Interview with M. SUDAMO LAL
by Ram Jawhrani
Sindhi Sarmayo by Ram Jawhrani highlights the selfless efforts put in to promote SINDHI language, literature, culture and heritage, along with information about their personal achievements.
In the 20th century, Sindhi Hindus faced their worst ever tragedy – the partition of India, when on the basis of religion entire Sindh became part of a new nation – Pakistan. The Sindhi Hindus, homeless and jobless, kept wandering in the new and unknown territories of India. This was a very difficult and cataclysmic period for the Sindhi Hindus when at times they did not have knowledge about the whereabouts of their siblings or their parents or their children. A greater tragedy was that some members of the same family migrated to India while some stayed behind in Sindh. Clusters of families got separated from each other and a few powerless and defenseless Hindus got left behind in a very small minority in Sindh.
Pakistani government has always encouraged discord between Hindus and Muslims and although in society, Sindhi Hindus were highly respected, at the official or government level they were treated as second and third grade citizens. During such trying times, there were a few Sindhi Hindus who on the basis of their talent, hardwork and honesty strived to achieve a great and respectable position for themselves in the Pakistan bureaucracy, and one such personality is Mr. M. Sudamo Lal, who served as Commissioner in Karachi and Lahore, and later in Islamabad when he became the Chief Commissioner, Director General and Member. At present he is the Director General of Mauritius Revenue Authority, and is recognized as someone who has fully revamped and enhanced the entire taxation system of Mauritius.
R. Jawhrani : First of all Mr. Lal, please tell us which part of Sindh do your forefathers belong?
S. Lal : I was born in 1945 in Khaayi village, district Sukkur, which has now been merged with Shikarpur district. By the time I grew up, Pakistan was already a reality and many Sindhis from our village had migrated to India and the few who stayed back did so due to some compulsion or other. When I grew up, I observed that at school as well as in the town, the basic Sindhi Hindu culture still prevailed. I was too young at that time of the mass migration or exodus of the Hindus during partition.
R. Jawhrani : What was the occupation of your forefathers?
S. Lal : The main occupation in our village as well as a few neighbouring villages was agriculture.
R. Jawhrani : You mean, farming, Zamindaari
S. Lal : Besides Zamindaari I am talking about rice mills, cotton mills, flour mills, retail trade in grains etc. All the businesses were owned by Hindus. Muslims were either tenants, farmers or labourers while the affluent Muslims were feudal lords. The Muslims were either extremely rich or extremely poor. The middle class was represented by Hindus. My forefathers had land as well as businesses. Our core family still resides in Sindh although they have now moved from small villages and towns to big cities like Karachi. We are basically Mandhwanis – Mandhwani Khattars. When I visited Haridwar, I was told that there are two big Mandhwani families, one from Mirpur and the other from Khaayi village. We belong to Khaayi village and our lineage is known as Khattar. Even today there is a large community of Khattars in Punjab and also amongst Muslims. Actually they are descendents of Rajputs, although later on some converted to Islam. Some of the Hindus families adopted Punjabi language, some Sindhi etc. This theory regarding Khattars is stated in Bherumal Meherchand’s book and the same theory can also be found in a book written by a Muslim Rajput in Punjab.
R. Jawhrani : You just mentioned that the Muslims in your village were either very rich or very poor labourers. Were some of the Sindhi Hindus also rich or all of them belonged to the middle class?
S. Lal : Infact Sindhi Hindus, even prior to partition, were basically traders, professionals, lawyers, doctors, engineers, teachers and a few were even landlords. Most of them had migrated at the time of partition. Those who didn’t were forced to leave because the Muslims coming from India were eyeing their lands and properties. Although no major incident as such, took place in our area, in 1945 many lootings did occur in our village.
R. Jawhrani : Do you remember the year in which riots broke out in Sindh?
S. Lal : The first riot to break out in Sindh was in Sukkur which came to be known as the Masjid – Manzilgah issue. It erupted in the area across Sadhu-Bela where a mosque existed and the river Sindhu flowed between the mosque and Sadhu-Bela. Those were politically motivated riots and the Hindu and Muslim Sindhis actually had no hand in this. During the same time Bhagat Kanwar Ram was also assassinated at Ruk station. Then in the smaller villages lootings commenced which were again politically motivated.
R. Jwahrani : Who were these politicians during those times who instigated these riots and wanted to oust the Hindus from Sindh?
S. Lal : In Sindh the Muslims joined the Muslim League while the Hindus were with the Sindh Assembly. Early Sindh Assembly used to have the majority. But then the Muslims in Sindh Assembly joined the Muslim League to safeguard their interests from the intended land reforms. Thus, Sindh assembly lost the majority and Muslim League became more powerful. One of the major reasons for the Muslims joining the Muslim League, not only in Sindh but also in U.P. and in C.P. was Motilal’s Nehru’s manifesto in which he announced the Land Reforms. This prompted the Muslims to join the Muslim League.
