Navigating Identity: My Journey Through Sindhi-Muhajir Fiasco

Present-day Sindh grapples with multifaceted challenges, chief among them being the fractious divide along linguistic lines

Navigating Identity: My Journey Through Sindhi-Muhajir Fiasco

A person's identity is multifaceted, comprising many elements such as historical roots, cultural heritage, and native language. Although I have lived in Australia for the past 35 years, I am still often labelled as a Pakistani due to my origins. 

I was born in Hyderabad, Sindh; my lineage traces back to the Muhajir community there, as my grandparents migrated from India during the Partition of 1947. Consequently, although my birthplace suggests a Sindhi identity, I am recognised as an Urdu-speaking or Muhajir.

 In my book, "Shanakht Kay Qaidi" (شناخت کے قیدی), published in 2018, I delve into my personal experiences growing up in Hyderabad, Sindh, and my struggle to reconcile my identity as Sindhi, and as an Urdu-speaking Sindhi, or Muhajir. This struggle underscores the significant role that one's native land and mother tongue play in shaping one's sense of self.

The division between the Sindhi and Muhajir identities deepened with the introduction of the Quota System in the Constitution by former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1973. Although, ostensibly aimed at providing opportunities to residents of rural areas, it disproportionately affected residents of urban areas such as Karachi and Hyderabad, where a majority of Urdu-speaking residents lived.

The strong argument that the native land and language play a vital role in shaping the identity of a person is abundantly found in the creation of Bangladesh. The Bengalis wanted their language to be accepted as a national language of Pakistan besides Urdu. But this never materialised, and eventually, it became one of the major factors for the separation of East Pakistan from Pakistan in 1971.

While the quota system in Sindh was initially implemented with the aim of offering increased opportunities for higher education and government employment to talent living in rural areas, it has disproportionately affected urban areas such as Karachi, Hyderabad, and Sukkur, where a significant proportion of the population is Urdu-speaking (as well as Punjabi, Gujarati, Seraiki, and Pashto speakers). Originally intended to be in place for a period of 10 years, according to the Constitution, the quota system unfortunately persists to this day.

As I address contemporary issues facing Sindh, I do so with a focus on present-day realities rather than historical grievances. It is essential to acknowledge the diversity within Sindh and work towards fostering unity and social cohesion.

Despite residing in Australia for the past 35 years, I find defining my provincial identity of Pakistan to be a nuanced endeavour. I could embrace the composite identity of being an "Urdu-Speaking Sindhi" or a "Muhajir." Consequently, my sense of belonging to my native land oscillates between Sindhi and Muhajir affiliations.

Despite these considerations, I identify myself from my birth land and my cultural and linguistic heritage. Therefore, Urdu-Speaking Sindhi might be appropriate as my provincial identity as a Pakistani national. Yet will this 'Urdu-speaking Sindhi' be acceptable to those ethnic sections today who exclusively identify themselves as Sindhis or Muhajirs? This will remain a problematic issue for me!

Anyway, it doesn't matter which way I define my provincial identity in Pakistan. The fact of the matter is that today, Sindhis and Muhajirs are clearly two ethnic sections, both of whom live in Sindh.

Today, I feel Sindh provided me with an initial sense of belonging, which was crucial for navigating society—an identity that I cherish deeply. Simultaneously, I take pride in my parents' legacy as esteemed Indian immigrants who traversed borders to embrace life in the newly formed Islamic nation of Pakistan.

My affection for my homeland mirrors the love I hold for my parents, who birthed me from its soil. I cherish the rich tapestry of culture, tradition, and history that Sindh embodies, while concurrently honouring the familial history intertwined with my upbringing.

When I address contemporary issues plaguing Sindh, I consciously eschew invoking my familial background, deeming it irrelevant in the quest for solutions. Sindh has historically welcomed individuals of diverse faiths, races, cultures, and ethnicities, extending its embrace to all who sought to settle and integrate into its fertile soil.

Over the centuries, Sindh has undergone profound geographical, cultural, and ethnic transformations. Tracing the annals of Sindh's history leads us back millennia, from the time of Darius, the King of Persia's invasion of India, to the epic narratives of the Mahabharata and the ancient civilisation of the Indus Valley. These historical layers culminated in Sindh becoming part of Pakistan in 1947.

Thus, tethering Sindh's evolving history as a benchmark for addressing contemporary political or social issues or asserting native ties to the soil may prove inadequate for those prioritising present-day realities.

Delving into Sindh's grievances, I narrow my focus to the period since its integration into Pakistan. Firstly, my insights stem from firsthand observations spanning at least the first three decades of my life, from my childhood to early adulthood. Secondly, it would be remiss of me not to address Sindh's current geopolitical status.

Wise resolution-seekers acknowledge the prevailing realities. Notably, those attributing Sindh's woes solely to Pakistan must reckon with history: Sindh's democratic participation in voting for Pakistan's inception is emblematic of its aspiration for liberation from British colonialism and Hindu domination.

Subsequently, Sindh witnessed a transition in governance, yet the feudalism and bureaucracy that ensued mirrored previous power structures. Regrettably, over the past six decades, Sindh and its populace have often been wielded as political pawns, serving the vested interests of local power brokers.

Present-day Sindh grapples with multifaceted challenges, chief among them being the fractious divide along linguistic lines. Over the past five decades, Sindhi and Muhajir ethnic sections have been exploited by their leaders in the pursuit of political, democratic, and social rights.

The Urdu-speaking leadership has failed to foster Sindhi nationalism, instead embracing a divisive narrative. Conversely, feudal elites, prominent among whom was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his adherents, neglected the plight of ordinary Sindhis, perpetuating a system of inequality through measures such as the Quota System. And this has been going on currently by the Sindhi-speaking politicians and rulers of the Sindh government. The discrimination of Muhajirs is so visible that since the creation of Pakistan, not a single time a Muhajir politician has been elected as the chief minister of Sindh, therefore, it would not be an exaggeration to say that this has been an unofficial policy of Pakistani politics that politicians of a Muhajir background can be the head of the state of Pakistan, but cannot become the chief minister of Sindh.

For genuine progress, Sindh must first transcend these divisions and forge a united front. Ethno-linguistic animosity has hindered progress for half a century, necessitating a concerted effort towards social cohesion.

Addressing Sindh's grievances hinges on achieving unanimous consent from its populace. However, such unanimity remains elusive until all factions unify under a common agenda. Strong, equitable leadership capable of rallying Sindh's diverse populace towards a shared vision is imperative.

Crises are intrinsic to societal life, whether natural or man-made. While Sindh confronts its share of challenges, fostering unity akin to nations like Australia or Canada, despite linguistic diversity, offers a pathway towards resilience.

Before clamouring for Sindh's rights, fostering unity among its people is paramount. Embracing mutual acceptance, respect, and a collective Sindhi identity can reshape the present despite the immutable past.

The author is a Sydney-based journalist, a multicultural community representative, and the winner of the NSW Harmony Award in 2015.