Sunday April 14, 2024

Sindh’s changing history

By Mubarak Ali
November 05, 2018

The history of any society doesn’t remain static, but changes as a result of internal and external pressures. When a nation is invaded by foreign powers and defeated, its political, social and economic structures change to enable the invaders to hold political domination.

In case of the permanent presence of the conqueror, the impact of colonisation is deeper, and alters the customs, traditions and daily life of the vanquished. In case of a revolution, it erases the memories of the past and inaugurates a new era with a fresh vision to rebuild society. The impact of an invasion and a revolution can be assessed after some time when sources of history are available. We are now in a position to analyse and judge the consequences of three important periods that have impacted Sindh’s history.

The first important event is the Arab conquest in 711-12 when Sindh became part of the Umayyad Empire. As a result, many Sindhi tribes converted to Islam, which divided society between the followers of two religions. The population of Muslims increased in Sindh owing to a large number of conversions that took place and the arrival of traders, religious scholars and soldiers from Arab countries. The new arrivals retained their ethnic identity in order to distinguish themselves from the local population and aligned their support to the Arab ruling classes. Even today, the Sayyeds, Qureshis, Ansaris and other tribes in Sindh that trace their origins outside the province are proud of their ethnicity and identity.

In the ninth and tenth centuries, Ismaili missionaries arrived in Sindh to persuade people to follow their sect. These missionaries assimilated themselves into the local culture and successfully converted a large number of people. The history of the Ismaili sect in Sindh is thoroughly researched by G N Allana in his book titled ‘The Ismailis in Sindh’.

The last Arab dynasty that ruled Sindh was the Habbari Dynasty (841-1024) and its capital was Mansura, which is situated near modern-day Sanghar. It was destroyed by the armies of Mahmud of Ghazni (971-1030). This put an end to Arab rule in Sindh and local Sindhi dynasties came to power soon after. However, the impact of Arab rule can be traced even today in terms of the language, habits, customs and rituals in Sindh’s people.

The second important period was the British conquest of Sindh in 1843, which ended the Talpur rule (1783-1843) and brought Sindh under British control. Administratively, it was affiliated with the Bombay Presidency. Sindh once again lost its separate identity. The result of British colonisation was the emergence of Hindu traders and merchants, especially those from Shikarpur and Hyderabad who took advantage of being British subjects and established their businesses in the British colonies of Asia and Africa, and other countries, like Russia and China, where they could earn profit.

When these merchants brought back their wealth to Sindh, they rebuilt the cities of Sindh along modern lines, establishing educational institutions, clubs, public halls, libraries, and gardens. Consequently, an educated Hindu middle class emerged that promoted Sindhi culture. The Sindh Historical Society was established and scholars were involved in research to rediscover the important aspects of the past. The government introduced the Sindhi script, which facilitated the publication of newspapers, magazines and literary books.

During British rule, Karachi emerged as a business city that attracted business-oriented communities such as Ismailis, Bohras, Memons, Parsis and Anglo Indians who made it a model city in the Subcontinent. Sindh’s cities became economically and culturally prosperous, even though a majority of people lived in small towns and villages that lagged far behind because of the feudal system.

The British government preserved the influence of feudal lords and sajjada nashins (hereditary administrators) in order to control the local population. Consequently, Sindh was divided culturally into two sectors – urban and rural – and both developed their own distinct cultural values.

The third period began with Partition in 1947. This event deeply affected the social, economic and cultural conditions in Sindh. Before Partition, there were no communal conflicts between Muslims and Hindus in Sindh. But the riots at Manzilgah Mosque in Sukkur created a sense of fear among the Hindu community. The Hindu urban middle class unanimously decided to migrate to India after Partition. Cultural activities in Sindh were greatly impacted by the absence of the Hindu community. This vacuum was filled by new migrants from across the border who brought with them new languages and cultural values, and a unique sense of history. Most of them settled in cities and Sindh was once again divided into urban and rural belts on the basis of new social structures.

The new arrivals in Sindh created a dilemma for Sindhi-speaking people. Many of them were concerned about how they would preserve their language, history and cultural traditions. Sindhi nationalism emerged to face these challenges and preserve the Sindhi identity. This form of nationalism gave the feudal class and the sajjada nashins the opportunity to assume positions of leadership and become the champions of the Sindhi cause. As a result, the problems of the people stand unresolved.

The writer is a veteran historian and scholar.