Pakistan’s forgotten civilization | DW Documentary
Who is a Sindhi? This is a question I ask myself. In my dreams the answer is always, anyone who wants to be. Anyone who lives there. Anyone who loves Sindh, and understands the message of Sindh.
It's not just someone who speaks Sindhi. It's someone who loves Sindh. And understands the principle that nothing will divide us. Not even religion. It's our duty to be your brother. Or your sister. My duty to stand by you. To welcome you. To protect you. To me, this is a Sindhi.
It's not about us being better than them. Or them being better than us. This whole journey, in my view is a journey of the soul. To create the breath of a new soul in humanity. Because our Sindhu civilisation has taught peace, love and friendship to the world. We want to give that lesson in the new century as well.
In my view, what we inherit from our ancestors, whether it's from our immediate parents or some of their elders... The importance of a heritage of thousands of years... If you want to know who you are... you have to go back to the history of your ancestors. The story of the Sindhi people, begins on the banks of the mighty Indus River.
To start with, you have the Indus Valley civilisation, which was at its peak from 2600-1900 BCE. That gave rise to the first cities in the Indian subcontinent. Which were Mohenjo-daro and Harappa. By far, Mohenjo-daro is the largest Bronze age urban settlement in the world. The population in this widely spread town might have been more than 80,000 people living at one point in time. In Mesopotamia you have the huge palaces.
Here you cannot find such differentiation. Here you cannot find that this is the elite class culture, and this is the poor class neighbourhoods, no. Secularism seems to be flourishing.
And there is a possibility that the citizenry in itself had some sort of mechanism where the management does not require the huge powerful kings to be there to resolve the issues. The people who live by the river Indus are Sindhis. It was not such a racial identification. People belonging to this particular race are Sindhi. It is identification with the river. As time flows on through the centuries, the layering of identities becomes more complex.
Then you have various different Muslim dynasties ruling Sindh over the centuries. Different Muslim tribes will say... “Oh, our ancestors converted in the 13th Century."
Or the 15th Century, which means what? They were non-Muslim before that. They would have been Hindu, or Buddhist, or Jain. But, these other religions were allowed to continue while the Arabs were still ruling Sindh. As time rolls on towards the present, the shifts in Sindh only become more dramatic. The arrival of British rule in Sindh was a major game changer.
They conquered Sindh in 1843 and they left in 1947. The British brought with them many changes. Some good, some bad. But they completely transformed Sindh... in the hundred years or so that they ruled Sindh. Until then Hindus...
They were merchants, money lenders and shop keepers. In the colonial regime the Hindus came to the forefront in Sindhi society. They were able to own land, they had a strong position in the... Bureaucracy, education, judiciary. So they began to dominate Sindhi society in some ways. The Sindhi Muslims, like Muslims in other parts of undivided India, were not so quick to take to Western education, to the English language, to Western ways.
So they lagged behind. This brought about a new kind of friction between Hindus and Muslims in Sindh. Why partition happened is not so easy to explain, but officially Pakistan was brought into existence on the basis of the “two nation theory”. That on the Indian subcontinent there are Hindus and there are Muslims, and the two cannot live together. There are various theories about how the British ruled India, and did they really want to create a division between Hindus and Muslims. Well of course it does makes sense, because if you have people who are competing with each other then they will not fight you.
And so, yes, the British did have an incentive to divide and rule. However, that was I would say 25% of the reason why the two communities ultimately separated. The more important reason was that the political leadership on both sides was able to exploit the fact that the jobs were primarily for Hindus, and very few for Muslims. Until the time of partition, Sindh was quite peaceful.
Hindus and Muslims were living in peace and harmony. There was no conflict. But when the Muslim migrants who came from other parts of the Indian subcontinent, who felt deprived of their belongings, of their land. When they arrived in Sindh, they already had lot of history of hostility. Acrimony, bitterness. So that created come some sort of stress and tension in the Sindh province which led to the exodus of Sindhi people.
I dressed like a Muslim in a burqa. When the train started to move, I realised: "Oh, there's no one from my family here." I thought to myself, what has happened? Why did this happen? Why am I going all alone? Those three days were very difficult for me.
It felt like thirty years. After those three days, I reached Bombay. I was 15 when I came here, so I've probably lived here 66 years. I even came alone, in a ship. They told me to go, so I said okay.
I thought they meant just to visit, but soon realised they meant for me to get married. When we came here these barracks were in terrible condition, there were no roads. Back then I was really scared.
We lived in big halls with strangers passing by in the street. There was only a curtain and us sleeping inside. Ulhasnagar was completely barren. Broken roads. No construction. Then everybody was arriving at the barracks. Nowadays nobody talks about these things, they just say: "We came from Pakistan but we don't know where. Once we came here, we stayed."
