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Baloch of Mumbai and women of Karachi

Pirzada Salman

KARACHI: From the first resistance against British occupation in Karachi to the eminent, unsung women who contributed substantially to the city’s cultural landscape, the inaugural day of the 2nd International Conference on Karachi covered quite a few bases on Friday at the Arts Council.

But perhaps the most interesting paper of the day came from a young final-year undergraduate student at a research-based humanities programme at Delhi University’s Cluster Innovation Centre, Vikalp Kumar, who talked about the Karachi connection of Bombay’s Baloch population. He said currently between 3,000 and 4,000 Baloch resided in Mumbai. There was a time when they were known as ‘sangtaraash’ because they were in the profession of stone quarrying, but at present they mostly worked as drivers and stuntmen, he said. In fact, he added, one of the stuntmen in Salman Khan’s film ‘Ek Tha Tiger’ was Baloch.

Mr Kumar then skimmed through the relay of migration of the Baloch people from different areas through different routes, shedding light on reasons for the migration — greener pastures, escape from feuds and conflicts, and escape from slavery. He argued that a sizeable population of the region had slave ancestry.

Speaking on the history of Bombay Baloch, he said their recorded existence dated back to 1901 and their migration routes were Makran-Sindh-Rajputana — the modern diaspora could be found in Mumbai and Vapi (Gujarat). The Baloch of Mumbai had matrimonial links with Karachi’s Baloch since the former had visa issues with reference to visiting Balochistan, he said. “Karachi is the only Balochistan they know,” he remarked.

The first of the two history sessions, chaired by Dr Nomanul Haq, began with Dr Kaleemullah Lashari’s presentation on the Burfat migration to Karachi. To give the community’s background, he quoted Sir Bartle Frere categorising the Burfats as ‘the largest tribe in lower Sindh’. Dr Lashari also gave reasons for their migration to Karachi (in the Mangophir area) primary of which was the struggle between tribes.

Rock paintings

Dr Zulfiqar Kalhoro discussed his discovery of rock paintings in the Maher valley, 70kms north of Karachi, in Gadap. The paintings — figurative images, symbols, etc — belonged to different historical periods, he said. The images that he showed were quite intriguing.

Dr Asma Ibrahim’s topic was the forgotten Victoria Museum of Karachi. She gave a detailed account of the kinds of museums that existed in British India, arguing that the purpose of building a museum back then was slightly different from what was understood at present. She also touched upon some of the objects that she chanced upon at the Victoria Museum and told history buffs that her research was under way.

Chaakar Notak

The second history session, which was chaired by Dr Lashari, got off to an absorbing start with G.A. Mulla’s insightful views on the first resistance against the British rule in Karachi. In order to consolidate their power in the region, the British needed compliant individuals who they could win over by offering them some favours, he added. But at the same time there were people such as Chaakar Notak who fiercely resisted their rule through guerilla warfare. He was caught from the Dalimyah area and was hanged to death by the British. Mr Mulla argued that the Amirs of Sindh at the time (who weren’t perhaps aware of the Great Game between Russia and Britain) did not politically support Chaakar Notak; had they supported him, things might have been different.

Khadim Hussain Soomro brought to light the services of three distinguished men — G.M. Syed, Jamshed Mehta and Harchandrai Bharvani — to modern Karachi. Mr Bharvani, as president of the Karachi Municipal Committee in the 1920s, improved the city and pressed the government to remove the army from Karachi. Mr Mehta’s efforts helped turn the municipal committee into the Karachi Municipal Corporation. And Mr Syed through his secular approach brought about political, social and cultural awareness among the people. He also had a role in highlighting the importance of education.

The first post-lunch session titled ‘Intangible Cultures’, which was co-chaired by Dr Nawaz Ali Shoq and Mehdi Raza Shah, commenced with Prof Dr Juergen Wasim Frembgen’s talk on the racial discrimination faced by the Sheedi community in Karachi. He presented a few points of view, such as the one espoused by poet N.M. Danish (he now lives in New York) who didn’t like the word ‘sheedi’ and preferred to call himself Baloch. However, the crux of his paper was the discrimination faced by the community was on the basis of colour.

Dr Hasan Ali Khan gave a brief history of the Riffai’yya tareeqat in Karachi along with a biography of Zainul Abideen Rifa’i.

Amin Jaffer presented his research on cosmopolitan traditions and Karachi’s imaginaries by providing a variety of definitions of the word ‘cosmopolitan’ and different philosophers and thinkers take on it.

Dr Riaz Sheikh spoke on urban culture and intellectual traditions. He highlighted the contribution of coffee houses and restaurants in Karachi to the intellectual traditions. It was a nostalgia-inducing story about how Karachi’s writers, poets and thinkers used to frequent some of the restaurants — Café George, Fredrick’s Café, Zelin’s, etc — to have a good time and discuss issues that mattered to them.

The last session of the day, which was presided over by Anis Haroon, was on the role of women in the sociopolitical history of Karachi. Renowned artist Sheema Kermani set the tone for the theme by recalling some fine, fine women (most of whom died an unacknowledged death) and the part they played in a culturally vibrant Karachi of the past. She started off by commenting that post-1970 they (women) had been ignored, trivialised or hidden away from history. She mentioned names such as Attiya Faizi, Madame Azurie, Parween Qasim, Meher Nigar Masroor, Meher Rizvi, Neelima Ghanshyam, Parveez Dastur, Amna Nazli, Zaibunnisa Hamidullah and Sara Shagufta and underlined their significant contribution to the field of art.

Aslam Khwaja discussed the role of women in anti-British struggle and Nayyar Rehman’s subject was a short history of feminism in Karachi.

Published in Dawn, November 22th, 2014


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