Published : 2001

Group : Partition

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From Sagas of partition to snags of settling

by Sunder Iyer

August 1947; an end of dependence and autocracy, beginning of unending conflicts and remorse. When the joy of independence failed miserably to overcome the trauma of partition. It was the time when people had to make unwilling choices. A choice to alienate from one’s own land, a choice to betray one’s own roots. It was the time when people set out on a painful journey, in search of land where lives were more valuable and religion didn’t breed hatred. The partition inflicted maximum mayhem on the Sindhi community. The state had to part from its most cherished ones. The Sindh Hindus in particular had to countenance the snags of the partition by shifting base in search of new habitat. Penniless, and forlorn, for these Sindhis the future didn’t exactly promise prosperity.

The memorable day of Indian Independence in 1947 brought with itself the untold miseries of widespread disturbances, killings, lootings and arson in Punjab. While the Punjabis were being drives out from the land of their forefathers, the Hindus in Sindh feared that migration from their homeland would soon become a necessity. The authorities across the border assured them that no harm would be inflicted on the Sindhi Hindus and that their position was secure.

But no sooner than the migration across the new Punjab cease did the Hindus of Sindh start crossing out of Pakistan. The influx of Muslim evacuees from India and subsequent incidents of violence had justified their fears. The Indian government chartered a number of ships to transport people, but due to the bureaucratic hindrances across the border, only a mere 2000 people were allowed to leave at a time, as the port authorities claimed inability to handle an ever larger number.

Even as early as the beginning of November 1947 some 2,46,000 people had already crossed the border by sea as well as rail. One special refugee’s train in addition to the Bombay Mail was run everyday to provide greater facilities for evacuation and by December 1947 another 1,40,000 refugees were deported to India. The scheduled air services between Delhi and Karachi multiplied and the Indian government chartered nine other steamers besides the regular Persian Gulf Line steamers of the British India Steam navigation company. By mid December, some 1,33,000 refugees had been cleared from Sindh and brought to Bombay Presidency (formerly included Gujarat and Maharashtra) and Kathiawar ports by these steamers and country crafts. Altogether, it was estimated that 4,78,000 refugees had disembarked into the lands of India.

The mass scale attacks on the Hindus based in Karachi by the Muslim refugees, accelerated the migration. During the months of January and February 1948, another 1,80,000 persons were evacuated. The Directorate General proposed to evacuate about 15000 by sea and 3000 to 4000 by rail every week, and thus the major part of evacuation occurred in this first quarter of 1948. It was estimated that another seven lakhs of Hindus were left behind in Sindh including 10 to 12 thousand Sikhs who were stranded in various parts of the province.

It was around this time that the Sindh government introduced the permit system and demanded certificates from Income Tax authorities, Tehsildars, Municipalities and other such civil authorities that no ornaments of Muslims were pawned with them. After being rendered homeless, the Hindus were not also compounded with financial adversities. On an average, only 3,000 Hindus were evacuated everyday on account of the difficulties created by the introduction of the permit system and from February to mid March, about 90,000 refugees were evacuated by sea and another 4,000 by rail. The rate of evacuation during the following period witnessed a further decline due to the cancellation of special refugee evacuation trains with the total evacuation reducing from 3,000 a day in March to 1365 in the month of April. By middle of June 1948, another 20,000 Hindus had been evacuated to India, leaving approximately 4,00,000 behind. The evacuation proceeded gradually yet continuously till July 1949. Due to fresh troubles in Shikarpur and Sukkur in August 1949, once again there was a rise in the number of evacuees during the months of September, October and November 1949. It has been estimated that out of 14,00,000 Hindus who lived in Sindhi in 1947, about a million and a quarter had crossed the border to seek relief in the territories of India. Many stayed back in various parts of the province, especially in the Tharparkar district and other urban areas of Sindh.

The refugees on reaching the Indian soil were received, dispersed or accommodated in the numerous relief camps set up by the Directorate General of Evacuation of the Government of India at various centres in Bombay, Kathiawar, Rajasthan and the Central provinces. Refugees arriving by rail at Marwar and Pali were sent to various camps at Rajasthan or to transit camps at Ahmedabad, Ratlam and Khandwa, from where they were again sent to various camps in Bombay. By the middle of March 1948, 12 camps had opened in Kathiawar to accommodate about 32,000 Sindhi refugees arriving in the Kathiawar ports. Similar camps with varying capacities were opened at Bikaner, Kotah, Udiapur, Jodhpur and other towns of Rajasthan.

In the same period Bombay itself was home to 1,29,000 refugees in the various camps which were taken over by the Central Government. Five military camps at Kalyan were made available to these refugees with the ultimate plan of developing a Sindhi township. The camps in Bombay spread across seven districts, with a capacity to accommodate 1,50,000 inmates, received the largest number of refugees from Sindh. The relief camps went on swelling steadily and by the end of 1948 the refugee strength in various states with predominant Sindhi population was as under :

1. Ajmer Merwara at Deolli                10,200
2. Bombay Presidency                        2,16,500
3. Baroda                                            10,700
4. Bikaner                                            8,900
5. Jaipur                                               33,200
6. Jodhpur                                           11,800
7. Madhya Bharat                               3,400
8. Former Rajasthan                            15,800
9. Saurashtra Union                            45,500
10. Vindhya Pradesh                          15,400
11. Madhya Pradesh                           81,400
          Total                                         4,52,800

The camps were expectedly crammed and the accommodation, rudimentary. Procurement of sufficient quantity of food, arrangement of medical staff and supplies, blankets etc, had to be rushed. But this heavy expenditure could not be borne for a longer period, as it was a serious drain on the state resources. In order to implement the Government’s decision to wind up gratuitous relief by 31st October 1949, the relief camps at Deoli with a strength of 12,200 was closed and its inmates were sent for resettlement to Bhopal, while the remaining 200 families were sent to Alwar and Bharatpur for settlement. By the end of August 1949, Bombay in its 25 relief camps had a total of around 2.1 lakhs inmates, out of which 1.55 lakhs were receiving doles. Ulhasnagar developed into a separate township with a population of hundred thousand while Gandhidham in Kutch was developed into another major Sindhi township with Kandla as a developing port.