R. Jawhrani : In which year did Motilal Nehru announce these land reforms?
S. Lal : These were announced around 1935 – 1940. I don’t remember the exact year. This prompted the feudal lords to join the Muslim League specially in U.P. although they didn’t do so in Punjab. The rich Punjabi Muslim landlords had their own Unionist Party. This Unionist Party and the Sikhs in Punjab had their own association. Till as late as 1946 Muslim League didn’t have a majority in the Punjab Assembly.
R. Jawhrani : So can we conclude that the main reason for partition was the Muslim League?
S. Lal : Yes, it can be said so. The Muslim League was formed in 1906. From 1906 upto 1940, Muslim League didn’t have much power. Even during the 1940 elections, Muslim League lost by a considerable margin. But they won the 1946 elections and that too because of the Congress leadership. It was decided by the Congress and the Muslim League that the country would be divided into 3 parts A, B and C. It was decided that India would not be partitioned but be divided into three parts where A would be the main central India, B would be Pakistan and C would be Bengal. B and C would have their representation and their own assemblies, just like, at present we have the state governments. But somehow the Congress leadership, specially Nehru gave the feeling that after the first elections A, B and C will be dissolved, combine into one, and this prompted the Muslims to join the Muslim League. Hence in the 1946 elections the Muslim League won in Sindh, Punjab, the North West Frontier Province and Bengal and that paved the way for the formation of Pakistan. In history you don’t have if’s – if it had been like this the outcome would have been this and so on. But definitely uptill 1946 it was mostly a federal structure where the provinces had powers. They could have assured the Muslims that they would retain their powers.
R. Jawhrani : During those times, what role did our Hindu organizations specially RSS, play?
S. Lal : In Sindh there was the Maha Sabha, RSS as well as the Congress, but the Congress was in majority. Unfortunately Congress was more occupied and concerned with central India. I don’t know who the Sindhi Congress leaders were, was it Acharya Kriplani or someone else. But here I would like to mention that these Sindhi Congress leaders had no clue as to – Why was the whole of Sindh going to Pakistan and What is Sindh – they didn’t know the definition of Sindh. The partition agreement between the two nations was on the basis of districts – if in a particular district there was a Muslim majority then it would go to Pakistan and if a district had a Hindu majority then it would go to India. Infact in Punjab they kept the basis of partition the Talukas / Tehsils and not the districts. This is because the Punjabi Congress leaders were extremely alert. What is Sindh? Sindh is a political division. In the Tharparkar district of Sindh, Hindus were in majority, but they were not Sindhis. They were Rajasthanis speaking the Datki language. Even now their attire and food habits are Rajasthani. Presently they have divided the Tharkarpar districts into three to four zillas, like the Thar Zilla, Mithi Zilla etc. Even upto 1970 the majority were Hindus in that district. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto gave a ticket to Ramachandra Singh, who being a Hindu won the general direct elections in Pakistan. There was no reason for this part of Sindh to go to Pakistan as Hindus were in a majority. Maybe the Sindhi Congress leaders were not aware about this fact or else if they were aware then may be the Indian Congress was not much interested in it. Till date the majority in the three districts are Hindus of Rajasthani origin, of course now they are Sindhis.
R. Jawhrani : Can we say that it was a big mistake on the part of our Sindhi leaders at that time?
S. Lal : Yes. Infact it is always said that Pakistan came into being because the Sindh Assembly passed the resolution in support of Pakistan which was followed by Bengal Assembly. So it is always said Sindh was the creator of Pakistan. In that Sindh Assembly there were some Hindu members who opted for India and said that there should be no partition, while the Muslim members wanted partition. There were 4 members nominated by the Governor, one was a Parsi, who declined to vote, two were Muslims who voted for Pakistan and one was a Rajput Hindu who also voted for Pakistan. This is because the Congress had not given a seat to his father. So you see, sometimes these petty and personal issues take a gigantic shape and then explode like a bomb.
R. Jawhrani : Was this exodus utmost necessary at that time?
S. Lal : Congress and Jinnah had a major hand in the formation of Pakistan. Jinnah wasn’t a fanatic leader, infact he was quite a liberal and educated leader. They had presumed there would be no migration after partition, but they were wrong. They were foolish to think so specially when you are creating nations on the basis of religion – what can you expect? The Britishers wanted it like this. They committed another blunder by giving a choice to the government officials to choose to serve either in India or in Pakistan. Now for example, if in Amritsar there was an SP who is a Muslim while the DSP was a Hindu, the SP naturally opted to go and serve in Pakistan. In a similar fashion if the Collector in Lahore was a Muslim while the Deputy Collector was a Hindu he opted to go and serve in India. Now this person going from one country to the other carries so many memories with him – how will he stop the riots, how can he bring about peace amongst the warring communities? He is loyal to the other nation. He has already proved his loyalty by opting for the country he wants to serve.
R. Jawhrani : Who decided on this policy?
S. Lal : This was done by the British government, but the power was with the local people. In 1935 the provincial constitution was in place and the Congress was ruling in many parts while a few were being ruled by the Muslim League. Basically I would say that the Congress leaders were not foresighted and thoughtful. They didn’t bother that the Sindhis were being killed or the Punjabis were being killed. They were only concerned about U.P. and C.P. After all Congress had its origin in U.P.
