A flag-bearer of religious harmony

September 4, 2022

Interfaith harmony is flourishing in the Hindu stronghold of Tharparkar

A flag-bearer of religious harmony

Mourning ceremonies are held every year to commemorate the great sacrifices of the martyrs of Karbala all over the world, including Pakistan. Mukesh Kumar, a great devotee of the martyrs of Karbala observes Ashura with devotion and reverence. He says, "Karbala's is the greatest sacrifice in human history. Like millions of other mourners, we commemorate the tragedy of Karbala. The message of Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) is for all humanity. It is above religious and social divisions and differences."

Mukesh Kumar belongs to Tharparkar, a climate desert district of Sindh. The place is known for religious tolerance and peace. Irrespective of their religion and beliefs, Tharparkar residents have always respected each other's religious traditions, festivals and holy places.

Wearing black, 43-year-old Mukesh Kumar Lohana says that although he is a follower of the Sanatan Dharma (Hinduism), "I also follow the traditions of the mourners of Karbala." Lohana's family participates in mourning processions, commemorating the martyrs of Karbala. He also participates in majlais-i-‘iza, sina-zani and noha khawani. Mukesh and his colleagues organize a sabeel and niaz in Mithi, at Sadiq Faqir Chowk and the Siddiq Shah Dargah.

Tharpakar is home to the largest Hindu community in Pakistan. According to the 2017 census, the population of the district was 1.647 million, of which about 56 percent are Muslim and 44 percent Hindu.

Mukesh explains why they are serving fruit-based drinks at the sabeel. "It is healthy, and there is no plastic bottle waste." Mithi has four major imambargahs. Most of the Hindu mourners gather at Sha’b-i-Abu Talib, located near Mukesh's house in Khatri Mohalla.

He says that members of the Shia community and Hindu community of Tharparkar gather together at these imambargahs to participate in the mourning. This year, too, the mourners participated in large numbers.

Most of the Hindu mourners belong to the Lohana community but people from some other communities also join them.

Mukesh says that since the Meghwar, Kolhi, Bheel and other communities did not have access to temples or other places of worship in the past and were deliberately kept apart, they do not have much role in religious ceremonies. A long history of discrimination has made them reluctant. Even if some of them want to come, they are afraid that something undesirable might happen.

According to Mukesh, the commemoration tradition began in his family in 1973. His paternal grandfather, Sufi Mama Shivaram, a sufi fakir and dervish started it. Before getting attracted to sufism, Shivaram had had a business in Matli area of ​​Badin district.

Sufi Mama Shiva Ram was a follower of Hazrat Shah Abdul Karim Baldiwala. According to Kumar, there is also Karim Sarkar's gaddi (abode) in Mithi, where sufi and mystic gatherings are held.

Mukesh, born in 1980, was raised by his maternal grandparents, who adopted him at seven. He became a Hussaini, he says, upon getting inspired by a moving retelling of the story of Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) by his teacher at school. "From that day, my grandmother, I, my two sons, two daughters and wife have been devoted to Gham-i-Hussain."

He says, "our whole family donates blood every four months. During Muharram, all of us donate blood for medical camps."

A flag-bearer of religious harmony

Mukesh says, "we have had an atmosphere of religious harmony in Sindh, especially in Tharparkar, for centuries. Be it Diwali or Holi, Eid or Muharram, we all share in each other's joys and sorrows; there is no hatred."

Mukesh Kumar has reserved a large room in his house for shabih-i-Zuljinnah care. He has spent over Rs 300,000 on the room and hired a servant, who is paid Rs 10,000 a month to look after the horse. When the shabih at Buldi Shah Karim Dargah passed, Mukesh gifted the one under his care at the request of the gaddi nashin. "We gifted a shabih-i-Zuljinnah 35 years ago, too," he says.

Mukesh Kumar is a lawyer turned businessman. He did his LLM from Mirpurkhas Law Campus and is a member of the Mirpurkhas Bar.

Mukesh says, "we have had an atmosphere of religious harmony in Sindh, especially in Tharparkar, for centuries. Be it Diwali or Holi, Eid or Muharram, we all share in each other's joys and sorrows; there is no hatred."

"But during Muharram, we observe gham-i-Hussain based on our belief."

Apart from Tharparkar, the neighbouring districts of Umarkot and Badin hold mourning processions on the Ashura day, in which a large number of Hindus also participate.

Allama Masood Jamal, a renowned religious scholar based in Hyderabad, says that "given the situation, it is the responsibility of all our Muslim brothers to take care of the rights of the religious minorities of the country and give them ample space to perform their religious rites." Allama Jamal has also been associated with the Progressive Writers' Association of Sindh.

Allama Jamal says the state should be secular and play its role in promoting secular traditions. He says that "religious harmony cannot thrive without state's support."

He also desires the propagation of the sufi thought to maintain harmony. "There is a need to popularise the philosophy of the great sufi poet Hazrat Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai and Shah Inayat Shaheed." Jamal warns that "if we do not promote these traditions, the coming generations will only read about religious harmony and tolerance in some books."

Bhitai, the great sufi poet from 16th Century Sindh, has shed light on the significance of the martyrs of Karbala.

Chander Valasai, a young poet from Naukot, Tharparkar, says that Shah Bhitai was a great philosopher and poet. "Regarding Muharram, Shah sain has written a whole chapter called Kadaro," he says.

Chander says that Bhitai has described the Karbala saga on a wide canvas. "The way Latif sain has incorporated the events of the Karbala tragedy into his poetry, it is like seeing those scenes unfold in front of our eyes. It is a truly soulful depiction."

Chander Valasai says, "Latif sain says in one poem that when the brave soldiers landed in the field of Karbala, the earth trembled, the sky thundered, it was not an ordinary battle. It was the charisma of a master." According to Chander, "Shah sain writes that they were brave people who fought against the Yazidi tyranny. They did not accept slavery, but with great bravery and wisdom, they fought against exploitation and made great sacrifices." Khalifa Nabi Bakhsh, another poet, has also written a detailed poem on Kadaro, i.e., the incidents of Karbala.

People like Mukesh Kumar are setting important examples for the community. They are among the few doing their bit to maintain religious tolerance and harmony.

The writer is a Hyderabad-based journalist. He has been writing on climate change, wildlife and marginalised communities for over a decade

A flag-bearer of religious harmony