Agony of loss
yearning for redemption, a reality of remorse
dedicated to knowledge and 'setting the record straight'
While the hanging of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto left indelible marks on many PPP supporters and loyalists, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto was a calamity no one had imagined could take place. A Jiyala from Lyari talks to Kolachi about his memories of Benazir Bhutto, and recalls his first meeting with her
By Saher Baloch
Forty-year-old Shakeel Chaudhry was among the loyalists of Benazir Bhutto who were anxiously awaiting the conclusion of their leader's canvassing in Rawalpindi in December 2007. Bhutto was supposed to have returned to Karachi, and start her electoral campaign in Karachi from Lyari.
Chaudhry is a Jiyala, a die-hard loyalist of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), but he is also, in equal measure, a devotee of Benazir Bhutto. His comrades and him had planned to light up the Kakri Ground, where she was to meet the people of Lyari, before heading towards Nishtar Park for a campaign rally. "We had never been as busy before. We made arrangements and cleaned up the area, so that Benazir Bhutto would face no problem in reaching here," he said.
The excitement in Chaudhry's voice turned into anger and agony as he described the sheer state of helplessness when news of Benazir Bhutto's assassination in Liaquat Bagh, Rawalpindi broke on news channels on the night of December 27, 2007,. "I was sitting at a funeral when someone burst inside, and informed us that Mohtarma passed away. I was almost about to punch him, when someone switched on the TV and there it was, for all of us to see," said a teary Chaudhry.
After the news of the assassination, however, there was havoc. "People went crazy that night. Some joined the violent frenzy of shooting, snatching and swearing at passersby. Some were just blankly looking in empty space, as after Mohtarma had come to Pakistan, she had promised that the unemployed would get jobs. Now that she was gone, there was no hope for anything."
Chaudhry weeps every time he is asked about his state on the night that Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. "It is like asking a child about his feelings after he has seen his mother being brutally murdered," he told Kolachi.
Belonging to Meera Naka, a neighbourhood in Lyari's area Chakiwara, Chaudhry first met Bhutto after receiving an invitation from Bilawal House. Chaudhry had only been released from prison a few days earlier after having committed a crime he considered justifiable.
"I remember that it was August 18, 1997. I was standing outside the Sindh High Court in Karachi, waiting to greet her and to show her my support. Mohtarma was being harassed politically, and was pushed in one court case after another. It was tormenting for us to see that," Chaudhry said.
To show his hatred towards those he felt were plotting against Bhutto, Chaudhry decided to throw rotten eggs and tomatoes at the attorney general of the time, Chaudhry Mohammed Farooq – something that also awarded him with a beating of the police. "I don't know where the first blow came from, as the police thrashed and beat me up like anything. But inside, I was content that I had done what I had come for."
Chaudhry was subsequently taken to Landhi prison, but was released 13 days later after a request of bail by BB's lawyers. The meeting with his leader, however, paled the misery of prison. "It was like a dream come true for me, as it is difficult to explain how much I respect her." From then on, Chaudhry became one of Bhutto's "trusted ones". He was later appointed the PPP District Information Secretary, of Chakiwara, North.
While Bhutto went into self-imposed exile in 1998, Chaudhry and other Jiyalas knew that she would return. It was no surprise that Lyari became the hub of political activity as news of Benazir Bhutto's return started filtering through. "There were meetings, discussions, programmes were being chalked out and changes were being made at the last minute. In Meera Naka, nobody had slept for days after hearing about Mohtarma's return. We used to sing and dance all night without feeling the need to eat anything. Lyari was decorated with lights and posters of Benazir Bhutto," he reminisced.
Thousands travelled to the Quaid-e-Azam Airport on October 18, 2007 to greet their beloved leader on her arrival. For Chaudhry, the return of "Mayi Baap" was a harbinger of better things to come. "I felt that now our problems will be solved, and if not, we'll put up a real fight as we had Mohtarma by our side." The subsequent attack on BB's caravan on the very day shocked and scared many of the Jiyalas and their first thought was to rush Mohtarma out of the scene to the safety of Bilawal House. "I was a witness to that first attack on Mohtarma, though I received minor wounds in the attack but still Mohtarma's safety was of utmost importance for me."
Chaudhry lost his job when President PPP, Karachi Division, Faisal Raza Abidi closed down all the divisional committees in the city, of which Chaudhry was an active member since 2001. However, despite sitting idle for the past one year, he has no complaints whatsoever. "I do help out people with their work, but as a party worker, I'm doing nothing," he said. "Frankly it feels good that development projects have been started in Lyari, and we have no grudges at all as maybe, the government has more important issues to solve."