R. Jawhrani : Yes, I agree. In our country all the Prime Ministers have come from U.P.
S. Lal : Tell me something, don’t you think I am talking more on politics unnecessarily?
R. Jawhrani : No, no not at all. As a matter of fact you are providing great insights on the actual reality. After the Sindhi Hindus migrated from Pakistan, what was the attitude of the Muslim Sindhis who stayed back?
S. Lal : As I mentioned earlier that majority of the Sindhi Muslims were poor while the lands were in the hands of the few landlords who were also Muslims. In areas where the Muslim chiefs ensured that no riots occurred, the Hindus didn’t feel any pressure to leave. In places where the chiefs were not interested in protecting the Hindus, riots did break out and the Hindus left. For example, in Nawabshah Zilla, there aren’t any Hindus, almost all the Hindus migrated. This is because the Deputy Collector of Nawabshah Zilla was a Punjabi and he wanted this to happen. Prior to partition, usually in the Zillas in Sindh, if the Collector was a Muslim then the Deputy Collector would be a Hindu or vice-versa so there was a balance. And migration took place in areas where such a balance was not present.
R. Jawhrani : What was the effect of the migration of Hindu writers, litterateurs, poets etc.?
S. Lal : When the Sindhi Hindus migrated, you can say the entire educated, intellectual class migrated. In a way it effected the rights of the Muslim population also. Then people came from U.P, C.P, Meerut, Kanpur and Agra. The difference in India and Pakistan after independence was that in India all the government officials like ministers, I.G., commissioners etc. were selected from amongst local Indians. They had no sympathy for the people who migrated to India. They just dumped them as refugees and put them in camps. While in Pakistan all the higher posts in government like Governor General, officers, even Prime Minister went to those who had migrated to Pakistan, and not the locals. So obviously their total sympathy was with the immigrants who came there and not with the local population. The very first law that they passed was that all the lands, property, shops, houses vacated by the Hindus would be given only to the immigrants and not the local population. In our village the Hindus stayed in the centre, while on the outskirts the Muslims stayed in huts. All the houses vacated by the Hindus were not given to the Sindhis, but were taken over by the Muhajirs. Due to riots the Hindus who initially didn’t leave, would send one son to Bombay while one would stay back with them. Now after the entry of these Muhajirs, even the settlement officer was a Muhajir. He would issue a letter giving 50% ownership of property of the Hindu to the immigrant and he could go and take half of the shop and half of the house of the Hindu. Now just imagine if four Muhajirs come and stay in your house stating that 50 percent of the house belongs to them, what would you do? If he is a good Muhajir he may allow you to stay in the 50 percent house, but if not then he would definitely kick you out of your own house. This forced the Hindus to leave. Although the riots mustn’t have taken place in all the areas, but with the government laws, staying back became almost impossible for the Hindus.
R. Jawhrani : In what way was the fate of the Hindus who migrated to India different from that of Muslims who migrated to Pakistan?
S. Lal : The Sindhis and Punjabis who migrated to India had to prove that they were refugees and they had their land, property, house etc. in Pakistan and accordingly file for claims, whereas in Pakistan all the lands, properties owned by Hindus was treated as evacuee property. So even the few Hindus who stayed behind had to prove that they had not migrated and their property was not evacuee property. This was lawlessness. Now also if you go and check some of the old files our property will be mentioned as evacuee property and this also included the property of Sadhu Bela, Zind Peer etc. All this evacuee property was owned by evacuee trust. Only after the political government took over have these disputes regarding evacuee property come down. But upto 1958, it was totally ruled by these Muhajirs. Then Ayub Khan came to power and till 1970 it was rule by the army dictators. The immigrants who came in, for them to acquire land and property was quite easy, there was no need to submit any documents. They had to only bring two persons as witness who would say that this person owned a shop in Chandni Chown in Delhi, and he would be entitled for a shop. So three muhajirs A, B and C would come together and go to settlement office. A would claim that he had a 20 storey bungalow in Kanpur and B and C would be the witness. So he would allotted an equivalent property. Either he would have to find such a property or he would take the money. Then B would say that A and C are my witness and this is how they would get the property.
Also regarding education, no certificates were requried. A student had to just come and say that I have cleared my two years of Bachelor of Arts degree, and he would be admitted directly in the third year course. Those who claimed that they were graduates demanded to be appointed as Mukhtiyarkaar. So much so that you might have read even in the 70’s that some of the judges of the High Court and Supreme Court were disqualified because they had not even completed high school but had claimed to be graduates. There were no need of certificates, all you had to do was that say, I hereby solemnly affirm that I have cleared the graduation course and I am a graduate. Why did all this happen – because they themselves were the government and the bureaucracy. It was only after 1970’s that Sindhis started coming up when Peoples Party took over.
R. Jawhrani : That means the Peoples Party supported the Hindu Sindhis.
S. Lal : Peoples Party is a political party. They definitely supported the Sindhis. Being a political party they couldn’t say that we will offer jobs only to Sindhi Muslims and not to Sindhi Hindus. So Hindus also started getting jobs.
