Once the Partition of the Indian subcontinent had become a reality, a team of RSS activists in Sindh had two urgent aims in mind: to facilitate a smooth evacuation of the Sindhi Hindus who had begun to repose considerable trust in them, and to blow up a few government structures before leaving.
Punjab was made easy by the path the Arya Samaj had paved and also by the “growing fears of Muslim paramilitary movements” [Anderson and Damle 1987: 38]. Bhai Parmanand who had extended the invitation to Hedgewar was an Arya Samaji and by then, the RSS had earned some goodwill as a refuge for Hindus during riots. In contrast, the success of the RSS in Sindh was considerably slower.
The early efforts of the RSS in Sindh were largely abortive. It appealed mainly to Marathi-speaking people in Karachi but not to the native Sindhis. In his book on L K Advani, the writer Atmaram Kulkarni describes the enticements such as lassi, milk and sweets offered to the Hindu Sindhis in order to get them interested in the RSS (1995: 2-3). Sindh in the early 1930s was by and large peaceful and although riots did take place in Larkano and Sukkur, they were localized and short-lived affairs. The sporadic fights between Hindus and Muslims over conversion had not created the deep-rooted insecurity necessary for the ideology of the RSS. Hence the early recruits in Sindh were government officials and professionals from Maharashtra and Punjab.
The early efforts of the RSS in Sindh were largely abortive. It appealed mainly to Marathi-speaking people in Karachi but not to the native Sindhis.
A turning point came when a young man named Rajpal Vishwambhar Nath Puri from Sialkot came to Hyderabad, Sindh. Rajpal Puri was an Arya Samaji and an RSS activist in Punjab. He had come to Sindh to take up a teaching job in the Navalram Hirananad Academy. The N H Academy hired Rajpal Puri’s services as a Sanskrit teacher since Sindh did not have many Sanskrit teachers of its own. This gave Puri an opportunity to teach and influence young Hindu boys whom he could cultivate as his first RSS cadre. Among the young swayamsewaks that Rajpal Puri, popularly known as “Shriji” trained, was L K Advani. The number of RSS shakhas in Sindh increased by the early 1940s. In the initial years, RSS activity was more intense in Karachi and Hyderabad. It was in Karachi that Jhamatmal Wadhwani came in touch with the RSS, although later he became the secretary of the RSS in Hyderabad. “I had thought then that it was good for self-defence – ‘lathi’ and ‘kathi’. After some time, I also got interested in the more intellectual sessions. I learnt that ‘sangathan’ (unity) is necessary. There is ‘shakti’ in sangathan (there is strength in unity). It helps devotion and dedication. I got a wider vision on why Hindu races were defeated. It was necessary for Sindh to know this because people had converted. From Muhammad Bin Qasim to Muhammad Ghazni, Muslims have also defeated us. The Muslims ruled over us for 600 years. Thanks to the courage of Sheth Naoomal that he brought British rule to Sindh and we were relieved” (personal interview). For Wadhwani, there was no contradiction between his Hindu nationalism and his support for English colonialism. Wadhwani’s desire for self-defence must also be seen against the backdrop of the movement for the separation of Sindh and the increasing influence of the League.3 The success of the RSS in Sindh coincides with this period.
The number of RSS shakhas in Sindh increased by the early 1940s. In the initial years, RSS activity was more intense in Karachi and Hyderabad. It was in Karachi that Jhamatmal Wadhwani came in touch with the RSS, although later he became the secretary of the RSS in Hyderabad.