In Madhya Bharat the Kerara camp was closed in November 1949, with some inmates being sent to Gwalior for being absorbed as labourers in factories while the others were sent to Gird district for settlement. By the end of August 1949 there were 54,000 refugees in various parts of Madhya Pradesh, which reduced further to a mere 13,600 by the end of the year. As the year 1949 drew to a close the three camps at Tilda, Mana and Chakrabhatta were transformed into permanent townships for the inmates. The state of Rajasthan held 15,000 refugees by the end of 1949, which was a 75% decline from its strength of 60,000 during the month of August the same year. This reduction was due to migration of some refugees to Alwar and Bharatpur districts, some to Bhopal and other parts of the state for settlement while the others went to Kandla and were absorbed as workers in the construction of the township of Gandhidham. In Saurashtra, there were no regular camps with relief being provided to 28,000 persons who sought shelter in the many evacuee houses, Dharmasalas and state buildings.

The programme of gradual retraction of government’s relief operations commenced by early August 1949 with a steady decrease in the cash doles resulting in discontinuation of the doles from November, except to unattached women and children, the old and the infirm persons. As the year 1949 came to an end, there were only 4,000 refugees with 75% yet receiving government doles. Similarly refugees were dispersed in Vindhya Pradesh and other places by stopping doles which were continued for some more months in small numbers and were gradually discontinued, though many camps continued to offer shelter for those without alternate accommodation. The census reports of 1951 revealed that the bulk of the Sindhi refugees settled down in Bombay, Saurashtra, Kutch, Rajasthan, Ajmer, Delhi, Madhya Bharat and Madhya Pradesh and the rest of the population was scattered over the remaining parts of India as under :

Post Partition settlements of Sindhi population as per Census 1951
State                                                    Males                           Females
West India                                          1,76,433                      1,61,152
Bombay                                               1,44,983                      1,32,284
Maharashtra                                        26,176                         23,926
Kutch                                                  5,274                           4,942
Central India                                     73,358                         64,379
Madhya Bharat                                   40,528                         34,760
Madhya Pradesh                                 19,288                         18,044
Hyderabad                                          1,351                           974
Bhopal                                                 6,309                           5,466
Vindhya Pradesh                                5,882                           5,335
North West India                              1,20,533                      96,434
Rajasthan                                            54,574                         49,310
Punjab                                                 12,873                         9,786
Pepsu                                                   900                              1,007
Ajmer                                                  25,029                         21,885
Delhi                                                   27,106                         14,420
Bilaspur                                               11
Himachal Pradesh                               40                                26
South India                                        4,179                           3,903
Madras                                                2,655                           2,390
Mysore                                                1,509                           1,512
Travamcore – Kochin                          15                                1
East India                                           3,508                           2,673
Bihar                                                   1,357                           1,040
Orissa                                                  163                              72
West Bengal                                        1,852                           1,505
North India                                        88,192                         31,284
Utter Pradesh                                      88,192                         31,284
India                                                    4,16,204                      3,60,025

The most important of the many Sindhi settlements across the country is Ulhasnagar. It lies at a distance of 34 miles away from Bombay and is designed within an area of three thousand acres to accommodate two hundred thousand people. During those early post partition days, majority of the population live in one-room tenements, which housed from a minimum of 6 to maximum of 20 members, making life really tough for one and all. The town largely comprises of refugees who came in from the rural villages of almost every part of Sindh. The Sindhi township of Gandhidham was more of a business hub. The Sindhu Resettlement Corporation Ltd, a Bombay based Joint Stock company constructed this township on a land measuring 17,500 acres, which was granted to the corporation under a lease for rehabilitation of the displaced persons.

Besides the towns of Ulhasnagar and Gandhidham, Kubernagar (Ahmedabad) and Bairagarh (Bhopal) refugee colonies sprang up as extensions or small townlets on the outskirts of the big cities, planned by the government, to facilitate absorption of refugees in the economy of big towns. Bairagarh, originally created for prisoners of the Second World War, sheltered Sindhi refugees in its abandonded barracks. The other township of Kubernagar was designed to house a population of 30,000 and was built near the airfield at a distance of about 4 – 5 miles away from the city of Ahmedabad with the view of bringing it within the municipal limits of the Ahmedabad Corporation. Ahmedabad supported 41,675 in 1951 with many being absorbed or involved in the cloth business in the cloth-producing centre.

A large number of Sindhi refugees have rehabilitated themselves. There was a huge distinction between the economic positions of Muslims who migrated from India and the Sindhis, as bulk of the urban Muslims who migrated belonged to the lower middle class. Consequently the Sindhis could not fill in the abandoned economy of the Muslims, but by enterprise and hardwork they captured local markets in cloth, provisions and sundry goods everywhere. There is a very popular and widespread testimony that Sindh refugees in general are very hard working people. It is imbibed in their mannerisms that they would never accept defeat and despite circumstances always emerge in flying colours. Despite having to face many unforeseeable circumstances in the new country they never lost hope. Such intent and determination speaks volumes of them being labeled as a community driven by the hunger for success.


(Adapted from ‘Sindhi Culture’ by J. Thakur)