In 1947, when Pakistan was carved out from India under heavy bloodshed, Sindhis chose Pakistan which was created on religious ground, hoping to safeguard their autonomy, while the large numbers of Urdu-speaking Muslims from India preferred to settle in the Sindh province. The property vacated by Sindhi Hindus who were persecuted to flee to India was allocated to the Indian Muslim immigrants popularly known as “Mohajirs”.
“Mohajir” is an Urdu term inspired with the act of Hijarat, an Arabic connotation referring to the separation, or flight specifically in the context of the migration of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) from Mecca to Medina.
The term Mohajir was used by the Pakistani government institution to recognize all the migrants based on homogenous identity. However, in the early years of newly created Pakistan, Mohajirs were among the privileged communities, who were getting all direct benefits from the state; either it was the then Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan’s quota system, domination in politics, bureaucracy or business.
In the 60s, Mohajirs who owned a shared identity were politically represented by the religious groups such as the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Jamiat-i-Ulema-Pakistan. But the beginning of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s era in 1970’s significantly unfolded a new struggle for the survival of the Mohajir’s socio-cultural identity.
Bhutto, who himself was a Sindhi, introduced numerous anti-Mohajir policies including the Sindhi Language Act 1972, which imposed Sindhi as an official language in Sindh province, that led to forceful retirement and dismissal of the thousands Urdu-speaking officers, leading to the plight of Urdu-speaking Mohajir population to further deteriorate.
The Sindhi Language Act was introduced regardless of the fact that the Urdu language was nationalized in Pakistan to bind all the linguistic/ethnic communities together to create a sense of belongingness.
The new tactics adopted by the Bhutto’s government worsened the relationship between the migrants and Sindhis that costed innocent lives from both communities. When the Sindhi Language Bill was passed, the province witnessed the bloodiest language-related riots in the history of then Pakistan.
Since then Mohajirs faced unremitting discrimination and deprivation, to claim their political existence, in 1984 they founded the Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM), led by Altaf Hussain a student leader, to assert their rights and claims, later to have won major victories in urban Sindh in every election held since 1987. Consequently, in June 1992, the community faced military/police operation against them resulting in the unlawful killing and torture of thousands of Mohajirs.
The Sindhi-Mohajir conflict is still in the picture and both make substantial allegations of discrimination and persecution. However, the grievances have now been shifted from Sindhis to the Punjabis who dominate the bureaucracy and the armed forces.
Both Sindhis and Mohajirs share common concerns on several issues including the lack of regional and provincial autonomy and continuous interference from Islamabad in the affairs of the Sindh province.
Apart from the Sindhi-Mohajir conflict, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan which was created on the religious ground, faced another jolt in 1971 when a Bengali speaking linguistic group rebelled and demanded a separate state and after heavy bloodshed, Bengali speaking Bangladesh was created.
The demand for a separate State was made as innumerable atrocities were made on Bengali speaking Muslims who were considered as inferior by the non-Bengali masters sitting in Islamabad.
This time the ground of partition was their linguistic identity, not the religious one. Innumerable Bengali Muslims were killed in the name of crushing the rebellion. This exposed the fallacy of Pakistan being a protector of those who adhered to Islam.
On the contrary, the Muslims who decided to stay in India during 1947’s partition were granted with several Constitutional minority rights to preserves their religious autonomy. Many Muslims, who chose to migrate to Pakistan, did so out of fear of being targeted in post-independence India and felt safe to be the part of Pakistan – a state carved out on the religious ground.
However, despite being a part of the majoritarian religious community, Mohajirs are still subjected to systematic exploitation and compelled to live as second-class citizens.
Even after 73 years of partition, it is incomprehensible for Pakistani Muslims that choosing the state established on religious supremacy was the right decision or rejecting a multicultural country like India was their biggest sin, which could be a lesson for Indian Muslims too.
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