Hence Laxmandas Makhija remembers that by 1944, the RSS had spread to many parts of Sindh. He remembers visiting Nawabshah, Larkano, and Sukkur for training. “My commitment to the RSS gradually became more serious. During the year 1947, I had graduated to being one of the leaders in my locality in Shikarpur. Day and night we were told that Hinduism had been destroyed; we at the RSS had a calling to salvage it from its endangered existence” (personal interview). Anderson and Damle note how the “Hinduism in danger” discourse provided the most significant context for the RSS (1987). In some cases, joining the RSS was also a response to specific incidents and occurrences but in the minds of the young impressionable boys, it enlarged itself into “defence” against attacks on Hinduism. For instance, in the course of the same interview Laxmandas Makhija mentioned that he “prepared” through the RSS for “an imminent war against Muslims” and also that he wanted to learn to protect himself for as a young boy “I was harassed by Muslim boys in my mohalla. I wanted to be physically strong and face them” (personal interview) Jayant Relwani assured me that he had no personal reasons for joining. “My father was a strong supporter of the Congress. He had been to jail twice and I remember an occasion when he was ready to hit an Englishman who said something against Gandhi. There was no RSS in his time. But when I was about 17, RSS had arrived in Sindh, around 1942. My father felt that the Congress had let people down, that Gandhi did not stand up for Bhagat Singh and he was generally disappointed. He wanted me to go to the RSS because that was the direction in which Sindh was going (Hindun jee vichaardhara una paase hui).”
It is important to note that from 1943 to 1947, Golwalkar (fondly remembered as ‘Guruji’) visited Sindh every year. Incidentally, Gandhi’s visits to Sindh had stopped by then. The perception of the Hindus as a religious minority strengthened the hold of the RSS and Golwalkar began drawing crowds. His last visit to Sindh, a week before Partition remains most dramatically etched in the minds of some of the RSS respondents.
Although Relwani sets up an opposition between the RSS and the Congress, he hastens to add that “RSS was not a political organization. It was a cultural organization; it was reminding us of our true Hindu identity which had got lost. By simple exercises of drilling, the RSS was giving us confidence and self-reliance” (personal interview). The irony of moving from a simple drill to manufacturing ammunition, of moving from devices of defence to those of attack escapes most RSS followers. At the age of 14, Makhija was making tiger-claws, “the kind that Shivaji used on Afzal Khan,” (personal interview) and at the age of 21, Harish Vazirani was busy in the Shikarpur colony.
Meanwhile, Rajpal Puri’s success in Sindh motivated Golwalkar (Hedgewar’s successor in the RSS, Maharashtra) to promote Puri to the post of regional pracharak. Puri had under him Khanchand Gopaldas, a man remembered by all the ex-swayamsewaks of Sindh. The tense atmosphere of the early 1940s when the government imposed martial law on Sindh lent a touch of romanticism to the activities of the RSS. Rajpal Puri and some of his young companions were arrested for creating “disturbances” during 1942. When they were freed, their popularity had increased quite a lot [Kulkarni 1995: 17]. It is important to note that from 1943 to 1947, Golwalkar (fondly remembered as ‘Guruji’) visited Sindh every year. Incidentally, Gandhi’s visits to Sindh had stopped by then. The perception of the Hindus as a religious minority strengthened the hold of the RSS and Golwalkar began drawing crowds. His last visit to Sindh, a week before Partition remains most dramatically etched in the minds of some of the RSS respondents.
About nine days before independence, the chief of the Sangh organized a seminar in Karachi and took me there as a volunteer. I remember Golwalkar mentioning that that was his last visit to Sindh and that we would have a different rule now, and new dangers to contend with. I stayed back in Karachi and noticed with my own eyes on August 14, that Viceroy Lord Mountbatten was taking Jinnah with him in the car. I came back to Shikarpur and noticed that many Hindus had begun to leave, houses were becoming empty. I went to school and found it closed. I realized that it was not possible to live there any longer [Laxmandas Makhija, personal interview].
As Partition drew near, RSS activities intensified.
