Sindhi nationalism through the kaleidoscope of history

A research article by Zulfiqar Shah in daily The News, Karachi, 2009
Map of Sindh in 1843 before it was occupied by British as a sovereign  country.  Map designed by Arsalan Kazi

The history of Sindhi nationalism is basically a history of resistance movements and wars fought against foreign invasions across the centuries. Modern Sindhi nationalism, however, begins with the resistance against the British in the mid-nineteenth century. The entire movement can be divided into two parts: pre- and post-Partition.

1842 – 1900: The Talpurs' war and the Hur Guerrilla Movement
The pre-Partition wave begins with the Talpurs' war in 1842. This period, due to its characteristics, can be referred to as the 'early resistance' period (1842-1900), in which Sindh was conquered by Charles Napier at Miani near Hyderabad in March 1943 and annexed with the Bombay presidency. Insurgencies, however, immediately dominated the scene, beginning with uprising of Ranas under Karan Singh on April 15, 1859, in Tharparkar, a south-eastern desert district. Hundreds of fighters lost their lives in this insurgency, which was followed by mutiny in the army in Mirpurkhas and Karachi.

A severe blow to the British rule in Sindh, however, was given by first Hur Guerrilla Movement in 1890 under the leadership of Syed Mardan Shah, the grandfather of Pakistan Muslim League-Functional (PML-F) chief Pir Pagaro. Hundreds of fighters took part in this war, which continued for no less than a decade. Three main participants of this phase of the movement, however, caught the public eye. They were Bachu Badshah, Peeru Vazir and Gulu Government.

1900 – 1940: Socio-economic transformations and the rise of feudalism
The British, after conquering Sindh, patronised feudalism by offering an enormous number of fertile agriculture lands to individuals who pledged loyalty to the new Colonial rulers. A new phase of socio-economic development began, which can be identified as a transitional period (1900-1940).

Three quarters of the population comprised Muslims, while the remaining were Hindu. The majority of Hindus, traditionally, were shopkeepers, traders and professionals living in the urban hubs, while the Muslims remained landowners, tillers and herdsmen living in small villages, hamlets and remote huts. At the time of the British conquest only one million acres of land were irrigated. The population of Sindh was about 1.4 million, with about 25 per cent Hindus.

The British transformed Sindh from medieval to modern through changes in the infrastructure, communication, education and the system of governance. Sindh was separated from Bombay and the Sindh Legislative Assembly was established in Karachi later in the 1930s. During this, Sindh supported the formation process of the Indian National Army under Subhash Chandra Bose and some young Sindhis also carried out some militant activities, which included blasts at several railway tracks. They were also involved in well-known bomb blasts in Delhi at the time.

1941 – 1943: The Hurs re-emerge
The second Hur Guerrilla Warfare period began in early 1941, under Sibghatullah Shah, the father of PML-F chief, Pir Pagaro. An area of about 25,000 square kilometres was converted into a battleground between the guerrillas and the British forces. To counter this, some 35,000 troops from the Baloch and Punjab regiments were installed in Sindh. Heavy artillery was also used, and eventually the first Martial Law in the history of the subcontinent was imposed in Sindh.

Post-Partition: Exodus of the middle class and the emergence of 'cultural nationalism'
Sindh fought for its liberation for a hundred years, from 1843 to 1943. The partition of United India and the creation of Pakistan, however, was partially the result of the G.M Syed-led polity in Sindh from 1943 to 1947. Syed later disowned this.

The creation of Pakistan, in its very beginning proved to be initiation of a new devastation in the social and national tranquillity of Sindh. An exodus of Sindhi Hindus from the province created a vacuum in society because they formed the sole petty-bourgeois and bourgeois classes of Sindh. The space left by them was occupied by immigrants from India who had a different culture and language and could not merge with Sindhi society as perfectly as was aspired by the leadership of the Muslim League Sindh. Besides, Karachi was separated from Sindh and was given to the federal government as the capital of the country.

In 1954, the One Unit scheme was introduced to counter the numerical majority of East Pakistan. This laid the foundation of the destruction of Sindhi culture and gave Punjab the authority over the natural resources of the province. Between 1947 and 1970, Sindhi nationalism, sans the middle class, adopted the form of cultural nationalism.

1970 - 1990s: Z.A Bhutto, MRD, and nationalist resistance to military rule
It was Z.A Bhutto, the founder and first chairman of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), who began transformation of Sindhi society by developing its middle class, this laying the foundations for social transition in Sindh. This undoubtedly influenced the Sindhi nationalist movement in form as well as content. After Bhutto's execution, Sindh entered a decade-long resistance against the military; causing hundreds of civil and military causalities. In its essence, the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) in Sindh was a nationalist resistance rather than a movement for democracy.

Soon after General Ziaul Haq's death, the PPP came into power again, opening the corridors of opportunities for the people of Sindh, including the recently-born middle class, political cadres, and others. Thus, nationalist tendencies in Sindhi society become relatively milder than earlier. Contrary to this, the picture changed entirely during the regime of General (retd) Pervez Musharraf.

December 27, 2007: The tide turns
After the murder of PPP Chairperson (and daughter of PPP founder Z.A Bhutto) Benazir Bhutto, nationalist tendencies in Sindh achieved mass outlook. A manifestation of this was witnessed during the first three days of her murder (she was assassinated in Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007).

As soon as the current PPP government completes its tenure, the new boom in Sindhi nationalism will become more visible. In the future course, it may take the Urdu-speaking community as a major ally. In fact, a new definition of contemporary Sindhi nationalism by cobbling together two linguistic parts -- Sindhi and Urdu -- can provide the foundation of a new form of Sindhi nationalism.

Published in Daily The News, Karachi on June 14, 2009

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