R. Jawhrani : What about your education?
S. Lal : I studied at Sukkur and Hyderabad. I completed my graduation from Tande Jam Agricultural College in Hyderabad and post graduation from Sindh University. Then I cleared the CSS examination which is equivalent to IAS examination in India. I was the first Hindu to clear that examination. Thereafter, I was selected in the Income Tax group. I was appointed as the Assistant Commissioner initially and then became the Deputy Commissioner, then Director General and then the Member. I was the Member for the Tax Policy which also oversees customs. I was also the Chief of Direct Taxes. In Pakistan I have served as Commissioner in Karachi and Lahore, then in Islamabad when I became the Chief Commissioner, Director General and Member.
R. Jawhrani : You came to Mauritius quite recently, isnt’t it?
S. Lal : Yes, I came here in 2005.
R. Jawhrani : So, that means till 2005 you were in Pakistan. Currently what is the condition of the Hindu Sindhis in Pakistan who were with you till 2005?
S. Lal : Almost all the Hindu Sindhis in Sindh belong to the middle class except in Tharparkar district. In Tharparkar district the Sindhis are from the middle class as well as from the Lower Class like Bhils, Kolis, Bhagadis etc. There are no big Hindu Zamindaars. They have a monopoly in cotton weaving factories, flour mills, rice husking factories, etc.
R. Jawhrani : It is said that a big business in rice belongs to the Hindu Sindhis and they are into exports of rice also.
S. Lal : Yes, that’s right. But none of them are in the big league and this is mainly because you can’t become the big one there and the other reason is that since 1984 there have been lots of cases of kidnapping for ransom, and this has become a big business over there. Initially 90% of the victims of these kidnappings were Hindus although Hindus, are only 3% to 4% of the total population in Sindh.
R. Jawhrani : Have these cases of kidnapping led to further migration of Hindus?
S. Lal : Indeed. These kidnappings which started in 1984, forced most of the middle class Sindhi Hindus to migrate to India. For example, now imagine there is a village consisting of approximately 5,000 people. There are two doctors in that village and both are Hindus. They are quite well-known and the local population loves them. Suppose if these two doctors are kidnapped and kept in an isolated place, their families will try to pay rupees eight – ten lakhs demanded as ransom. Now this ransom is also negotiable. This is negotiated through the village chief and not the police. This became a business. Once this became a business, the victim who was kidnapped feels that he should quit and migrate to India. Migrating to India is also not easy, there are lots of hassles involved. There are problems of visas and then it normally takes fifteen years to get citizenship. Initially most of the doctors were kidnapped. Now if these doctors migrate to India, they don’t get the permission to practice. Even the lawyers are not allowed to practice. For example my co-brother-in-law who was on the verge of being kidnapped, ran away to India. Till now he is working for a charitable hospital where his salary is only Rupees 1,500/-. So you see it’s not that easy to migrate to India. If you are a businessman, you will sell your shop, house and land and get about a crore or two crore rupees. When you go to India, you will need a house to stay, a shop to conduct your business, will this crore or two suffice in India? Here your forefathers conducted the business and you are carrying on the same business so you have your goodwill and reputation. You buy goods on credit and sell goods on credit. There when you go to India, you will have to buy goods in cash and sell on credit. So it’s not so easy to migrate to India.
R. Jawhrani : What is the total Hindu population of Sindh?
S. Lal : There must be around 2 to 2.2 million Hindus in Sindh.
R. Jawhrani : And how much is the total Sindhi speaking population of Sindh?
S. Lal : The total population of Sindh must be approximately 4 crores or 40 million including the Urdu speaking population also. There are many Urdu speaking people in Sindh. Their population must be around 35% to 40% at least, if not 50%.
R. Jawhrani : Has this discrimination also been another cause leading to migration?
S. Lal : Well, almost all the Hindu Sindhis have extended family members or relatives in India. The only thing is that the Hindu child from the time he enters school right up to his college and university level is told that you are a Hindu, you are an Indian. This is because the partition of India and Pakistan has been done on religious lines. Therefore, Hindus are treated as Indians in Pakistan. Now even if some of the Hindus become doctors, lawyers, civil servants, judges etc. they are still treated as Indians. There we have Hindu session judges and High Court judges. Rana Bhagwandas retired as Chief Justice. Definitely, agencies such as MI, IB, ISI wouldn’t trust them to that extent and would always be cautious. Hindus over there are definitely more hard working and efficient and so they get the jobs. Well even if the people dislike him, he is definitely liked by his boss as the boss is more interested in the work being done. But you can say that discrimination does exist.
R. Jawhrani : Are there schools teaching Sindhi specially with the Arabic script?
S. Lal : Yes, even now there are Sindhi schools. In Sindh there are about 250 – 300 magazines and newspapers which are published in the Sindhi Arabic script. The medium of instruction is Sindhi in schools, colleges and universities. We have Sindhi Radio and Sindhi TV for 24 hours.
R. Jawhrani : Recently two new Sindhi Channels have come up in Sindh. Are there any TV channels run by the government also?