The migration that happened in 1947, when one million of the population migrated. Sindh faced a huge social upheaval. They were the businessman, they were the professors, they were the doctors, they were the civil servants. We know that whenever there is a vacuum... Someone has to fill that vacuum. So that vacuum was filled by the Muslims migrants, coming from other parts of India.
It created social unrest also, ethnic unrest in the Sindh province, because suddenly... Sindhis... one fine morning when they woke up they realised that they are in the minority now, ethnically. Because the majority of the population in their province, doesn't speak Sindhi. In human history, religion has been a very divisive force. And it is true for South Asia as well.
Pakistan was created on the basis of religious identity. If you are a Muslim you will want to go to Pakistan, If you are Hindu you will stay in India. And because it was created in the name of Islam, naturally Islam became the currency of power. This wasn’t so prominent earlier on. So, let's say, between 1947 and roughly until the 1970s, you had a fairly cosmopolitan society.
So where I grew up, Karachi, Karachi had all sorts of people. They lived side by side. But over time, religion began to assert itself.
Particularly at the time of General Zia ul Haq. So that was between 1977 until 1988. Pakistan was redefined by General Zia. Redefined not as a Muslim state but as an Islamic state.
By establishing some of these severe punishments, one of the basic aims was... To establish authority, and to make them feel... That if they do something wrong they will be punished, and they will be punished severely. It took a generation. A generation which was tutored, educated into... Orthodoxy. And so fundamentally Pakistani society was turned around.
And it was done so principally through the use of education. Now, Sindh is relatively tolerant of Hindus. In institutions in Karachi for example, or Hyderabad, you will find many Sindhi students who are Hindu, who know that they are a minority. And yet would not like to leave the country. There are, among the poor Hindus... Lots who would like to leave the country.
Especially because they don’t feel secure anymore, now that the state has... shown indifference in protecting them. When you say... I will not remain a slave to anyone else. You start your rebellion and you start to live like a free man. Just like my example. From the early seventies. I left my home in 8th class.
To fight for the equality of humanity. Fight for the liberation of the Sindh. I had the dream that... We have to create a liberated society. I was an activist of the Jiye Sindh student federation. So when General Zia ul Huq came in power... He crushed the Sindhi Nationalist movement and the progressive movement.
I was the leader behind the scene. Because of being Hindu, my friends always advised me: “You should not come on the front.” There was a new prison in the making. They turned it into a torture camp.
All active workers of the Jiye Sindh student federation were tortured there. We went through the pain and the agony of surrendering. When I came out I wrote my first writing... I learned to write through the tortures. This house is like our heritage. It is the place that brings us all together. Meaning without roots, you become rootless.
We were sitting in discussion upstairs when we decided to use this house as the main office for the cultural organisation. There was a slogan that I used for our first festival: "Come, let's make our homes and our villages beautiful, our cities and our Sindh beautiful, and so make our world beautiful." We organised a medical camp, opened a library, organised an event on educational awareness. In a further sense, freedom and prosperity are our goals for the whole of humanity. It's a police mobile for your security. We have informed the home security, So they have provided the security.
We are confident that Sindh is peaceful. So nothing will happen... It's our first experience of hosting any foreigners... especially at our homes Karachi, Hyderabad, Larkana.
You will be shocked to learn that there is no middle school for the girls. Here girls can study only up to 5th class. Prosperity it is not possible without girl's education. So here we want to make this village as a model village. Where all kids, especially girls should be educated. Up to university level, the highest level.
To the present day our ideals of communism are not from soviet communism. We took Soviet communism's economic model, but we have always thought that when we finally free Sindh we could create a more humanist and democratic communist system. Another important part of our ideology was that the traditional democracy of the local councils, where women are now being excluded, today you look at any such councils and they are all male dominated. But if you look at the original system, both women and elders were involved in making decisions. This whole feudal system never existed before the British rule in Sindh.
I am a born Sindhi. I’ve known that I have been Sindhi all my life. I've spoken the language, and everything. But never really embraced all of that, never really taken the time.
Understanding where we are coming from. Understanding what's our future. Understanding what's happening now. My father was always making these political cartoons. I told him once...
Can you not do it? Can you think about ourselves here also... Maybe I should not have said it, but I was young and I was scared... And I didn't want my parents to be taken away. It's happened so many times. With our own circle of people, with the circle my parents are in.
Either they were brought back, or they were never brought back, they were just killed. I think I always had that fear, of having to think my parents would go through something like that. My first performance was when I was 8 years old. Everyone always said, "yes she has got the grace, but... she doesn't give any expression." I was always afraid of people making fun of me for being expressive. But then my mother started telling me, there is no dance without that, you have to open yourself up...
you have to really feel, and you have to trust the audience. When I watch Suhaee dance, I don't see just one soul dancing, but all of Sindh dancing through her. What happens with dance for me, is that I can take my emotions with me... And staying on it, like staying strong and not giving up, and I can create something out of it.
