Discovering Sharam Booti, Rediscovering Gobind Malhi In Pakistan

Discovering Sharam Booti, Rediscovering Gobind Malhi In Pakistan
A chance visit to a Progressive publisher’s bookshop located in Mozang, the heart of Lahore’s old city in August last year, led to the discovery of Sharam Booti (Sensitive Plant), a revolutionary novel written seventy years ago in the background of the struggle of the Sindh Hari Committee in the days before the partition of the Subcontinent. The discovery of this classic of Sindhi literature also revealed that 2021 was the centenary year of its writer, Comrade Gobind Malhi, who was born 102 years ago today. This review is thus a very belated and post-centenary tribute to a son-of-the soil who remains forgotten in his land of birth – Pakistan.

Gobind Malhi belonged to that revolutionary tribe of the Mehran valley who played an important role in the growth of the communist movement in Sindh and supplied strong foundations to it. Beginning his political activities from his student days, he belonged to the Communist Party of India. From 1944, he performed his duties as the party General Secretary of Karachi. He was not only a revolutionary political worker but as a revolutionary writer also played an active role for the progressive movement of Sindh from the platform of the Sindhi Adabi Sangat. He is regarded among the founders of this organisation.

Confronting the difficulties of captivity as punishment for his revolutionary activities, Malhi was among those Hindu revolutionaries of Sindh, who were forcibly given exile on various pretences and excuses. In the same manner, after Partition, when information came from Bombay that the mother of comrade Hashu Kewalramani – who was imprisoned under the Safety Act – was seriously ill, he was immediately sent to Bombay via a ship. All this carried no aspect of human sympathy, but along with this, the right of return to the motherland was also seized from Comrade Hashu Kewalramani forever. AK Hangal, the renowned leader of the Communist Party in Karachi, was sent to Bombay together with wife and children under police custody while handing him the warrant of banishment after completing a year of imprisonment. The same was done with Gobind Malhi, Kirat Babani and other revolutionaries. Various types of ruses were tested by the powerful circles here to forcibly send Comrade Sobho Gianchandani to India.
The landlord and capitalist rulers and powerful circles here feared their revolutionary ideologies and one of the strategies of weakening the communist movement in the country was also to expel leading Hindu communists from here by various pretences, excuses and force

There are countless names of patriotic revolutionaries, there are innumerable examples who were forcibly exiled because they had struggled for the same sort of authority for humans on the earth, above religion and faith. They boldly faced British imperialism raising slogans of Hindu-Muslim unity. The centre of their affections and hatreds were class foundations rather than faith, sect, caste, race, colour and language. They were the rebels of this system whose foundations are established upon the exploitation of one man at the hands of another. They were communists and true patriots who boundlessly loved their historic homeland, language and culture and together with class struggle, believed in every such struggle which was related to homeland, language and culture, which was about the rights of working people and oppressed nations. Their forced exile was one of the brutal tragedies of the division of the subcontinent. Comrade Sobho Gianchandani had said about this situation, “The tyranny of the circumstances is such that the people who while struggling for the freedom of the subcontinent bore the hardships of jail and also endured the taunts of their loved ones and relatives while raising voice for Hindu-Muslim unity, today they have become exiled from here.”

The landlord and capitalist rulers and powerful circles here feared their revolutionary ideologies and one of the strategies of weakening the communist movement in the country was also to expel leading Hindu communists from here by various pretences, excuses and force. Afterwards, from the banning of the Communist Party to the martyrdom of comrade Hassan Nasir and comrade Nazeer Abbasi – and then the crushing of the Afghan Saur Revolution even – is a long tale of their role. Similarly, every means of oppression was used to silence those who raised voice for national rights very much from day one and this conduct still continues today.

All these strategies and tactics of oppression which were used to push revolutionary and progressive politics against the wall eventually proved very much futile. Although its logical result is manifested in the world in the shape of the devastation of our society. From gun-bearing fascist parties, the new monsters of religious extremism are the gift of very much the same policies. So, when we look at Sindh after seven decades today, within the landscape, incessant attacks continue against the thousands of years old and proud civilisation of Sindh. By means of religious extremism, the lives of Sindhi inhabitants especially its Hindus have been made hell. Their honour and lives are at the mercy of extremists, young girls are being forced to change religion violently by kidnapping them openly, their places of worship are being continually desecrated, their dead are humiliated and even the corpses are thrown out of graves; the same was done with the corpse of Bhuro Bheel in Badin. This is a situation which has become extremely tortuous for Hindu families here and due to this they are compelled to migrate from Sindh.