S. Lal : No, we don’t have a Sindhi Channel run by the government. Just like your Doordarshan, we have PTV. Some Sindhi programmes are telecast on PTV daily, but it not for 24x7.
R. Jawhrani : What about the two new Sindhi Channels?
S. Lal : They are private Channels. One is Kawish, belonging to the Kazi group. And the other belongs to Hindus, Ahuja and others.
R. Jawhrani : What is the full name of Ahuja?
S. Lal : I think it is Sudama Ahuja or Inder Ahuja.
R. Jawhrani : Are both the Channels running successfully?
S. Lal : Yes, both are successful.
R. Jawhrani : What about the Sindhi attire?
S. Lal : Regarding attire, now very few people wear the dhoti and kurta. My father who expired in 1984, always wore the dhoti. But nowadays salwar-kameez is more common.
R. Jawhrani : What about the marriages of Hindu Sindhis? Do they get married amongst Sindhis or to other castes also?
S. Lal : We have very few getting married to non-Sindhis. The Sindhis get married to Sindhis only. The differences in sub-castes like Bhaibands and Amils etc.is almost non-existent, now. So Sindhis get married to Sindhis in the same old Sindhi style following all the customs and traditions. In every Sindhi village there is a temple and Gurudwara. And all Sindhis do visit these. Even if they are not pious or religious, they visit the temples for social activities. This is because if they want their children to get married amongst the Sindhis they have to be a part of the society. I would say that Dharam-Karam in Sindh is better than in India.
R. Jawhrani : The biggest issue existing amongst Sindhis in India is that of inter-caste marriages. Do you have this issue in Sindh? Do the Hindus get married to Muslims?
S. Lal : Not exactly. I wouldn’t say that none of Hindu girls have married Muslims. This existed even before the partition. You must be aware of the Shiekh dynasty and Hyderabad issue. But mostly Hindus get married to Hindus. Very rarely are Hindu girls forced to marry a Muslim. But once she does that, then no relationship is maintained with her. The community still doesn’t accept inter-caste marriage. If a Hindu boy is interested in getting married to a Muslim girl then he has to get converted to Muslim otherwise they will kill him. The acceptability of inter-caste marriage that exists in India is still not prevalent in Sindh. Recently there were 3 – 4 girls getting married to Muslims, you must have seen in the news and the internet. Well these issues did exist in Sindh even prior to partition.
Nowadays, there are quite a few Hindu ministers and members. These Hindu ministers are not directly elected from the population. They are nominated by the political parties. They represent the political parties instead of the people. But they still represent the community. They can even influence the government. To be very honest, the government still has no control on the religious lobby. So even if the Prime Minister or majority of the people want a particular law to be passed, they cannot do so because they don’t have the power as the religious lobby has become very strong.
R. Jawhrani : Do you celebrate Diwali, Holi and other Hindu festivals?
S. Lal : Yes.
R. Jawhrani : We keep hearing news in India, that a Hindu girl can’t walk with a tikka on her forehead or wear a mangal sutra around her neck. They come to know that she is a Hindu girl, and there are more chances of eve-teasing and molesting. To what extent is this true?
S. Lal : You see this depends on the extent of Hindu population in that particular area. If the Hindu population in a city is only about 2%, and specially when they are considered to be Indians, then naturally being in the minority they try to dress up as the locals and avoid applying tikka and make it evident that they are Hindus. But during religious festivals and functions like marriages, they do wear the mangal sutra and tikka. Previously, Sindhi Hindu women would not wear the mangal sutra, this has started only after the arrival of cable TV. But one thing I would like to mention here is that inspite of the discrimination by the majority community which is Muslims since 2,000 years, Sindhi Hindus are very resilient. In the 1000th century when it was declared in Thatta that either convert to Islam or leave, they neither converted to Islam nor did the leave, they continued to be Hindus. During the time of Mirs, the Hindus couldn’t buy land. In Khairpur district Hindus were not allowed to ride a horse, but were supposed to ride on a donkey. Then in 1843 Sindh was taken over by the British who left in 1947. At the time of the departure of the Britishers, 43% of the land in Sindh was owned by Hindus. So you see, Sindhi Hindus are very efficient people. There are about 3 to 3.5 crore Christians in Pakistan with names like Salim, Aslam, Ashraf and their surnames are Bhatti. So from their names you wouldn’t be able to discern that they are Christians. While the Hindus still continue with their names like Totaram, Basarmal, Jethanand, Ramchand, Lachhmandas etc. You won’t find any Hindu with the name such as Salim or Aslam. So if my name is Sudamalal and my sister’s name is Mayadevi, it doesn’t makes a difference if I apply the tikka or not. But yes, I agree that the ladies have to be a little cautious. Compared to the local Sindhi Muslims the Muhajirs who have migrated from India are more aggressive. During childhood while travelling in the bus even I wouldn’t tell my name because these Muhajirs had come with hatred filled in their hearts. They were only interested in getting the Hindus kicked out from Sindh so that he could take over their property.
