By Harris Khalique
September 07, 2016
Before we come to the question of who is a
Mohajir, let me state at the outset that the crisis of Mohajirs is that of
their underclass, not of the elite. Therefore, today you see a clear
distinction between those who support the MQM and those who do not.
The MQM and its founder-leader Altaf
Hussain have remained in the limelight for one reason or the other since 1987,
when the party as the Muhajir Qaumi Movement – renamed the Muttahida Qaumi
Movement in 1997 – had first won local government polls in major cities of
Sindh, including Karachi. They have provided a structure to a sentiment that
was seething for long among a large section of people whose forebears had
migrated to those parts of British India which are now Pakistan from those
parts of British India which are now India.
Currently, a lot is being discussed in
academic circles and the media when it comes to the structure of the MQM as a
political party, the turmoil it faces after the scathing anti-state speeches
made by its founder and the need for demilitarising its rank and file. However,
the sentiment that shaped itself into the MQM is not being discussed as much.
So who is a Mohajir? The biggest migration
in 1947 happened within the large province of undivided Punjab, when hundreds
of thousands of Muslims from what are now the Indian states of Punjab, Haryana
and Himachal Pradesh migrated to what is now Punjab in Pakistan. It is
estimated that about 80 percent of those who came from India lived in the
British Indian Punjab which included three states in India and one province in
Pakistan today. Initially, they were called Mohajirs by the natives of the
districts they migrated to.
Even now you would find some older people
referring to them as Mohajirs in some secondary towns and villages in Punjab.
However, in Pakistan’s mainstream political parlance and social discourse for
quite some time they are not Mohajirs. They are Punjabis because they migrated
from within their old province. They spoke the same language, if not the same
Mohajirs as a category today would mean
those whose ancestors migrated from areas of India other than Punjab.
Derogatory words like Tilyar, Makkar, Matarwa or Panahgir – based on names of
migratory birds or insects with certain characteristics, or even the term
shelter-less – were also not used for immigrant Punjabis. ‘Hindustani’ was a
more serious and respectable term used by the elderly in Punjab and Sindh for
immigrants from the Indian states of Delhi, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh (which was
then the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh), Madhya Pradesh (then called the
Central Provinces and Berar), Bihar and Andhra Pradesh (then Hyderabad Deccan).
But over a few generations, it became
difficult for people to call the children of those who had migrated from
heartland India ‘Hindustani’ – as Hindustan was the name for India. The term
‘Mohajir’ gained more currency to describe these immigrants and their children.
Besides, Mohajirs themselves liked it better as the term comes from Arabic and
has a respectful religious connotation. It is used for those who leave their
homes and migrate to another place for the cause of Islam.
However, the term was challenged by those
among academia and media who thought that you cannot continue to be a Mohajir
if you are settled in a place permanently for generations. And so the term
‘Urdu-speaking’ gained currency instead of Mohajir. Some also used
‘Urdu-speaking Sindhis’ for those who have settled in Sindh. But ‘Mohajir’ and
‘Urdu-speaking’ are the popular terms and also used interchangeably.
Therefore, the beginning of the Mohajir
tragedy is their identity within Pakistan, which remains hitherto unsettled.
Those who came from within Punjab remained Punjabis within Pakistan. But how
would a large migrant population define themselves when they live among those
who have their distinct ethnic, tribal, linguistic and cultural identities?
The ancestors of Mohajirs had come to
Pakistan but had to settle in Punjab, Sindh, (then) NWFP and Balochistan. They
did not realise that Pakistan was a concept and name given to a country, which
in fact had areas with their own history and culture.
Today, even if we acknowledge that Mohajirs
live everywhere in Pakistan, in practical political terms, the question is
entirely limited to the province of Sindh. Their issues with the federation or
with Punjab are not different from the issues of Sindh. But, as Pakistan
progressed over the years and economic and political issues surfaced in Sindh,
a part of the Mohajir leadership made claims to having a distinct
ethno-linguistic identity in order to come at par with others.
I am afraid, though, that this does not
solve their issue either. Yes, their ancestors had all come from what is now
India but they had come from 15 diverse states within India. Will a person from
Delhi in India claim the same ethnicity or linguistic association with a person
from Srinagar, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad or Chennai? Why then do the children of
those whose ancestors come from places as diverse as Meerut, Tonk, Malabar and
Patna make a claim to a shared ethnicity?
Likewise, ‘Urdu-speaking’ is again a
misnomer for everyone whose forebears migrated from what is now India. Scores
of distinct languages were and are spoken in these different parts of India.
Some are bigger languages than many spoken in Pakistan in terms of the number
of people speaking them. Gujarati, for instance, which is spoken by Farooq
Sattar and many others who support the MQM, is a major South Asian language.
A large part of Mohajirs from western India
who live in urban Sindh had nothing to do with Delhi or UP. They spoke Memoni,
Kathiawari, Malabari, Kokni and Katchi to name a few. Even many from Indian
Punjab, Haryana and Kashmir who are settled in Karachi and vote for the MQM are
not strictly Urdu-speaking if the term means identifying one’s mother tongue.
Besides, those who have come from Assam, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala are
all bracketed among the Urdu-speaking.
One may argue that now these communities
settled in urban Sindh speak Urdu as their first language or even as their
mother tongue. But if we take this as a rule, almost all of middle-class
Punjabis across Punjab and Islamabad, and increasingly many among middle class
Sindhis, Seraikis and Hindko-speakers and particularly those coming from mixed
parentage including Pakhtuns and Baloch, speak Urdu as their first language of
communication. Hence, using the term Urdu-speaking for a particular political
community may well be seen as a respectful term for them but does not do
justice to the language which is shared by a larger number of people and serves
as the lingua franca.
Therefore, those settled in Sindh whose
forebears had come from India can at best claim to have a political identity.
That too is based only on their shared economic interest and fundamental rights
due to living in a largely but not entirely contiguous geographical area within
the province of Sindh.
The claim to an ethno-linguistic identity
is farfetched. Asking for the division of the province is unjustified and
wrong. The crisis of Mohajir identity can only end when those living in Sindh
begin to believe in their Sindhi identity. Language/languages are not the only
If Gujaratis and Tharis, and the Dhatki,
Balochi, Brahvi and Seraiki speaking population that are settled in rural Sindh
can all become a part of the larger Sindhi identity, those speaking Urdu and
other languages as their mother tongues and living in urban centres of Sindh
can also assimilate, politically first and culturally over generations. However,
the enlightened Sindhi middle class also has to play a proactive role in making