HATS OFF TO KIRAT BABANI
By Dr. Manoharlal Matlani
The flames of First World War were just weakening and the fight for independence in India was simmering slowly and gradually, when a nonedescript village Moro Lakho of Dist. Nawabshah, Sindh, witnessed birth of a boy on January 3, 1922, in the house of Choithram Babani, who would become a celebrated Sindhi writer, named Kirat Babani. Interestingly, Kirat took his initial education from a local Maulvi.
A catastrophe fell upon young Kirat, when at the age of four he lost his father. Though he was not capable of grasping the severity of his father's demise, he cried just because others were doing so. This turn of the events compelled his family to shift its base to another village, Saboo Rahoo and ultimately they settled down in the city of Nawabshah.
He was admitted to Wills High School, Soni Bazar, for his prmiary education and his hard work saw him donning the mantle of class–monitor, continuously from standard V upto XI. He was fortunate enough to have Mr. Rochiram Thawani as his class teacher, in standard VIII, who has always remained a guiding force in his life till today. It was Rochiram Thawani, who pumped patriotism into the veins of Kirat Babani at that tender age, which led him to become a leader of like minded students. Kirat began wearing khadi clothes. He took active interest in school sports like cricket, volleyball, and other activities like P. T., scouting etc. and also participated in school drama under the guidance of his science teacher, Assandas Bijlani. He played the part of an old man in a drama titled 'Podhe jo Parno', where his enthusiastic rendering of a song on stage saw his dhoti (loincloth) coming off, a wardrobe malfunction, even at that time, some 70 years back.
The spark of patriotism grew in young Kirat Babani as he constituted 'Forward Students Union' in the association of few like minded students. He was studying in Matric, when Mahatma Gandhi issued the call of 'Quit India' in 1942. This move prompted India's British Govt. to put all prominent Congress leaders behind bars. Kirat Babani also led a grand rally of students through the roads of Nawabshah, which ended at Gol Bazar where he delivered a spirited address to his fellow students. The local police came into action and a few political leaders were rounded up. Though Kirat Babani evaded arrest for ten days he was eventually picked up by the police and put in Nawabshah sub-jail, where he had to remain for ten months.
But the stint behind bars for two months didn't subdue his penchant for independence, and he again began his activities against the govt. following the call of 'Do or Die' by Mahatma Gandhi. He had a single point agenda and that was 'British Quit India' and 'Inquilab Zindabad'. His comrades in arms at that time were Gulab Bhagwanani, Sujan Rawtani etc.
Their activities again prompted the local police to arrest Dr. Hassaram Rawatani, Rochiram Thawani, Krishin Gurnani, Partomal, Gulab Bhagwanani, Harchand and Kirat himself. A week after that, Kirat was sent to Hyderabad Central Jail, where other political leaders were also lodged. All these leaders were given 'C' class facilities initially, but later on when they protested, they were provided with 'B' class facilities. Kirat Babani had to remain at Hyderabad Jail for an additional two months.
The then Sindh Chief Minister, Allah Bux Soomro had introduced special 'Q' class for political detainees, which brought all political prisoners from every nook and corner of Sindh to Sukkur Central Jail. There Kirat Babani got the opportunity to meet the noted communist leader Sobho Gyanchandani, who had immense influence on his personae. Sobho handed over a book, titled 'Introduction to Socialism' to Kirat Babani. The book introduced Kirat to another world altogether and kindled a fresh interest in him to know more about socialism.
In all, Kirat Babani had to remain behind bars for eleven months in the year 1942, which resulted in the loss of his one year of education. Then Kirat began preparing for his matriculation examination in the company of Sujan and Gulab. His teacher Rochiram Thawani also accompanied them to Karachi. When results were announced Kirat Babani stood seventh amongst some five thousand students from the whole of Sindh.
After completing his Matriculation, he took admission in D.J. College, Karachi, where he met Gulab Bhagwanani and Loku Hemarajani. In those days, a newspaper 'Azad' was launched by the supporters of Allah Bux Soomro, where Kirat got a part time job at a measly monthly salary of Rs. fifty only. Meanwhile Sobho Gyanchandani had also come back from Shanti Niketan, Calcutta, which provided a fresh spirit into 'Karachi Students Union'. Gobind Malhi had also come in contact with Kirat Babani during those days.
The year 1945 saw the holding of a meeting of 'All Sindh Students' at Larkana. Kirat could not garner enough votes to become the General Secretary, as he was branded a Communist activist. Both, Kirat and Dayo Nathani secured 97 votes each, and it was decided to have a sort of lottery to break this impasse. The lottery threw up the name of Kirat Babani and he was chosen as the Union General Secretary. In the same year, Kirat represented the Sindh delegation at the meet of 'All India Students' Federation' at New Delhi. Later on, when Aruna Asif Ali visted Sindh she was assisted by Kirat Babani for a week during her Sindh tour. Sobho Gyanchandani had initiated 'Adabi Class' at Karachi, where writers belonging to leftist leanings would meet, once a week. The other prominent leaders of that 'Adabi Class' were Shaikh Ayaz, Gobind Malhi, Narayan Shyam, Anand Golani, Sugan Ahuja, Shaikh Raaz, Gobind Punjabi, Krishin Khatwani, Ram Amarlal Panjwani, Lachhman Rajpal, Gul Asnani and Bhagwan Lalwani etc. Kirat's first story 'Jilebyun jo Chor' was also published in 'Nai Dunya' during those days. The magazine was edited by Gobind Malhi.