Love for the party has still not withered, however. "After Benazir Bhutto, the party has lost its charm and charisma, but I can still die for my party, as it is my Mohtarma's party," Chaudhry said.
Senator Faisal Raza Abidi was entrusted with the task of Benazir Bhutto's security after her return to the country on October 18, 2007. Abidi, then a local leader, tells Kolachi of his regret that his team of Jiyalas was not present in Rawalpindi on December 27
By Samia Saleem
Senator Faisal Raza Abidi was among the many who could not believe the scenes being telecast on the night of December 27, 2007. "Had my team of trained Jiyalas been there in Rawalpindi, things would have been more controlled," he said.
While others eagerly awaited Bhutto's arrival to the country after she ended her self-imposed exile, Abidi was entrusted with the task of ensuring her security in the city. "I enlisted passionate Jiyalas from the People's Student Federation (PSF), and made a team of formidable protectors for Benazir Bhutto," Abidi told Kolachi. "President Asif Ali Zardari then trained us in Dubai for her security," he said.
"When she got off the plane, I could see hope in her eyes -- not just for the party, but also for the entire nation," Abidi recalled. After receiving Bhutto upon her arrival, he escorted her to the specially-prepared truck she was supposed to travel in, and took his place in the security cordon moving alongside her vehicle. "My Jiyalas protected her by making a human chain, the way it is done during Muharram and other sensitive occasions."
Things were going well, but the first suicide attack on her caravan near Karsaz triggered the Jiyalas into action, and they ensured that their leader remained safe from any harm. "Benazir Bhutto was saved in the first attack, but minutes later, the second blast took place. I could not make of what happened after that, as I was badly injured," Abidi told Kolachi. Subsequently, he was hospitalised for two months and underwent three operations, rendering him bedridden. "Afterwards, I was not in a position to handle her security, yet I was concerned about her safety," he said dejectedly.
Abidi joined the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) as a student when he was just fourteen years of age. In 1991, he went to jail, where he met Asif Ali Zardari. The two men developed a lasting friendship in prison, and it was in jail that he had the opportunity to meet his leader, Benazir Bhutto, when she had come to visit her spouse. "Zardari introduced me to Benazir Bhutto, and she instantly remarked that the party had such young and dynamic leaders in its fold. She also signed an autograph for me. I used to see my own future in her and her party, and when I came out of jail I devoted myself and my time completely to the PPP. It is this meeting that still fuels me," he said.
Abidi had still not completely recovered from the injuries sustained on October 18, but he started election campaigning regardless, and went from place to place with a plaster cast still placed on his leg. During one of these drives in Sohrab Goth, Abidi received the news of Mohtarma's demise. "I was dumbstruck, but then I saw even religious leaders also crying over the news. It was then that I realised that my Quaid was everybody's Quaid," he said. "Here were those who were religiously orthodox, and had staunchly opposed her election as a female prime minister. But even they were deeply mourning her death," he added. "The entire nation was in grief, and there must be very few leaders in the world to have had the privilege of being loved by all. Benazir Bhutto was one of them!" he said passionately.
There lingered a sense of disbelief, however, and it was only when Benazir Bhutto was being laid to rest that reality finally hit home. "Despite seeing the reaction of people around me, I could not believe the news at all. I was too numb to rationalise and comprehend anything. But when I saw her grave, that is when I actually believed it had really happened," he said.
Breaking the silence on
Hur 'concentration camps'
Abdul Haque Chang writes about the status of Hurs in the post-colonial nation-state of Pakistan, through the narratives of trauma and suffering of three Hurs who spent their childhood in concentration camps
On August 11, 1947, the founder of Pakistan, M.A Jinnah, said during his presidential address to the the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan: "As you know, history shows that in England, conditions some time ago were much worse than those prevailing in India today. The Roman Catholics and the Protestants persecuted each other. Even now there are some States in existence where there is discrimination, and bars are imposed against a particular class. Thank God, we are not starting in those days. We are starting in the days when there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State."
Contrary to Jinnah's claims, however, the Hurs of Sindh, who had fought against the British Empire since 1843, were forced to live in "concentration camps" until 1952. The Hur Act, which was passed in the Colonial era, continued to be imposed on the Hur community for six years after the independence of Pakistan. The Hurs, fellow Muslims, were treated as criminals in the post-colonial state, which was imagined to be a promised land for all Muslims of the Indian subcontinent. Thus, the State's policies of following colonial remedies for the Hurs not only fractured the myth of the two nation theory, it also denied the rights of equal citizenship to all.
