Katchis and Gujrati Memons: Con ‘census’ among the forgotten
By GN Mughal
KARACHI: It was almost as if GM Syed – the symbol of Sindhi nationalism – was reborn in Old Karachi, undoubtedly a new phenomenon for a decidedly cosmopolitan city.
Many in the audience felt that what they had seen and heard at the event was a foretaste of a new wave of nationalism, a blend of new and old Sindhis, which would overwhelm the provincial metropolis in the coming days.
The occasion was a seminar on ‘Census and old communities of Karachi’, held at Lohar-wadha Jamaatkhana, Lyari earlier this month.
This event had two unique features. Firstly, a large number of Katchis, Gujrati Memons and people belonging to other local communities of Karachi had gathered on one platform. Secondly, for the first time ever, the entire first-ranking leadership of Sindhi nationalists along with the Pakistan Peoples Party leaders of the area were there as well.
It all started a month ago when the Katchi Rabita Committee (KRC) invited some journalists of Sindhi dailies for a cup of tea at the Jamaatkhana to bitterly express being disowned not only by the Sindhi nationalists but by Sindhis at large, despite the fact that “they were Sindhis and old Karachi’ites”.
They called themselves the “forgotten Sindhis”. The Katchi community also complained that they had been voting for PPP candidates in every election, but after coming to power the PPP government never lifted a finger to pull them out of the bottomless pit into which they had fallen because of the continuous neglect by successive governments.
Before the sub-continent’s independence, Katchis had come to Karachi in hordes just to balance out the Hindu population in the city. Later, they came on the invitation of Sir Abdullah Haroon and GM Syed on the eve of Karachi Port’s construction.
Since most of them were skilled in construction trades, including masonry, carpentry and iron mongering, they played a significant part in the construction of almost all the now historical buildings of Karachi, including the Sindh Assembly Building. Blacksmiths are called lohars in Sindhi while carpenters are called wadhas, thus they named the jamaatkhana ‘Lohar-wadha’.
The tea talk with the journalists was followed by a meeting of Katchis, Gujrati Memons and people of other local communities of old Karachi in Bhutta village, Keamari.
The journalists who attended the Bhutta village meeting felt as if they were visiting the forgotten remains of Moenjodaro – so near the cosmopolitan city and so far from modernity. They noted with great astonishment that in a city where overhead bridges, underpasses and high rises abound, there is one corner – the Bhutta village – which has streets so narrow that even two people would find it impossible to walk abreast and where there are no streetlights and no paved lanes.
In that gathering, the leaders of the communities spoke in Sindhi, with strong Katchi and Gujrati accents.
They said that they had a big hand in building the city of lights but today, they find themselves in the perpetual bondage of the dark ages.
When they saw the top leadership of Sindh, both from the mainstream PPP and the nationalists at the census seminar, they were so moved that they said they no longer felt they were the forgotten Sindhis. “We solemnly vow to participate to the last man in the ensuing census and house count,” they said.
The sentiments were reciprocated with equal zeal by Sindhi nationalist leaders including GM Syed’s grandson and president of the Sindh United Party Syed Jalal Mahmood Shah, Sindh Taraqi Pasand Party chairman Dr Qadir Magsi, Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz chairman Bashir Khan Qureshi. Leaders of other factions of Jeay Sindh Movement, representatives of Rasul Bux Palijo led the Awami Tahrik and PPP’s Rafiq Engineer, MNA Abdul Qadir Patel and Salim Hingoro also attended the event.
Regretting their failure to visit them in the past, the Sindhi nationalist leaders assured the Jamaat members that from now on, they would all be on the side of the people living in the neglected corners of Karachi.
The nationalists used the occasion and the platform to issue a warning that if anyone attempted to rig the ongoing census, they would simply reject the results and launch a movement from Karachi.
They also demanded that illegal immigrants should not be registered in the census and that those who migrated from India after 1954 and those people belonging to other provinces should be registered separately. They said that they recognised Urdu-speaking people born in Sindh and those who migrated from India before 1954 as sons of this soil and for all practical purposes “we take them as our Sindhi brothers”.
Courtesy: → The Express Tribune