The independence of India came with the division of our motherland into two countries, which saw large scale migration of people from one part to another. The division of the country also saw the world's worst riots. Killings and mayhem was witnessed anywhere, though Sindh was somewhat free from it. But the entry of Indian Muslims into Sindh saw a fresh wave of violence unleashed by them to create a sense of insecurity among Sindhi Hindus. On 6th January, 1948, Mohajirs initiated concerted attacks on Hindu neighbourhoods in Karachi.
Kirat Babani was once again put behind bars for eleven months. After that, he was freed on the condition that he would leave Karachi within twenty four hours. He proceeded to a noted peasant leader, Hyder Bux Jatoi of Hyderabad and was immediately given a job at 'Hari Haqdar' printing press. Hyder Bux Jatoi was pressurised for harbouring an atheist communist, which compelled him to advise Kirat to visit India at least for a few months. Kirat Babani was thus compelled to proceed on a voyage on the deck of a ship from Karachi to Bombay in 1949. He reached Bombay on 8th May, 1949 and had just seventeen rupees and eight annas in his pocket. He took refuge in the home of Mohan Punjabi at Bombay for two days. Later on he took admission in Ismail Yousuf College, Jogeshwari, for B.A., so that he could get admission into the college hostel. Dr. Choithram Gidwani had chipped in for his college fees. After completing his B.A., he also passed his LLB.
Suddenly the Indian Govt. issued a circular on 9th March 1950, which changed the script of Sindhi language from Persio- Arabic to Devnagari. To add insult to injury, the newly adopted Indian Constitution also did not have place for Sindhi language. Sindhi writers had to sit up and take notice of both theses injustices heaped on the Sindhis of India. A committee, named 'Sindhi Boli and Lipi Committee' was constituted whose President was Lekhraj Aziz, Dharamdas Kshatrya the Treasurer and Kirat Babani its Secretary. The committe sought legal help from noted lawyer Ram Jethmalani, who immediately shot a letter to then education minister, Abul Kalam Azad and challenged the legality of the government order. The Indian government realised its mistake and rectified it with another circular issued on 10th January, 1951, which regularised Persian-Arabic and Devnagari, both scripts for Sindhi language and the option was left to the parents of the pupil.
‘Adabi Class' gave way to 'Naon Sahat Mandal', which was later on renamed as 'Sindhi Sahat Mandal'. Mangharam Malkani was chosen as its President and Gobind Malhi as secretary. Kirat Babani had to abandon the Communist Party and join the agitation to save Sindhi language and Sindhiat. 'Sindhi Sahat Mandal' provided an appropriate platform for budding Sindhi litterateurs, which saw many Sindhi creations taking shape, enriching Sindhi literature immensely. Initially Bhojraj Nagrani had agitated for the recognition of Sindhi language in the Indian Constitution. A 'Boli Sabha' was constituted for the purpose whose President was Prin. Lalsing Ajwani and Gobind Malhi as its secretary. Under the able leadership of Hashoo Kewalramani, 'Sindhi Samaj' Delhi also worked hard in this respect. Various Sindhi sammelans were held after 1951.
Meanwhile Kirat got married to Savita and the agitation for 'Sindhiat' continued unabated. A 'Sindhi Boli Convention' was held in December 1957, at New Delhi. At last, after a long process of agitations and particularly due to the efforts of Dada Jairamdas Daulatram, whom the then Prime Minister of India, Smt. Indira Gandhi gave a lot of respect, bore fruit and Indira Gandhi acquiesced to their request and Sindhi language was included into the VIII Schedule of the Constitution of India on 10th April, 1967.
'Akhil Bharat Sindhi Sahat Sammelan' was held at K.C. College, Bombay in December 1972, where Kirat Babani was elected President of 'Akhil Bharat Sindhi Boli Ain Sahat Sabha', unanimously. Kirat Babani's famous book 'Lenin Dunya jee Azeem Inquilabi Shakhsyat' was published in 1980, for which Kirat Babani bagged that year's Soviet land Nehru Award for Sindhi language.
The sons of Kirat Babani celebrated the 75th birthday of their father on 3rd January, 1997 with great pomp and glory. After continuously working for eighteen years as the President of “Akhil Bharat Sindhi Boli and Sahat Sabha”, Kirat Babani decided to step down from the post due to his falling health. He announced his decision at 'Sindhi Sahit Sammelan' held in June in the same year of 1997 at Jaipur, and proposed the name of Mr. Sunder Agnani. The then general body unanimously elected Sunder Agnani, as the Sabha's President.
In all, some fifteen books have been penned by Kirat Babani, till date. He has been publishing 'Sindh Rises' and 'Sindh Sujag' since 1991. He has been bestowed with various awards and rewards. His achievements are the achievements of Sindhi community and whatever recognition he gets is the recognition and respect unto Sindhi community. In true sense, he is the pride of Sindhi community.
He has now added another feather to his cap by bagging this year's Sahitya Academy Award. Hats off to Kirat Babani!