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RSS and Sindhi Hindus

RSS and Sindhi Hindus RITA KOTHARI This is in response to Anand Chandavarkar


documented and the effects of this organisation upon an otherwise syncretic cultural

RSS and Sindhi Hindus

subjectivity of the Sindhi Hindus. The


his is in response to Anand Chandavarkar’s article ‘The Untold Betrayal of Sindhi Hindus’ (November 25, 2006), a response to my essay ‘RSS in Sindh: 1942-48’ (July 8, 2006).

At the outset let me clarify that I come from a Sindhi Hindu family and I have witnessed indirectly the vicissitudes of Partition – heard stories about my father selling fruits on pavements and sweets in trains. I have heard from my uncles how they left Karachi dressed in Jinnah coats and caps to avoid suspicion. Similarly, I have listened to the woes of resettlement that Sindhi Hindus went through after coming to India. Deprived of both linguistic and territorial support, they became a fragmented people. All this, and the effects of losing Sindh to Pakistan form the content of my book The Burden of Refuge: Sindhi Hindus of Gujarat (Orient Longman, New Delhi, forthcoming).

As an insider, I am acutely aware of the scarred history of the Sindhi Hindus. However, it is also as an insider that I wish to lament some of the loss of religious syncreticism, especially in the post-Partition generations. Therefore, when I accidentally discovered the grip of the RSS on the memories of the migrant generation, and some of its effects upon the subsequent generation, I shared this discovery with the EPW readers. My intimacy with the community (which strangely Chandavarkar has simply not noticed) makes me see their plight, and also aspects of their lives which are perhaps hidden to an outsider’s gaze. I believe that the polarisation of identities in Sindh (that were hitherto fuzzy) was concretised for the Sindhi Muslims through the Muslim League and for the Sindhi Hindus through the RSS. The events preceding and surrounding this polarisation have been discussed in an earlier article [Kothari 2004]. The essay Chandavarkar has responded to builds up on it, but also stands as an independent piece because it aims to capture through peoples’ voices a moment in history, hitherto unrecorded and undiscussed in academia. It is something of a tragicomic irony that Chandavarkar accuses me of being oblivious and insensitive to the Sindhis. Now to address some of the specific charges levelled by Chandavarkar.

One of the crucial academic charges Chandavarkar levels at the article is to do with my use of oral evidence in order to draw “robust inferences” ( p 4918). I wish to draw Chandavarkar’s attention to the section ‘The RSS in Personal History’ (pp 3007-08) where the tentativeness of the inferences and argument are repeatedly underscored with qualification like “Some figures are indicative, but perhaps they should be understood to point a tendency rather than a trend” (p 3008) and K R Malkani’s claim as “generous” or “excessive” (p 3008) or the reference to “nugget of memories” (p 3008). Thus at every step the subjective and provisional nature of oral testimonies have been highlighted and contextualised. As a result, none of the inferences is likely to be “robust”. Furthermore, oral testimony in this article in no instance stands on its own. It is constantly being supplemented with written and published documents. However, if Chandavarkar distrusts oral testimonies as legitimate sources of evidence, or seeks to quantify the representativeness of peoples’ voices, I can only ask him what he makes of Urvashi Butalia’s The Other Side of Silence (Penguin, 1998), Ritu Menon and Kamala Bhasin’s Borders and Boundaries (Kali for Women, 1998, rpt 2004), Gyan Pandey’s Remembering Partition (Cambridge University Press, 2001) or Arnold and Blackburn (eds), Telling Lives in India (Permanent Black, 2004).

Chandavarkar’s vision of a battle between satan and angel Gabriel is mystifying to say the least. My article focuses upon just one community, the Sindhi Hindus. The Muslim Sindhi is absent from my discussion. This is to concentrate my focus on the development of an organisation in a region that has never been absence of the Muslim is unfortunately being construed as my “secular fundamentalism” (p 4918) in the interests of which he claims I cite or withhold evidence at will. For instance, the reference to “anti-Hindu depredations of Pir Pagaro and Pir Barchundi; the inequities of Partition…” (p 4918). Pir Pagaro’s movement known commonly as the Hur movement was essentially an anti-colonial struggle which did not scruple to lay violent hands upon the wealthy [Ansari 1992]. It so happened that most of the wealthy in Sindh were Hindus. This does not make it necessarily an “anti-Hindu depredation”. For the rest, I invite Chandavarkar to read my book.

Sufism in Sindh

It is interesting that Chandavarkar’s reference to Sufism in Sindh, which he prefers to call “Sufi Islam” (p 4918) should begin with the following words, “As against the denigration of the Arya Samaj, Kothari dwells lovingly on the mythical principles of Sufi syncreticism that bind the Sindhis of India and Pakistan together” (pp 4918-19). Why “against”? And is it a crime to “dwell lovingly” on binding principles? Can we falsify the way Sindhis (Hindus and Muslims) across borders respond in togetherness to a range of Hindu and Muslim Sufis such as Shah Abdul Latif and Sachal Sarmast and Bedil and Bekas and Dada Rochaldas and Nimano Fakir and Sami? Perhaps, there’s some romanticisation in this phenomenon, but how can one deny its existence? Or the fact that the imagery of (Muslim) Sufis like Shah Latif and Sachal Sarmast was imbued with Vedant and references to ‘Mata Hinglaj’ and wandering ‘yogis’ and Guru Nanak. At the same time this shared culture often sat next to conservative ideologies of the RSS and League in the lives of the Sindhis in 20th century, especially after 1940s. It is important to acknowledge these tendencies in both Hindus and Muslims of Sindh. Chandavarkar’s ascription of syncreticism only to Sindhi Hindus and his question, “Can Kothari, or her informants, cite a single Sindhi Muslim household with a

