placing it within the  broader context of the themes of displacement, identity formation, and nation-building. It starts  2 | Page   from the rehabilitation 1  efforts that sought to integrate the newly arrived Muhajir population into the province, and how the Muhajir community found their loyalty to the state being called into question as their “ second-class ” and “usurping” status (by virtue of them being the settler  population) was highlighted. It explores how the slow and steady inundation of individuals from an array of regional backgrounds into Sindh altered the demographic and sociopolitical contours of the province forever. The plethora of existing literature available on this subject makes it clear that this issue is multi-faceted, and so deserves a multi-pronged approach if we are to even begin to understand how inter-communal relations between the two parties developed over time. It is how we are able to stay true to the on-ground reality instead of falling for a reductionist narrative that paints this  phenomenon as a “clash”  between two communities that have remained hostile to each other owing to some irreconcilable qualities intrinsic to both groups. This paper will therefore draw on several scholarly works on the Sindhi versus Muhajir debacle; all of which attempt a study of the subject from various different angles, to try and illustrate the scope and magnitude of the issue. It is also in the interest of undertaking a holistic and impartial study of the subject that we take a range of scholarly viewpoints into account when trying to understand the rift between these two communities. If there is one thing that academics agree unanimously on when it comes to the partition, it is the mood and general climate that pervaded the atmosphere when the partition broke out. Fear and feelings of uncertainty with regards to what the future had in store gripped the citizens of the new country. This mood can be found documented in both non-fiction as well as fictional and 1  Sarah Ansari, Life After Partition: Migration, community and strife in Sindh, 1947-1962 (USA: Oxford University Press, 2005)  3 | Page   literary retellings of the partition. Saadat Hussain Manto’ s short stories, for instance, capture the frenzy and chaos of the cross-border migration most poignantly. 2  Amidst this climate of fear and anarchy, the arrival of a barrage of foreign, Urdu-speaking refugees only did more to fan the feelings of mistrust and paranoia that were running high during this time. It was often also the case that state-led efforts to rehabilitate the Muhajir population into their new homeland were not very well received, as they were often viewed as unwelcome encroachers on Sindhi land that would battle it out with the native inhabitants for a share from a pool of already limited resources. While it is true that en masse migration was not a phenomenon that remained restricted to only Sindh, scholars generally tend to concur that it unfolded with far more unease in Sindh than in other parts of the country; say, the Punjab. Sarah Ansari compares the resettlement of refugees in the Punjab with resettlement in Sindh, saying that the Punjab experienced a relatively smoother  phase of transition, given that the incoming migrants from East Punjab spoke the same language and shared the same traditions and cultural heritage. 3  The Muhajirs, however, found themselves at odds with their Sindhi compatriots in a variety of ways  –   they spoke a different language, they came from different places and were very much an eclectic polity, in that sense. They also happened to be from mostly urban backgrounds, which set them apart from many of the local Sindhis who lived and worked on feudal land. 4   2   SH Manto and Robert B. Haldane, “Toba Tek Singh”, Mahfil 6, no.2/3 (1970) https://www.jstor.org/stable/40874306  3  Salim, Ahmad . “ Partition of India: The Case of Sindh Migration, Violence and Peaceful Sindh ”   Sustainable Development Policy Institute, no.97 (2004):16 https://sdpi.org/publications/files/A-97.pdf   4  Ansari, Life After Partition, 74-75  4 | Page   Another reason why the Muhajir community became so concentrated in urban centres in Sindh, however, was because the Pakistani state made a concerted effort to rehabilitate the Urdu speaking refugees in Sindh. Refugees from East Punjab, meanwhile, were rehabilitated and given land in West Punjab (the part came into Pakistani ownership after the partition) in order to keep Punjab “ethnically and linguistically homogenous”. 5  Additionally, migration into West Punjab nearly came to a standstill after 1948, after which the bulk of the annual 100,000 refugees that continued to migrate to Pakistan made a beeline for Karachi and other urbanizing cities in Sindh, given that most Muhajir families came from business and commercial backgrounds and intended to get their businesses up and running in the towns. This created a burgeoning Urdu speaking  population in the province, one that found itself in dire need of rehabilitation. 6  Efforts by the government of Pakistan to provide rehabilitation and economic opportunities to the Muhajir population often did more to exacerbate rather than quell the communal divide. One example of this is how the reallocation of agricultural land to refugees from a farming  background  –   of which there were many  –   took place. Official estimates put the approximate number of rural refugees in West Pakistan at 4,622,000. 7  Some nine million acres of land evacuated by Hindu landowners was then surveyed by government officials for the purposes of  being used for refugee resettlement. However, the problem that soon arose was that the Muslim tenants who worked on and tilled the land, despite their feudal lords having left the new country, 5   Hamza Alavi. “Nationhood and the Nationalities in Pakistan”. Economic and Political Weekly  , Vol. 24, N/o. 27 (Jul. 8, 1989), pp. 1527-1534 https://www.jstor.org/stable/4395049  6   Mohammad Waseem. “Ethnic Conflict in Pakistan: The Case of MQM”. The Pakistan Development Review, Vol. 35, No. 4, Papers and Proceedings PART II Twelfth Annual General Meeting of the Pakistan Society of Development Economists Islamabad, December 14-16, 1996 (Winter 1996), pp. 617-629 https://www.jstor.org/stable/41259986  7  Ansari, Life After Partition, 82  5 | Page   did not take too kindly to their holdings being confiscated and allocated to the incoming refugees.  Naturally, the integration of a new population into the province, and their finding employment and economic opportunity meant that the Muhajirs were soon looking to make new political inroads and seek political representation for themselves. The Muslim League had several  branches within the province that Sarah Ansari notes “provided the arena where much of this competition took place”, and the province saw a jostling for political space between the Muhajir and Sindhi communities. 8  There is evidence that the state, on its part, tried on several occasions to help heal the communal divide by making repeated overtures to members of both communities. Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman, President of the All-Pakistan Muslim League, called on the refugees to adapt to the local way of life and respect the culture of the province, and simultaneously requested the Sindhi population to be sympathetic towards their neighbours’ plight.  Instructions were given to newspaper editors to downplay reports of communal violence, so as not to encourage fear and communal agitation, and plans were made for the creation of local level sub-committees where members of both communities could meet and resolve disputes civilly. The central government  began the publication of a fortnightly magazine by the name of  Nai Zindagi (New Life) in both Urdu and Sindhi, and the copies were made available free of cost. 9  Such calls for peace, however, did not always bear fruit, and there were occasional skirmishes and bouts of physical violence that erupted, such as the ones in Shikarpur and Sukkur in the 8  Ansari, Life After Partition, 87 9  Ansari, Life After Partition, 88-90
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