R. Jawhrani : But one point I would like to mention here for your comments is that the Sikhs were killed in substantial numbers.
S. Lal : Most of the Sikhs were in the Punjab province. There were no Sikhs or I would say extremely very few Sikhs in Sindh. There were Sindhi Sikhs in Sindh who were followers of Guru Nanak. The only difference was that they didn’t have the beard. Even today in almost all the temples in Sindh you will find the Guru Granth Sahib. Such temples are known as Tikanas. Even today we have the Path Sahib conducted from the Guru Granth Sahib. But we don’t maintain a beard and long hair, so you can say we are the beardless Sikhs.
Unfortunately Punjab is inhabited by people who are very loud and boisterous. Riots stared in East Punjab where there were small Princely States / Kingdoms (Riyasat) like Kapurthala etc. In these areas, the Sikhs either killed or kicked out the Muslims and simultaneously in West Punjab the opposite happened. So you will find that in East Punjab there are very few Muslims, while in West Punjab there are no Hindus or Sikhs. Even now you will hardly find 200 – 300 Hindus or Sikhs and that too only in big cities, if at all.
If you get a chance, read the book called ‘Surgery without anesthesia’ which is published in Islamabad. It contains 8 stories, 4 about those who went from Punjab to India and 4 about those who came from India to Pakistan. One of them writes about the experiences of migration of their family and how many people were killed. One story is of former Prime Minister of India – I. K. Gujaral’s brother. They had migrated from Sialkot. They tell you about the extent of massacre in the Pakistani provinces of Punjab.
One story mentions that he left for India when he was only 6, and his sister was 8 years old. He went on to become the foreign secretary in India. He came to negotiate with Pakistan on Kashmir. His article says that in their village the entire land belonged to the Sikhs while Muslims were the tenants.
Like I was talking to you about the above mentioned book, that man says that the riots didn’t begin from their village but there were lots of rumors spreading fast. In all the surrounding villages there were only Muslims. The elderly Muslims came and met their elders and said “Our people are upto some mischief and may be they take the form of riots. We have just come to inform you. They are of the opinion that you will kill them, since you have the guns, while they don’t. We aren’t sure whether we shall be able to stop them. But if you give your guns to us, then probably we shall tell them that they don’t have the guns and they won’t kill you.” Saying so they took away the guns. After three days they got to know that they were going to be attacked. When the day of the attack arrived, they felt quite helpless as they didn’t have the guns also with them. Their elders decided that come what may they won’t allow the Muslims to touch their women folk. They all decided to gather in the Gurudwara. They said that you yourself kill your women and girls. Then we shall fight with the Muslims and die fighting. They called one Sikh who was a butcher and asked him to kill all their women folk. He just killed one and fainted. Then they decided to set the Gurudwara on fire where all the ladies were killed. So this guy was 6 at that time. His mother threw him and sister out of the Gurudwara and they started running and went to the station. So you see so many atrocities had taken place during the partition. If you get the opportunity read this book.
R. Jawhrani : Do you have Sindhi writers and litterateurs to promote Sindhi language and literature? Have any new writers or artists come up ?
S. Lal : There are very few of them. Firstly the readership of the Sindhi newspapers and magazines is quite low. The Sindhis who stay in the cities speak Urdu and English. Ten – Twelve years back Urdu was quite popular, but now-a-days everyone speaks in English. After the demise of the first generation Hindu Sindhi litterateurs, the next generation of litterateurs that has come up isn’t as illustrious as the first generation. You must have visited the website of Kawish newspapers, where some Hindu Sindhis write articles for it. Even I read that newspaper daily on the net.
R. Jawhrani : What do you think about the role of G. M. Syed, during the partition period?
S. Lal : G. M. Syed was one of the persons responsible for the creation of Pakistan. He was the one who went to Jinnah and invited him to establish Muslim League in Sindh and he along with Rushdi initiated this movement. In the 1946 elections, the Muslim League had become very popular. All the Muslim landlords had joined the Muslim League and so Jinnah actually didn’t need G. M. Syed, who was just a small zamindar. So during the seat allocation, at the time of 1946 elections a dispute arose between G. M. Syed and Jinnah, and G. M. Syed left Jinnah. Then from 1946 onwards he continuously opposed the Muslim League, Jinnah and the creation of Pakistan also. The other Muslim leaders like the Unionist Party leaders in Punjab, the Khizar Hayati, the Tiwanas, the Malliks etc. opposed creation of Pakistan till 1947. However G. M. Syed didn’t. There is a famous Sindhi book of G. M. Syed – ‘Jeenya ditho aa moo’ (As I have seen). In the beginning it is mentioned that Raja Dahir is the hero of Sindhis and Mohammad Bin Qasim is a robber. If I mention this in Sindh, I will be killed. But since he is a Syed and a well-known reputed person he could say so. Therefore every government in Pakistan, including government of Sindh always treated him as a traitor. But when the resources of the countries, the jobs were taken over by the immigrants who came from India, Sindhi population became disenchanted. Sindhis wanted a separate homeland and they got inspiration from G. M. Syed. So for every Sindhi, he is the leader. But even if he is the leader, he probably couldn’t win the political process like Bal Thakrey, who although getting very popular for a certain cause, couldn’t expect to be a Prime Minsiter in India. G. M. Syed is the pioneer of ‘Sindhu Desh’ movement which didn’t succeed. Now there are two groups of ‘Jiye Sindh’ party. ‘Jiye Sindh’ may not win elections, they may not be able to form the government, but it keeps the mainstream party – Peoples Party on tracks. They can’t be seen as losing something on the Sindhi issue.