While in the past Hindus and Muslims have lived together side by side... It is a very recent issue in Sindh, but... Sometimes... Girls are forced, or even boys, forced to convert to Islam. Are you all getting angry with me? Am I saying something wrong? I am not against any religion.
I just don't understand why someone should be forced to another religion. I met the family of a young, twelve-year-old girl. Very poor. They hardly have anything. I am not a politician. I don't make laws. But it's my culture and it affects me. It affects me deeply. I am Muslim, and I am going to be a Muslim...
But I don't want other people to be forced to do something. Just imagine how the mother slept in the night, with her child. In her arms.
She was thinking that she would get tomatoes thrown at her, or people would be offended. But the opposite happened. Because people are ready to accept this. All our Sufi Saints have always tried to teach us...
That we are all equal. Sindh is the land of Sufism, and we used to claim with pride that these cases never happened in Sindh. These cases usually involve the lower class. And so their voices are not heard, like Chandri's example. There are others too. They suffer the worst kind of injustice.
And they also suffer forceful conversion more. There is no question of love. They are actually taken away and converted. And this only started in the last 10 to 15 years. Are you Chandri's mother? Yes. I felt very sad to hear this. Yes, me too. My little girl is gone.
What is your name? My name is Raazu. Raazu? I'm Suhaee. And now what can we do? Wouldn't we feel sad for our girl who would play, work. I'm so sad. She was absolutely fine and healthy. Now it feels as though she's dead.
She was my only support, and now I'm losing my mind. She was taken from just there. She was sleeping next to my bed. When I came home everyone was still asleep, and then I woke them up. They were acting strange as if they had been drugged. Then I thought I would wake up my eldest and ask her to make some tea. But she wasn't in bed.
Then we went crazy looking for her, but she was already gone. No neighbours noticed when she was being kidnapped? They knew, but they're Muslims too. There are only two Hindu houses here. So Chandri still hasn’t been to court? Yes, and she came and gave her statement. What did she say? Nothing. She said "this is my right".
But of course they threatened her, holding guns and telling her what to say. Before converting an innocent child to Islam, ask her parents if they agree, then convert her. I'll pray a lot that Chandri is returned. We hope to God she does. We must get justice and our rights. Absolutely. Justice should be for everybody.
For poor people, Hindus, Muslims, anyone. Everyone should have their rights. They did this horrible, unjust thing to us.
There has been a trend in Sindh, to take young girls from Hindu families... and convert them to Islam. And this is something that the Pakistani state, has done very little to protect the Hindus from. As a Sindhi I feel very sad to see what is happening all around, in Sindh.
It used to be a very liberal, tolerant, pluralistic place. It’s become different ever since this massive petro-dollar funded Islamisation has come about. But then by the same token I've heard that there is an area, where the Hindu fundamentalists are pushing for prominence. We were doing well when religion was left to the people.
It was between people and god. And now I feel there is this organisational element. There are agendas, and that's hurting us. It’s dividing us. And it’s making us suspicious of each other.
Now the Hindu community feels itself under threat. Now, even among Muslims... Those who are Shia, they try to hide their identities. And I see it as direct consequence of the large number of... Madrassas that have come about over there. Also what is taught in schools all over the country.
Which is extreme nationalism and the hard form of Islam. We are at a rice mill right now. There's a bunch of people from here who have gone to the Kalander Shrine in Sehwan. He's a Sufi saint that people really follow. Especially Sindhis. They go there, they sing, they dance. They believe in this Sufi saint. We arrived at Sehwan at sunset.
I remember that we had just entered the shrine. I don't recall if we had lifted our hands for the prayer when the blast happened. The blast was so powerful that it broke my ear drums and they bled for three days after that. Now I only hear from one ear.
We only went to pay respects to our saint. To show our love with prayer. Ninety six people were killed, and three hundred and sixty were injured. That's how many people we were at the shrine. The blast happened inside, that's why we survived.
Those in front of us were killed, and we at the back were injured. This man's father was killed that night. He was our colleague here, and visited Sehwan every year with us. How long have you lived in this house? I was born here. You were born here? This is my house and my wife.
How are you, well? Sindh is everything to me, and more than enough. In all of Pakistan there is no land like Sindh. There's no people like the Sindhis, as hospitable as Sindhis. As you say there is so much hospitality and love in our Sindh.
Do you think bombings like this one could affect the culture or traditions of Sindh? No matter what they do, all of Sindh is blessed by God. How many more can these cruel people kill? Has anyone stopped going to Sehwan? Go and see for yourself how crowded Sehwan is. Are we all afraid and never going to go to Sehwan again? They can kill us if they want. There's no distinction between people there? Social class, religion, don't they matter? No no no. You're Muslim, you're Hindu, no. We will live together and eat together. You see?
