Sunday, October 30, 2022

Naipaul: On the Tragedy of Pakistan’s Mohajirs

The Urdu word “mohajir” means Muslim immigrant and it is generally used to describe the Muslims of various ethnicities, originally from different parts of India, who moved into Pakistan after this nation came into being in 1947. Many of these mohajirs settled in the region of Sindh. The mohajirs had moved to Pakistan because they believed that Muslims could feel at home only in an Islamic state but they were not treated as equals by Pakistan’s original natives. They faced discrimination, prosecution, and brutal violence. 

Thousands of mohajirs have been killed in Pakistan in targeted killings and riots. The most infamous massacres of the Mohajirs include the Qasba Aligarh massacre; the Hyderabad, Sindh massacre; the Pucca Qila Massacre; and the Operation Clean-up. In his book, Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions among the Converted Peoples, V. S. Naipaul has reflected on the tragedy of the mohajirs who came to Pakistan hoping to find an Islamic paradise but they and their descendants got trapped in a fundamentalist and racist hell. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 6, “Loss”:

“For most of the Muslims of the subcontinent the partition of 1947 had been like a great victory, ‘like God’, as a man had said to me in Lahore in 1979. Now every day in the newspapers there were stories of the killings in the great port city of Karachi. That was where many of the Muslim migrants from India, townspeople, middle class or lower middle class, had gone after partition. Nearly half a century later the descendants of these people, feeling themselves strangers still, unrepresented, cheated, without power, had taken up arms against the state, in a merciless guerrilla war. 

“In Iqbal’s [the poet Mohammad Iqbal] convert’s scheme Islam should have been identify enough for everybody. But the people of Sindh (the province where Karachi was) didn’t like seeing their land, half empty and half desert though it was, overrun by better-educated and more ambitious strangers. The land of Sindh was ancient, and always slightly apart. The people had their own history and language and feudal reverences. They had set up political barriers, some overt, some hidden, against the strangers from India, the mohajirs. And in Pakistan the mohajirs had nowhere else to go. 

“Partition, once a cause for joy, had become like a wound for some of these mohajirs. For some the memories of those days still lived.”

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