Interestingly, even until now, no official or unofficial history has mentioned the accounts of the Hurs alongside the mainstream narrative of the Pakistan movement. To break this silence, I aim to present the narratives of three Hurs who spent their childhood in Hur concentration camps. These narratives present the stories of trauma and suffering from within the Hur community.
Framing the Hur Issue
After passing the Criminal Tribal Act of India of 1871 (Amended Act II of 1897) in Sindh, the British considered the Hurs as a criminal tribe. In contrast, the Hurs themselves claim to be freedom fighters who fought against British rule for more than a hundred years (1843-1947).
The first major conflict was in 1893, and the war lasted until 1898. The second war was initiated in the 1920s, and the third happened from 1939 to 1947. In 1942, Martial Law was imposed in Sindh due to the ongoing Hur insurgency. During this period, the Royal Air Force bombarded Hur areas; thousands of Hurs were captured and put into special prison camps; many Hurs were killed during the conflict; and scores were given death sentences. The leader of the rebellion, Pir Pagaro, was hanged on March 20, 1943, after a secret trail in a military court; his sons were made wards of the state.
As such, the issue of the Hur concentration camps is one of the most neglected areas of research in the history of Sindh. From 1895 to 1947, the British government built approximately 20 concentration camps in different parts of Sindh to control the Hurs. They were forced to move to these camps with their entire families. Once they arrived at these camps, each family member was separated and sent to different camps. The British government demanded that prisoners find their own means of earning. Living conditions at the camps were terrible and unhygienic, without any provision for safe drinking water and hardly any medical support (Nizamani, 2006: 28). Under these circumstances, people died everyday in large numbers. Most of the young men were often sent to special jails and so, women buried dead bodies under the strict gazes of the soldiers, who pushed them to finish their work quickly. The codies were therefore buried in pits, without any consideration toward religious customs of burial, and became disposable waste. Old people above the age of 90, who were not able to work, were forced to beg for food. These prisons were never open to scrutiny by the courts, neither did the Hurs know under what alleged charges they had been sent to these camps -- other than the fact that they were Hurs, of course.
No prisoner was allowed to take anything with him or her when arrested. Their houses, animals and all other belongings were burned in front of them; they were then loaded into open trucks and taken to these camp with just the clothes on their backs and the shoes on their feet.
Surprisingly, these camps continued after 1947 in the newly-independent state of Pakistan. The continuation of these concentration camps in the newly-built state for six more years not only negated the Two Nations Theory, but also the very meaning of citizenship in Pakistan. It also negated the Hurs' perspective, that they were fighting against the British Empire for independence. Interestingly (and ironically) it was the Sindh assembly, under the leadership G.M Sayed, a Sindhi politician, that, in 1940, passed for the first resolution to establish Pakistan as a "promised land" for the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent.
Prison camp and violence of the nation-state
My aim here is not to write a chronological history of British concentration and extermination camps established for the Hurs, as many scholars have done in terms of the Nazi concentrations camps in Europe (Giorgio Agamben 1996, Hannah Ardent 1951). My purpose is to connect here the Hur issue with the theoretical arguments of Agamben and Ardent regarding the Nazi concentrations camps and problematise the Hur issue in the Postcolonial nation-state of Pakistan.
In this connection, I will present the memoirs of three Hurs who had been held prisoner at these concentration camps. I am going to show some examples from the book Je Gharyaseen Band Maen (2006) [literal translation: The days we spend in person prison camps], an autobiographical book complied by Hur scholar Ustad Nizamani. This book the provided autobiographical narrative of Allah Warayo Bahan, Haji Wali Muhammad Nizamani, and Haji Gul Muhammad Nizamani. These three people spent many years of their childhood in different prisons camps. Wali Muhammad and Gul Muhammad are brothers. Later, one became a school teacher and the other worked in the education department. They are now retired. Allah Warayo Bahan is a Hur scholar, a retired professor of Sindhi culture, language, and literature.
His book provides the testimonies of the Hurs, which are similar to the ones given by the prisoners of Nazi concentration camps. Through minute and touching details, it presents the stories of trauma and suffering, and how Hurs were taken to these concentrations camps and the situations inside these camps.