Sufism is the phenomenon of mysticism within Islam. Sindh is known for the enormous number of saints and mystics who preached peace and brotherhood. According to some scholars the original torchbearer of Sufism in Sindh was the thirteenth century saint Usman Marvandi. Also known as Lal Shahbaz Kalandar. At least one hundred people were killed, after a suicide bomber attacked Lal Shahbaz Kalander’s Shrine...
in Sehwan in Southern Pakistan on Thursday. The attacker appeared to have targeted the women’s wing of the shrine, and around thirty children accompanying their mothers were also killed in the blast that ripped through the shrine. The high death toll at the shrine makes it one of the worst attacks in Pakistan in recent years.
I'm trying to imagine what happened. It's beautiful that these people still keep coming. Nobody has any fear. Sufism is the intention to go towards the truth by means of love and devotion.
Sindh in rich in spirituality, and I don't mean that in a religious way. I mean what your values and history are connected with the emotion of being connected with your heritage. Another important factor in terms of our cultural identity is Bhittai. Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai.
Sufi philosopher, scholar, mystic, and saint. His poetry speaks of love, religious tolerance, and humanistic values. In the Sindhi culture we have a message, that was given to us through Bhittai's poetry. Oh Allah, may you ever on Sindh bestow abundance rare, beloved. All the world let share the grace, and fruitful be. Latif prays to Allah for the wellness of the entire world and the wellness of our Sindh.
Our Sindh lives long and so does the world. So in this way, Sindhi civilisation and culture transmits a message to the world, that our people always desire to live in peace. Sindhis got spread all over the world after the partitions. But, most of the Sindhis got migrated here. So initially there were the military camps, as far as I know. Then gradually it got developed into the legit city.
Some way or another, everybody has a connection with someone in Ulhasnagar. Ulhasnagar is also know as the Sindhunagar, after the name Sindhi. I had this dream of connecting Sindhis who have got bifurcated after the partition.
So I had this passion of making comedy videos and to make people laugh. So I thought of trying something in Sindhi, so I started making videos that got popularly viral on WhatsApp. So I thought, what can be the better way than this? Let’s make some comedy videos. Let’s get all Sindhis united on a page on my channel.
And within the first few months... With the analytics that I got from YouTube or FaceBook or Google. Sindhis from 180 countries viewed those videos. And I’ve heard that children of two, three years’ age have started speaking Sindhi. Those children who never thought of speaking, and they never heard this language from their mother or father. From the videos they have started learning, and I think it’s a great thing that has happened within the community.
After India, the most viewership that I get is from Pakistan. And the majority of the viewers are Muslim Sindhis. I don't find any difference between Hindu or Muslim.
It's all just perspective. This is all just a human created bifurcation. I think so. That's the dream, to go to Sindh.
It's a place that I have seen only in my dreams. I would love to be there, and love to touch the soil of the Sindh. Language and culture are like the flowing river.
We cannot lock them up forcefully in chains for ourselves. Everyone will go with their own flow. If they can they will, Sindhi language has the strength that will keep it going for centuries. Now there is a challenge for traditional societies like Sindhis. Will our culture be eliminated? Will we lose our language, and start speaking one universal language? Will we lose our centuries’ old heritage? I have no answers to it.
Of course we cannot isolate ourselves and close the society. This is not what is the way forward. We have to continue to contribute in the global evolution. If there is more people-to-people interaction, when we leave our culture, we see other cultures.
I think it helps us realise and celebrate our differences. We have two major religions, Islam and Hinduism. In this shrine, on one side of the wall is the mosque, and on the other side is a temple.
They unite here, showing whatever religion someone belongs to... That's for our satisfaction, but we all must live with love. You are free to be a Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist or Sikh here. It is your choice. But be here with peace and love. Every person works for personal interest. But you have a choice, when you get consciousness.
Then you have to decide, you have to live for your own self, or for whole human life's self. There's a lot of work to be done. By Sindhis, for Sindh. No one else is going to do it.
You can speak to so many Sindhis, and they will say, “No, the Hindu is as much my brother, the Sikh is as much my brother, as the Muslim." Because we are children of the same land, of the same river, of the same earth. So, I think that awareness, it's not so easy to kick that out of us. In Sha Allah. One thing that I thought Sindhi people are still much more conservative, and I think that's something that changed for me. I felt like there was much more Islamisation than I saw.
And I think that really opened my heart towards Sindh. When you drive a few miles towards India, you see that it is essentially one country. And you can keep going as far as Delhi to see that they all have a common history. In an age where nationalism and religion is once again asserting itself, it's very very important for every person to recognise others as humans, and not as belonging to this country, this region, or this religion.
We need to move on also. We need to welcome other things. And try to keep your tradition and your culture at the same time. Learning to live with each other. While you keep what you have. You never know what you'll get out of a journey until it's done.
And maybe a journey is never ending.