R. Jawhrani : What about the role of Hemu Kalani?
S. Lal : You are aware that Hemu Kalani attained martyrdom before partition. Since after partition the government and bureaucracy was totally in the hands of the immigrants, they don’t bother much about Hemu Kalani. There was a time in Sindh, when one was not allowed to write the word ‘Sindh’ because Sindh had become a part of West Pakistan. After political governments have come into power and that the bureaucracy is in the hands of the Sindhis, they do celebrate the anniversary of Hemu Kalani. The ‘Jiye Sindh’ people consider Hemu Kalani as their hero.
R. Jawhrani : Do school and college text books in Sindh contain historical material on heroes like Raja Dahersen etc.
S. Lal : History is a very disputed subject. For you one would be a hero, for me; he might be a villain. In the history that I have been taught at school, Shivaji is considered to be a mountain rat, while Aurangzeb and others are the heroes. This is because after the formation of Pakistan, that history has been re-written by the Pakistani governments where Shivaji is not mentioned even as a freedom fighter. But if you read the history of India you will find something altogether totally different contents. From 1976, till 1986 – 87, the eleven years that he ruled, Zia-ul-Haque ruled as an army dictator in the name of Islam. So he has changed everything from text books, the history, the culture of TV and radio and no succeeding government has the courage to change that. The first thing in history I read is the creation of Pakistan and that subject in Pakistani studies is a compulsory subject. Now when I teach my child – in our country Hindus and Muslims used to live together. Hindus never gave any right to the Muslims and Muslims were crippled economically, socially, culturally. They couldn’t live and lead their life in accordance with their religion and that’s why they did this. So after five minutes my child says – ‘Daddy are you serious?’ But then I have to read and teach him what is written in the text book. Even a child of 8 years knows what all I am saying is all utter rubbish. History is written in a different way where Raja Dahersen is mentioned as a villain.
R. Jawhrani : Yes, I remember the TV serials that I saw on Pakistani channels, they have shown him as a villain.
S. Lal : The history of Raja Daher belongs to the period of 632 A.D. After the period of Chach, you must have read Chach-Nama, came Raja Daher. The history that is taught in Pakistan mentions that during the time of Raja Daher, two ships of Arab Khalifa, Hijaj Bin Yusuf, arrived from Sri Lanka, which also had Muslim ladies on it. Both the ships were looted in Sindh as Sindh was ruled by dacoits. Hijaj Bin Yusuf asked him to stop this and compensate for this. To add drama to this, what will be taught to us will mention that when the ships were being looted, the ladies cried out aloud – ‘Ya Madad Khalifa’, ‘Ya Madad Yusuf Hijaj’. Then he sent Mohammed Bin Qasim who defeated Raja Daher and killed him and won over Sindh. Then Islam came into Pakistan. Now no person in Pakistan says that he is a descendent of Hindus, but says he is a Muslim, like in India also Muslims try to identify their roots to the Arabs. So you will read about Raja Daher in the history of Sindh in a negative role.
R. Jawhrani : What about our singers like Master Chander? Are they remembered in Sindh?
S. Lal : Yes Master Chander is a favourite of the people.
R. Jawhrani : And then you also have Shah, Sachal and Sami, what about them?
S. Lal : Yes, even they are remembered. Shah is a Muslim saint and the national poet of Sindh. His birthday has been declared a public holiday. Sachal again is a national poet of Sindh. People don’t know anything about Sami. In 2004, we had conducted one National Seminar ‘Sami Conference’ in Pakistan at Karachi. We said that Shah, Sachal and Sami are like a triangle, and their time has arrived now. Till about 10 – 15 years back you wouldn’t have heard about this.
R. Jawhrani : Is Sant Kanwar Ram also revered in Sindh?
S. Lal : Till about 2004 – 2005, one couldn’t broadcast songs of Sant Kanwar Ram on PTV and PTV radio, one could do it on other channels like Kawish. This is the difference between the private channels and government channels. Previously, the mentality in Pakistan was one that didn’t believe in culture, but only in Hindus and Muslims. Since Kanwar Ram was a Hindu, he would not be on government radio or TV. Nazar-ul-Islam was an Indian, but since he is a Muslim he could be heard on radio and TV.
R. Jawhrani : When did you come to Mauritius?
S. Lal : I was a Member of Income-Tax and Tax Policy in Pakistan. In those days it was decided to establish the Mauritius Revenue Authority which was a major change in the management exercise. They wanted to merge all the departments and create an autonomous unit which would have its own recruitment and remuneration policies. It would have its own organizational structure with less interference from the government. They wanted to merge the departments for better efficiency. So they invited applications from all over the world – Brussels, Paris, United States, etc. Even from India many had applied. I was shortlisted and ultimately I was selected as the Director General that is the Chief Executive of the Mauritius Revenue Authority.