As Partition drew near, RSS activities intensified. “People like us were particularly in danger. The National Muslim Guard had its eyes on us,” notes Seth Naomal (personal interview). “Things had to be undercover and operations very secretive,” so much so, says Harish Vazirani, “that even I did not know who the other 19 people with me were in the Shikarpur colony bomb case. All I knew was that the man behind the whole operation was Khanchand Gopaldas” (personal interview). When the bomb in Shikarpur colony exploded, Khanchand Gopaldas and 12 other swayamsewaks were arrested. They were retained by the Pakistan government and released eventually (through the efforts of Vallabhbhai Patel) as prisoners of war. When the new government in Pakistan cracked its whip on the RSS, many went underground or left the country in disguise. Rajpal Puri dressed himself as a Hindu merchant and just barely managed to escape the National Guard at the airport. The Congress also helped. When the chips were down, the ideological differences between the Congress and the RSS did not sustain themselves in Sindh. Relwani continues, “Everyone was bound by the feeling of being a minority. In any case, the Congress in Sindh was never very rigid” (personal interview). Relwani’s comment on the sustaining links between the RSS and the Congress are very significant. The Congress increased the acceptance of the RSS in Sindh by being covertly supportive and by its sheer inefficiency in helping the Sindhi Hindus evacuate. K R Malkani mentions that he was asked by his brother Narayandas Malkani, a committed Congress nationalist to join the RSS because, “Congress cannot attract the youth, while the RSS does” [in Wadhwani 2004: 1].
In fact, the Sindhi Hindus ruptured relationship with the Congress serves as an additional context for understanding their emotional links with the RSS. Both the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS seized upon the “betrayal” of the Congress and reminded the Sindhi Hindus of how the Congress had supported the motion of separation. Congress representatives in Sindh such as Choithram Gidwani and Tarachand Gajra felt that the Nehru-Gandhi-Patel combine was indifferent to their province. In the years following the separation of Sindh, when the Sindhi Hindu felt progressively insecure, Gandhi’s stand on non-violence made less and less sense to them. In their correspondence with Gandhi in the late 1930s, the Congress leaders report frequent cases of lawlessness. Tarachand Gajra and C T Valecha (members of the Sindh Congress committee) wrote to Gandhi with some sarcasm, “We trust you received our previous communication, ‘A note on the present state of lawlessness in Sindh’. It is a sad story of silent misery that has befallen those who are migrating without any financial aid from the public or the authorities. Elsewhere such things would evoke wide international public support and sympathy. We hope your interest in the province will grow” [Gajra in Jotwani 1998: 333]. Gandhi’s repeated plea for non-violence seemed to fall on deaf ears, and the Sindhi Hindus were looking for something more “effective”. In an article in Harijan, Gandhi admits the waning confidence in non-violence among the Sindhi Hindus. After the Manzilgah riots in Sukkur in 1939, he wrote, “Now the only effective way in which I can help the Sindhis is to show them (the) way of non-violence. But that cannot be learnt in a day. The other way is the way they followed hitherto: armed defence of life and property. God only helps those who help themselves. The Sindhis are no exception. They must learn the art of defending themselves against robbers, raiders and the like. If they do not feel safe and are too weak to defend themselves, they should leave the place which has proved inhospitable to live in” (in Jotwani 1998: 322). Gandhi’s advice to the Sindhi Hindus to equip themselves was well taken, but his suggestion that the Sindhis should undertake a ‘hijrat’ (exodus) if they could not protect themselves seemed very unfair to the Sindhi Hindu leaders. He received a strong reaction to his article, ‘The Sindh Tragedy’ which mentioned hijrat for Sindhi Hindus. “In your article ‘Sindh Tragedy’ you have advised the oppressed Hindus of Sindh to perform hijrat if they cannot protect their honor and self-respect by remaining in Sindh. Where do you expect them to go? Who will provide them the wherewithal in their place of refuge? May I further ask you if the remedy of hijrat is meant for the Hindus only? Why do you not advise hijrat to the Mussulamans in the Congress province who complain loudly of oppression?” [in Jotwani 1998: 323]. (Continues)
Rita Kothari is Professor of English at Ashoka University, Delhi. She is one of India’s most distinguished translation scholars and has translated major literary works into English. Rita has worked extensively on borders and communities; Partition and identity especially in the western region of India. She is the author of many books and articles on the Sindhi community.
Courtesy: Economic and Political Weekly (Published on July 8, 2006)