However, who could seize the love of the Sindhi motherland, the memories of the struggle of its freedom-fighters and workers from comrade Gobind Malhi, who was forced to migrate? Even after going to India, he remained active alongside Comrade Kirat Babani, AJ Uttam and other friends in the struggle to have the Sindhi language accepted as a national language, so much so that the Indian constitution recognized the Sindhi language as a national language on 10 April 1967.

Playing his historic role in India on the base of his revolutionary and patriotic principles, Gobind Malhi kept remembering the Mehran valley, its labouring inhabitants, their struggle, kept praising and advocating them strongly from a distance of thousands of miles. A powerful example of this is Sharam Booti in the shape of this novel which was published from India in the decade of the 1950s and its publishing became possible in Sindh years later in 1991. Now by rendering this revolutionary masterpiece of the Sindhi language into Urdu, Nangar Channa has made its access possible to those people who cannot read the Sindhi language.

Associated with the national politics of Sindh and living in the Sindhi city of Nasirabad, Nangar Channa always does very startling work. He is a most excellent translator, short-story writer and poet. There is a long list of the literary work he has done. He is the translator of some two and a half dozen books, writing two novelettes in the Sindhi language. But his specialization is not just this, but his excellence is that he has done these translations from Urdu into Sindhi and then from Urdu, Seraiki, Punjabi, Pashto into Sindhi. And there is no reason that next his translations done from the Balochi language will be before us. Let me say that at this time in Sindh no translator of the high class of Nangar Channa is present who has the ability to simultaneously directly translate from so many of the languages of the region. If Nangar Channa has translated the memorable short-stories from the revolutionary period of Shaikh Ayaz into Urdu on one hand, then on the other he is determined for the translation of the famous novel Spīn by the leader of the Afghan Saur Revolution and eminent revolutionary writer of Pashto comrade Nur Muhammad Taraki so that he can introduce working people here to this important revolutionary masterpiece.

Nangar Channa holds a strong and credible reference for humanism based on progressiveness and revolutionary foundations, along with being a national worker. He has been influenced by the struggle of the haris of Sindh and rightly disagrees with those intellectuals who say that Sindhis do not have the ability to form organizations. In this connection, the establishment of the Sindh Hari Committee, its historic struggle and results are those powerful arguments of Nangar Channa which cannot be dismissed. The Sindh Hari Committee which not only was a class struggle of our haris but this was rightly anti-imperialist and a struggle for the national rights of Sindh too, which fully played a role against attacks on the unity of Sindh. The famous poem of its moving spirit Comrade Hyder Bux Jatoi “Jiye Sindh, jiye Sindh, jam-e-muhabbat piye Sindh” (Long live Sindh, long live Sindh; Let Sindh drink the bowl of love) is till now the anthem of the national movement here. I feel happy when I see this combination in the thought and art of Nangar Channa, in his personality prominently and feel with intensity that we need many more such Nangar Channas.

The novel under review is based on the struggle of the Sindh Hari Committee whose results and struggle have a long history. Its foundation was set in 1930 in Mirpur Khas and among its founding members Jamshed Nusserwanjee Mehta, Jethmal Pursram, GM Syed, GN Gokhale and others were included. Thereafter Comrade Hyder Bux Jatoi, resigning from the office of Deputy Collector, joined the Sindh Hari Committee and was elected its President. Afterwards he spent all his life in struggling for the haris of Sindh. The Sindh Hari Committee although was not a front of the Communist Party but it always had enthusiastic relations with the Communist Party and left-wing organizations. Together with comrade Hyder Bux Jatoi, several of its leaders were associated very much with communist thought.

The Sindh Hari Committee fully participated in the movement for the separation of Sindh from Bombay and this movement met with success. The Hari Committee also struggled with reference to Hindu-Muslim unity. In the Larkana Hari Conference held in Larkana on 17 April 1941, it has been clearly said in the resolutions approved against sectarianism that, “This conference views the total elements creating unrest and rioting among the people in the name of sectarianism and religion with hatred and contempt. These are only a handful of capitalists who engage in religious incitement for obtaining their political power and personal interests. They want that ordinary people and workers remain unaware of their anti-people mischiefs.’ The resolution further said that, ‘They want to take full advantage of the general ignorance, poverty, political backwardness and misfortune present in Sindh for their personal and class interests. These mischief-mongers are the enemies of people’s rights and the agents of the British empire and the enemies of freedom.”
Along with these results, on the literary front too, under the influence of the Sindh Hari Committee, superb revolutionary and resistance literature was created