Even though much has been written, debated, and talked about the Holocaust, the Hur camps have never been discussed seriously in Pakistan. Other than legal sources to prove or disprove these camps, one of the important aspects of these camps is the human trauma suffered by the inmates. In case of the Hurs, this trauma was spread over more than 54 years (1898 to 1952). This state of exception became so normalised because the power of the Colonial state ensured that no collective response was given by the world to sympathise with the Hurs, in the way tat was given to the victims of the Nazi concentration camps. This state of exception become so stabilised, that the founder of Pakistan, M.A Jinnah, who was an attorney of Pir Pagaro (the spiritual leader of the Hurs) and lost the case (Pir Pagaro vs the Crown in 1930), when asked in 1943 to become his attorney again, rejected the offer. He argued that Pir Pagaro was not in the Muslim league and supported the Congress party. Gandhi, who was a leader of the Congress, in his correspondence with local leaders of the Indian National Congress of Sindh, considered Hurs as outlaws and he condemned Hur activities.
According to some sources, Pir Pagaro-the Sixth, supported the Indian National Congress in Sindh and was critical of Muslim league's politics; he believed that the league supported the Colonial administration's agenda. However, he never joined any political party. In Sindh his followers are currently estimated to number around 300,000. He was an extremely organised leader, having saint-disciples relationships with the Hurs through a hierarchical organization called Hur Jamaiat.
Hur voices from the concentration camps
There were more than 20 concentration camps in Sindh from 1898 to 1953. They were called "establishments", "penal colonies", or "Hur camps". In Sindhi language, they were referred to as Lorha (literally: hatches). Lorho generally denotes in Sindhi, the boundary wall of a house in rural areas. Prisoners were supposed to build their own houses in camps. They had to earn their own living themselves. Prisoners were allowed to leave early in the morning to go find work and had to return in the evening. There was roll call in the morning and in the evening. The big bell in each camp rang at a fixed time in summer, winter, autumn and spring. Prisoners remembered the time not according to the seasons but by the ringing of the bell (narrated by Allah Warayo Bahan). Each prisoner's name was called and they had to say "Present, sir!" during the roll call. If anyone just said "Present!" that prisoner was sent to jail for rigorous punishment. Each prisoner had a name plate on the right shoulder. The name of the head of the household, the number of prisoners, their ages, and sex were mentioned on steel plates outside each hut.
Allah Warayo Bahan writes his memoires: "After the establishment of Pakistan our optimism of being free was turned into pessimism. We anticipated being free, because we were put in camps for fighting against the British. And we thought that now that the Islamic country of Pakistan was built, we would be released with respect. But it never happened; we were annoyed and lost hope" (Nizamani, 2006: 35). He writes further: "There was a huge hatch around the camp; there were parallel observation posts every 35 feet, where soldiers directed guns towards us 24 hours a day. In front of the camp was a very big iron gate; the solders with guns in their hands looked like robots, without any expressions on their faces. They moved in left and right directions" (Nizamani, 2006: 18).
Haji Wali Muhammad Nizamani writes: "When a child was sick in the camp, administrators gave medicine and surprisingly that kid died soon after. We don't know whether it was merely incidental or deliberate that children who did not take these medicines were better off" (Nizamani, 2006: 73). His entire family was put in prison camps. His mother and father were sent to separate camps and he and his one brother to another. There was no one to feed them, and the children lived with their paternal uncle. He, however, was also poor and was not even able to feed his own children.
Nizamani and his brother continued to starve. "Sometimes, when someone gave Kherat (charity), I went there with my plate, like the kids of poor people do now. Sometimes, someone gave me some rice; otherwise people showed their back. I didn't even get the rice of Kherat. We were hungry all time. When I was not able to get rice I wept and remembered my mother and father. I always prayed that my mother and father should come back so that we can eat well" (Nizamani, 2006: 76-77).
Haji Gul Muhammad Nizamani describes that once they come to know that the Sindh chief minister was planning to visit a Hur camp in Nawabshah. One Hur elder and writer, Mulhar Faqir, sent a request to the CM, presenting the Hurs' case as Muslim freedom fighters, and seeking freedom from the prison camps. The CM responded: "You will all die here. You will never be free. You deserve these camps. You should all live here" (Nizamani, 2006: 152).
Whose history is it, anyway?
It is surprising that the history of the Hur concentration camps has never been framed in the context of the political struggle of the Pakistan movement. Though nationalist historians in India as well as Pakistan have framed the 1857 event as the first war of independence, but the Hur narrative has never been mentioned in either countryís history.