R. Jawhrani : What is the main role of MRA?
S. Lal : MRA stands for Mauritius Revenue Authority. It is an Authority constituted by the act of Parliament to manage the taxation system of the country. When we are talking about the taxation system, it is the customs, excise, income-tax, VAT – which is called Sales-Tax here, the passenger levy collected by civil aviation etc. So all these domestic and foreign taxes are managed and administered by the authority and there are no separate departments for them. I administer that authority. I came in 2005 and in 2006 the authority started functioning. I am the first employee of the Mauritius Revenue Authority, I created and established the Mauritius Revenue Authority and we started functioning in 2006. Upto 2005 the total revenue of this country was 31 billion rupees. Now this year we have collected 58 billion rupees. In the meanwhile, the maximum tax rate which was 30% has been reduced to 15% and the maximum corporate tax rate which was 25% has been reduced to 15%. So by reducing the rates to half we have doubled the collection by simplifying and integrating the processes. Now it is not possible for an individual to show something else in income-tax, a different turnover in VAT, while an altogether different thing in imports. Moreover all the employees belong to MRA and they are not government employees. Of course it is a public sector organization, but the promotion, transfers etc. of the employees depend on merit and not on seniority. This is considered to be one of the most successful experiments in Mauritius. Within the African countries we are considered to be the model and IMF, World Bank, European Union they look upon us to guide them and they also come and visit us. I was the President for three years of the Common Wealth Association of Tax Administrations which includes 48 countries. I retired last month. Presently I am the Vice-Chairman of the World Customs Organization representing Mauritius. Mauritius, infact is considered to have a very simple modern tax organization, thanks to MRA. You must have seen in the newspapers and the media that public opinion is also the same.
R. Jawhrani : Approximately how many Sindhis are there in Mauritius?
S. Lal : In Mauritius there may be approximately 250 Sindhis, about 40 to 50 families. Hassamal who are originally Tejwanis, their great grandfathers came here to sell garments and textiles. The other is Tulsidas, who hail from Kotari in Sindh. Again Tulsidas is the surname which they have adopted here, their original surname is either Chainani or Rajwani, I am not sure about that. There 6 to 7 houses of Rajwanis. Then there are Punjabis who are in the majority amongst Sindhis. Then we have the Kalachand Group who have 50 to 60 electronic showrooms and are in big business. They are Sindhis ofcourse, but if you go back six to seven generations they were Khuranas. All the Sindhis here are in trade, textiles, household goods, bringing goods from India and selling here. Now China has replaced India to such an extent that even the idols of our Indian Gods like Ganesha and Laxmi also come from China. The customs duty in Mauritius is very low. You don’t need a friend in customs for imports because the processes are transparent.
R. Jawhrani : Have you ever visited India?
S. Lal : I had visited India in 2004. There was a World Bank Seminar in Delhi, I had come as a Keynote Speaker, representing Pakistan. I intentionally avoided coming to India before that because you have to seek permissions and clearances which is a cumbersome procedure. Its not that the other government officials are not coming, but you have to complete all the procedures. I was totally in a different set up. I was not a doctor or an engineer so I tried to avoid travelling to India. Unnecessarily, I didn’t want them to open a file, although they may have a file. Thereafter, I have visited India last year as the Director General of MRA. They had organized a conference and a workshop which was hosted by Pranab Mukherjee. My sister, nieces and nephews stay in India. My wife’s almost entire family is in India. My wife goes every year to India and even from Pakistan she used to visit every year, while I have only been twice to India.
R. Jawhrani : You must have many a times read in the newspapers that after migrating to India, Sindhis faced many hardships, stayed as refugees, do any of your relatives mention about those tough times in India?
S. Lal : Yes. As mentioned earlier the difference between the refugees in Pakistan and the refugees in India was that the refugees who came to Pakistan also brought governance with themselves. They had to just mention that I am an engineer and accordingly he would be awarded the job of an engineer, while our poor Sindhis were all sent to camps like Ulhasnagar. I am not talking about 1947 or 1956 but talking about 1984 and 1990, till date they don’t get proper visas and facilities. They have to first go to Ulhasnagar. For 7 – 8 years they have to struggle a lot and even after that there is so much competition that it is quite difficult to earn a decent income. Both my brothers-in-law first went to Ulhasnagar after migration. Even my sister and her husband (Behranis) and their cousin Gope Behrani went to Ulhasnagar and those poor guys are still staying in the camps.
R. Jawhrani : What I was trying to ask that has the government of India offered any kind of help to Sindhis till date?
S. Lal : The government of India hasn’t given Sindhis anything. They have treated you as refugees.
R. Jawhrani : So, what do you suggest must be done? Can the Sindhis staying abroad be of any help to Sindhis in India in helping them get their rights?
S. Lal : Now we are running out of time.
R. Jawhrani : Thank you!