The Sindh Hari Committee was a patriotic, anti-imperialist and anti-feudal, anti-capitalist organization whose leaders and workers confronted the cruelties of English occupiers and even the landlords with courage and bravery. Mai Bakhtawar Shaheed, a brave worker of the Sindh Hari Committee Umerkot whom a landlord Chaudhary Saadullah had martyred by firing on June 22, 1947 during the Adh Batai (half-share or half-division of crop) movement, has remained a metaphor for the struggle of the haris of Sindh for the last 75 years. This movement based on the demand for the right of the hari to half the produce which began in Nawabshah and soon spread in the whole of Sindh thereafter met with success.

After the Partition of the Subcontinent, when Karachi was separated from Sindh in the name of the capital of the country at that time, the Sindh Hari Committee too was in the front in the struggle against it and participated in the protests held against it. In the Hari Conference held in Ratodero on May 30 and 31, 1948, a resolution was approved against it in which deeming it unnatural, it was demanded to let Karachi remain a part of Sindh on a political and administrative basis. Similarly, in the Hari Conference organised on December 12 and 13, 1953 in Tando Jam, a resolution was approved in which it was said, “This conference of the Hari Committee once again repeats its policy that Karachi cannot remain separated from Sindh from a historical, economic and cultural viewpoint, Karachi has been forcibly separated from Sindh to obtain the pleasure of merely a few people. Therefore this conference in the struggle of the people of Karachi extends a hand of friendship towards both, meaning the Sindhi and Urdu speakers and appeals to both to unite for the unity of Sindh.” Similarly, the Sindh Hari Committee fully played a role against One-Unit and the military dictatorship of Ayub Khan.

Very much since its establishment, the Sindh Hari Committee kept demanding the end of the feudal system and the distribution of hundreds of thousands of acres of land made cultivable after the establishment of the Sukkur Barrage among the haris and kept struggling for it. This very demand was made thereafter in connection with the lands becoming usable from the construction of the Kotri and Guddu Barrages. After the partition, it initiated the Allottee Movement whose objective was to distribute the lands of the moneylenders and landlords who had migrated from here among the haris. As a result of this struggle, the haris of Sindh obtained lands to some extent. An important success of the Sindh Hari Committee was legislation in the shape of the Sindh Tenancy Act from the Sindh Assembly for the haris. Before this, there was no law for the protection of the rights of the haris. Through this Act it became possible to determine the rights of the haris and landlords but on the other hand through this very means the right of half-share of crop was acknowledged, recoveries made from haris together with forced labour was deemed illegal and haris received legal security from being dispossessed from the land. After the partition, the Hari Committee also participated in elections but together with oppression, torture, arrests, using several tactics it was prevented from being successful. Comrade Hyder Bux Jatoi and other leaders bore the torture of landowners and went behind bars many times.

Along with these results, on the literary front too, under the influence of the Sindh Hari Committee, superb revolutionary and resistance literature was created. Hyder Bux Jatoi, the moving spirit of the Sindh Hari Committee was a poet and prose writer. Another important leader of the Sindh Hari Committee Qazi Faiz Muhammad (who is also a character in this novel) was the author of quite a few books. Innumerable writers and poets like Comrade Barkat Ali Azad, Abdul Karim Gadai, Maulvi Nazir Jatoi, Qadir Bux Nizamani played a prominent role in the awakening of haris while creating simple and easy literature in that period. In 1947 publication of a weekly six-page Sindhi newspaper by the name of Hari Haqdar (Deserving Hari) was also begun under the editorship of comrade Hyder Bux Jatoi. The Sindh Hari Committee also set up its publication institution with the name of Hari Darul Isha’at (Peasant Publishing House) and press.

Comrade Hyder Bux Jatoi had also compiled a book consisting of eleven short-stories with the name Hari Kahanian (Peasant Stories) in 1950 in which stories of Shaikh Ayaz, Sain Dad Solangi, Ibn Ilyas, Shaikh Sanaullah, Luda Ram, Gobind Ram, Ghaus Memon and J. Jamali were included. In these stories along with the illustration of cruelties upon haris, women and the ordinary inhabitants of villages, the lesson of struggle against it has been given. Wadera Shahi urf Kamdar Ke Kaarnaame (Landlord Rule Also Known As Achievements of the Servant) was published in 1950 and comrade Hyder Bux Jatoi’s book with the title Hari Inquilab (Peasant Revolution) was published in 1953 in which proving the feudal system as a wrong system, along with the English and the feudal system, light has also been shed on the struggle of the Tenancy Act.