There is, however, no straightforward answer to this question, because neither Jinnah nor Ghandi supported the Hurs. There is a need to look into the Hur concentration camps issue within the broader politics of British India and the post-independent nation-state of Pakistan. The Hurs need to not only be looked at as heroes, as nationalist historiographies usually do; rather, there is a need to find out where the Hur issue is located in the nationalist politics and subsequently in the history of the post-colonial nation-state of Pakistan.
Moreover, when the Hur camps are compared with the Nazi camps, there are many issues which history needs to revel, not just to find what exactly happened with the Hurs at these concentration camps, but also to understand why the Hur concentration camps issue is excluded from the mainstream nationalist struggle of the independence movement and from the history of Pakistan.
-- The writer is a graduate student of Anthropology at the University of Texas in Austin, and can be reached at [email protected]
By Jan Khaskheli
Seventy-year-old Prof. Mohammed Umar Chand, 70 belongs to a rigidly-religious peasant family. He was among the few lucky ones who struggled on their own to attain higher education. Despite confrontations with landlords, Prof. Chand started schooling at his native village and his passed matriculation examination from the Tando Jam High School. He credits his grandfather and father with this accomplishment, because they were the ones who supported his quest for knowledge against all odds.
Prof. Chand got his Masters degree in English Literature from Dhaka University in 1970. When he returned home, he joined the University of Sindh and later he left for the US in 1973, for a Masters in Education (Teaching English as a second language), which he completed in 1975. He then joined the Iran Army Aviation Base as a teacher and stayed there from 1975 to 1979. After the Islamic revolution in Iran, however, Prof. Chand went back to the US, but left for Iraq soon, after being offered a teaching position in Jamia Mosul. He has also lived in Brunei for 13 years.
Now a retired professor of English Literature, living in New Zealand as its citizen, Prof. Chand says that when he was young, children of lower-middle class farmers faced a lot of opposition from Muslim landlords if they wanted to get higher education. Before the Partition there was competition between upper-class Muslims and Hindus to acquire education and establish businesses, he said. Children belonging to oppressed farmers' communities, however, had always faced difficulties from landlords, who wanted their farmers to not enrol their children in even primary schools. "Obviously, the landlords were frightened of seeing the children of their farmers gain knowledge that was at par with their own education," he said.
Prof. Chand has travelled a lot for learning and has obtained a sufficient knowledge about the cultural changes in the countries where he lived for some time. He said that there was a time when teachers were kind and generous, and encouraged students to use libraries and read outside the prescribed syllabi. As a result, students were also more productive, he said.
In the past, universities in Sindh organised conferences on various subjects, and invited scholars to discuss issues. These programmes were major sources of learning for students, Prof. Chand said. Famous Sindhi language publishing houses used to print local literature, as well as books of Tagore and other known writers for Sindhi readers. "The culture introduced by our elders is on the decline now," he lamented. For example, he said that there were more libraries in the past; each stocked hundreds of books on a variety of subjects. Currently, neither are the same libraries available, nor are the students willing to develop their knowledge by visiting book houses. This, he maintained, was the difference between the approach of students of the past and the present.
Once, Madressahs were the only sources of getting education for people. Prof. Chand's grandfather and father studied at the Chotiari Madressa in district Sanghar, which was one of the most popular institutes in the province. A large number of scholars of Sindh also started education from Madressahs, he said.
Prof. Chand started writing in Sindhi while he was a student. Later, he contributed research-based articles to international English-language journals of repute. Despite the fact that he was teaching English literature, he was interested in writing on historical facts. For the past several years, he has been collecting material about the Hur Movement, which was launched by the followers of Pir Sibghatullah Rashdi against the British rulers.
Prof. Chand's family traditionally belongs to the Sarwari Jamat of the Makhdooms of Hala. During childhood, however, he heard stories from the concentration camps set up by British rulers in 1942, where hundreds of families were detained. After Partition, the Pakistani government continued the same camps till 1952. Prof. Chand said that there was an agreement to not restore the spiritual capital of Pir Saheb for 10 years. During that time, the situation was frightful, and people were scared to even mention the name of any Hur.
Prof. Chand gives credit to late Mohammed Usman Deeplai, who wrote the first-ever novel ("Sanghar") on the Hur movement, in which he exposed the role of the local establishment in the oppression of the freedom fighters. Local publishers refused to publish the book. The novel, however, contributed a lot towards creating awareness among the people, and encouraged them to talk about the truth.
Prof. Chand has taken it as a challenge to contribute a little to expose historical truths. For this, he visits libraries to collect matter, old files and books. He believes that certain historians have manipulated the truth, and he hopes to be able to set the record straight.