Economic and Political Weekly December 30, 2006

non-Muslim religious artefact or who visit non-Muslim shrines?” (p 4919) compels me to cite evidence “wholly anecdotal”. The writer Amar Jaleel from Karachi sees himself as neither Hindu nor Muslim, but only as a Sufi. During his visit to Gujarat, where he was honoured with a literary award by the Sindhi Hindus of Ahmedabad, he had specially requested me to take him to the Jain temples of Gujarat. In the family of Saghir Shaikh (member of World Sindhi Congress), with whom I had stayed during my visit to Karachi, I noticed his 70-year old aunt (a practising Muslim) reading Sukhmani. Saghir Shaikh, who belongs to my generation, told me how he had memories of celebrating Holi with his family. In fact, the average Sindhi Muslim even today sees himself as a “Sindhi” and not as a Muslim, a term he reserves for the Punjabi Muslims and the Mohajjirs. While I appreciate Chandavarkar’s sympathy for the Sindhi Hindus (especially since I am one myself), I do not want to be compelled to demonise the “other” in the interest of that sympathy.

RSS and Arya Samaj

The chief subject of my article, the RSS, remains a contested point between me and my respondent. Chandavarkar is anxious to establish the innocent and secular credentials of the RSS which he sees simply as a “communitarian organisation whose membership is open to all religions”. While I did not mention RSS as a fascist organisation (I wonder why he thinks he needs to explain that), I do think that not to see RSS as a pro-Hindu organisation requires some willing suspension of disbelief. I wish to support the “Hinduness” of the RSS and the fact that it drew “partial sustenance” from the Arya Samaj by quoting not what might be construed as a politically correct view on the matter, but a document prepared by RSS members:

“Hindu youths, you have to get organised.You have to take a pledge to serve theSociety. Come, stand before the Bhagvaflag and take the vow that you have becomea Swayamsevak of the Sangh for theprotection of the Hindu society. After thepledge everyone who takes it will receivea drink of pure creamy milk.” An advertisement like this was published in Karachi.Immediately a long queue of those willing to take the pledge were formed. It happened like this: At the instance of Bhai Parmanand and Babarao Savarkar, Dr Hedgewar attended an ‘Akhil Bhartiya Hindu Yuva Sammelan’ in April 1932 in Karachi and stayed there for a week. During this stay he had discussed the work of the Sangh with many people, and some people had even reacted favourably. One of them was Dr Chaudhary, an Arya Samajist. Dr Hedgewar discussed organisation of Hindus with him. Dr Chaudhary seemed not only willing but eager to take up Sangh work. He even gave assurance that he would expand Sangh work quickly [Vajpayee and Paradkar 2002:462].

Arya Samaj’s use of the Shuddhi, according to Chandavarkar “had the legitimate and limited objective of reconverting Muslims forcibly converted to Islam by the aggressive scripturally endorsed Tablighi Jamat movement in Islam” (p 4918). This statement is baffling. Who decides which conversions were forced, and who has the moral duty/right and on what basis to reconvert? Is it not a sign of “casual empiricism” to assume that all conversions in Sindh were forced? Why has Chandavarkar conveniently omitted to mention voluntary conversions of Acharya Kriplani’s brother? Read the following, for instance:

We were a large family of seven brothers and two sisters. Before I attained consciousness the eldest son was drowned while bathing in the nearby canal…The second son, with his wife and daughter, left the Hindu fold and became a Muslim. This was out of conviction. He had studied Arabic and Persian. In the new faith, he was immediately accepted as a great and learned Maulana. He was tall and handsome, endowed with an attractive personality, and converted several young men of the community to Islam [Kripalani 2004:10-11].

Ironically the same brother, also looked for Amil converts when he wanted to get his daughters married. This in-betweenness that was neither unequivocally Hindu nor Islam was fairly common in Sindh up to the early decades of the 20th century. Abdul Majeed Sindhi nurtured a secret fascination for Islam after listening to his Hindu teachers recite the Quran. He documents his emotional turmoil on discovering his love for Islam [Khan 1984]. This is not to say all conversions were voluntary nor is it an attempt to endorse involuntary conversions, as implied by Chandavarkar.

To the question put forward to me, “If Tabligh is legitimate, why is shuddhi deplorable?” (p 4918) my answer is that I have not mentioned Tablighi Jamat. So how is it assumed that I endorse it? Why is my critique of conservative Hindu organisations taken for granted as automatically endorsing similar organisations in another religion? And, if Chandavarkar sees my debate in that polarised fashion, he is entering into an overused, clichéd and formulaic discourse of “us” and “them” and I refuse to participate in it.




Ansari, Sarah (1992): Sufi Saints and State Power:

The Pirs of Sind 1843-1947, Cambridge

University Press, UK. Khan, Mohammed Panhwar (ed) (1984): Shaikh

Abdul Majeed Sindhi: Life and Achievements

1889-1978, Royal Book Company, Karachi. Kothari, Rita (2004): ‘Sindhis: Hardening Identities

after Partition’, Economic and Political Weekly,

Vol 39, No 35, August 28. Kripalani, J B (2004): My Times: An Autobiography,

Rupa, New Delhi. Vajpayee, Manik Chandra and Shridhar Paradkar

(2002): Partition Days: The Fiery Saga of RSS,

translated by Sudhakar Raje, Suruchi

Publications, New Delhi.

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Economic and Political Weekly December 30, 2006

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