Saadat Hasan Manto (1912–1955)
Birth Centenary 1912 – 2012
SINDH has no equivalent of Saadat Hasan Manto as a chronicler of Partition. And the absence of a Manto-like figure in Sindhi literature on that count is good news. It shows the resilience of Sindh’s tolerant culture at a time when Punjab had slipped into fratricidal mayhem.
While Amrita Pritam called out for Waris Shah to rise up from the grave to witness the blood-drenched rivers of Punjab, Sindhi woman writers such as Sundari Uttamchandani were not forced to ask Shah Latif to do the same.
The tragedy of Partition inflicted different types of pain on the Punjabi and Sindhi communities and these peculiarities shadowed and shaped post-Partition communal relations between people of different faiths who traced their roots to these regions. What Manto endured and witnessed in 1947 and afterwards, became, through his eloquent writings, simultaneously an elegy and indictment of Punjab losing its sense of humanity at the altar of religious politics. The political air in Sindh was filled with religious demagogy but it did not turn into a communal orgy.
Urdu literati and historians interested in Partition and its impact on the subcontinent have used Manto’s birth centennial, that was recently observed, to remind us of his scathing sketches of lives destroyed by Partition. Ayesha Jalal in her essay ‘He wrote what he saw — and took no sides’ published in the May issue of Herald, writes Manto “looked into the inner recesses of human nature…” to “fathom the murderous hatred that erupted with such devastating effect” …in “his own home province of Punjab at the dawn of a long-awaited freedom”.
There was no eruption of murderous hatred between Sindhi Hindus and Muslims. They did not lynch each other en masse as was the case in Punjab. The violence against Sindhi Hindus and their mass migration to India was a tragic loss scripted, orchestrated and implemented by non-Sindhis in Sindh. As result of varying trajectories of interfaith relations during the Partition period, the intelligentsia of Sindh and Punjab evolved and adopted different views towards Hindus and India.
The collective memory of the Partition days in Punjab is marked more by the stories and silence of the victims and perpetrators of violence. Even the journey towards the safer side was fraught with danger. People who survived had bitter memories of the ‘other’.
The Sindh story is not the same. Ram Jethmalani, a leading lawyer in India today and a member of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was a young advocate in Karachi in 1947. His senior partner was none other than A.K. Brohi, a right-wing Sindhi lawyer who became federal law minister during the Zia period.
Jethmalani has no compunction in saying that there was no love lost between the two because of Partition. Jethmalani stayed back in Karachi and only left for Mumbai in 1948 when Brohi told him he could not take responsibility for his safety as the demography of Karachi had changed with the arrival of migrants from the northern Indian plains. That arrival was accompanied by violence against Sindhi Hindus.
Kirat Babani, a card-carrying communist, chose to stay in Sindh after 1947 and was thrown in prison in 1948. Released 11 months on the condition of leaving Karachi within 24 hours, Kirat took up a job with Comrade Hyder Bux Jatoi, pioneer of the peasant struggle in Sindh. The administration pressured Jatoi for harbouring an atheist. Jatoi advised, much against his desire, Kirat to go to India. Even the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that groomed L.K. Advani, a native of Karachi who later became India’s deputy prime minister, acknowledges that Sindhi Muslims did not push Hindus out of the province.
Sindhis lost on two fronts in the wake of Partition. The migrant Sindhi Hindus had minimal clout in the Indian state. While many of them had led a comfortable life in Karachi and other towns of Sindh, their position in India was of a vulnerable minority. Instead of a consolidated presence in a particular region, Sindhi Hindus were scattered all over India. Their intelligentsia had to fight hard for official recognition of the Sindhi language in India which was finally achieved 20 years after Partition.
Ironically, Sindhi is the only language without a state in the Indian Union. In Sindh, the departing Hindu middle class left a void that was politically, economically and culturally filled by non-Sindhi speaking migrants.
Sheikh Ayaz – photo from http://www.dipity.com/tickr/Flickr_poets/
In post-1947 Punjab, Hindu and India were, and still are, used synonymously at a popular level. When Pakistan and India went to war in 1965, the intelligentsia in Punjab cheered on the soldiers to crush Hindus. Sindh’s supreme poet of the time, Sheikh Ayaz, questioned waging war through a poem mentioning the name of his Hindu Sindhi counterpart Narayan Shyam in a simple yet powerful way. ‘When battle lines are drawn, opposite me is Narayan Shyam; he and I speak the same language, cherish the same culture; and you expect me to shoot him?’ Ayaz’s book was banned.
Manto bemoaned how people living in relative harmony lost all sense of humanity in the political mayhem accompanying Partition. This did not happen in Sindh, so luckily Sindh doesn’t have a Manto.
Manto died more than half a century ago but Punjab and Sindh today are beset by issues that rankled the outstanding writer.
In Punjab, Salmaan Taseer was gunned down for saying things that Manto would have said. In Sindh, the manner in which some women are coerced into renouncing their faith proves neither the superiority of one religion nor the inferiority of the other. It shows erosion of the composite ethos where once people of different faiths lived free from fear.
The writer is Canada-based academic.