Quite a few of our progressive writers and poets thereafter obtained the energy of ideas from this literature created under the influence of the Sindh Hari Committee and are doing so today too. This novel of comrade Gobind Malhi Sharam Booti and its Urdu translation is the expression of this same. The characters of the novel are the walkabout characters of the Sindh of that time. The hero of this novel Ram is a qualified youth of Shantiniketan who participates in the hari struggle armed with ideas of class and spurning the opportunities to bring revolution in personal life is busy uniting and organizing poor bazigars against this system. The novel’s heroine Premi is a bazigar (Dalit) girl who is in this struggle with him. We have written above about Qazi Faiz Muhammad that he was an active leader of the hari movement. He played an active role in the Sindh Hari Committee even after partition and died in 1982.

As far as the translation of the novel is concerned, Nangar Channa has performed this task with such skill that it seems like the original rather than a translation. How Gobind Malhi has written the pronunciation of the actual language of the bazigars in the Sindhi novel, Nangar Channa has maintained the same in Urdu too, which further adds to the beauty of the translation. I hope that this novel will introduce Urdu readers throughout the country to a great movement and struggle of the haris of Sindh. I present revolutionary congratulations to Nangar Channa on this endeavor and rightly hope from him that he will keep performing the duty of conveying such masterpieces to the people in future as well.

The renowned progressive writer of the Sindhi language Gobind Malhi was born in a village named Tharushah. He began his political activities from college in 1940 and remained very active in the students union, remained close to Sobho Gianchandani and was also influenced by him. He went to jail for the first time in 1942 in connection with the Quit India movement. He joined the Communist Party of India in 1943 and was appointed the Party Secretary of Karachi in 1944. He played an active and leadership role in the Progressive literary movement in Sindh. He is counted among the founders of the eminent organization, the Sindhi Adabi Sangat. Prior to the partition of India, he became the editor of the progressive journal Nayi Dunya and like this he established the Sindhi Adabi Sangat on one hand, then on the other played a leading part in the growth of organization and literature through the aforementioned journal. He began by writing short-stories and then made a name in novel, drama-writing, translation and editorship. Gobind Malhi is a grand reference of the Sindhi novel. Among his works, in addition to two collections of short-stories, are more than forty novels, among which Aansu (Tears), Zindagia jee Raah Te (On the Road of Life), Jivan Sathi (Life Partner), Pyar Jee Pyaas (Thirst of Love), , Man No Meet (Beloved Friend), Pakhiara Vilar Khaan Vichriya (Birds Separated From Their Flock), Sharam Booti, Chanchal Nigahen (Playful Glances), Lalkar (Shout), Ishq Nahe Raand (Love Is Not Play), Lok Aahe Bok (People Are Very Much Crazy), Desi Senna Kajhan (One Should Only Be Acquainted With Compatriots), Dehi Pardehi Thiya (One’s Own Became Unknown), Smuggler and others are included. He played a central role in the’ Sindhi as a National Language’ movement in India. He also remained the central Vice-President and General Secretary of Indian Peoples Theatre Association. The novel of Malhi under review was translated into Gujarati and Hindi. Among his famous translations are Mother (Maxim Gorky), Dharti Mata (Tarashankar Banerjee), Taane (Lin Yutang), Saathi (Yashpal), Inquilabi Shahrah (Aanchal) and Chandni Raat (Dostoevsky), etc. It is said that the first Sindhi translation of The Communist Manifesto too was done very much by Gobind Malhi whereas after partition the second translation was done by Rasheed Bhatti. If Gobind Malhi is considered an important milestone of the progressive movement and novel in Sindhi literature, it will not be incorrect. Malhi passed away in Bombay on February 10, 2001.

Sharam Booti is thus a tale of the hari peasant struggle. Today peasant struggle is a tale of the past. As to how our literature has preserved this tale, this book is its witness.

Raza Naeem is a Pakistani social scientist, book critic and award-winning translator and dramatic reader based in Lahore, where he is also the president of the Progressive Writers Association. He can be reached via email: and on Twitter: @raza_naeem1979