SHEEDIS, PARSIS AND OTHER SMALL ETHNIC GROUPS IN SOUTH PAKISTAN
Gypsies are said to have originated from the Indus Valley People in some parts of southern Pakistan wear interesting costumes and shoes with turned up toes that look like something out of “1001 Nights”.
There are about 5,000 Parsis in Pakistan. They are mainly based in Karachi and are one of the wealthiest groups there. They are Persian descended followers of Zoroastrianism, and they have made most of their money in trade and commerce. Zoroastrianism was founded by the Persian prophet Zoroaster in the 6th century B.C.. As Zoroastrians, Parsi worship the deity Ahura Mazda. Their ancestors migrated to the Indian subcontinent from Persia during the A.D. 8th century to escape Muslim persecution. Today they mainly live in Karachi and Lahore, with smaller numbers in Islamabad and Peshawar. The main Parsi religious festival is their New Year celebration. It is also a time to pray for the dead. As is the case with Sikhs, Parsis have generally not been targets of sectarian violence and religious persecution in Pakistan. See Separate Article PARSIS AND ZOROASTRIANISM factsanddetails.com
Sheedis, or Siddis, are blacks of African descent that live in South Asia. Sheedis in Pakistan speak Baloch, a language of southwestern Pakistan, and live mainly in the Karachi area, where they hold wild donkey cart races on the weekends. The Sheedies are believed to have been brought to coastal region of Balochistan, where they were reportedly treated like slaves.
Small groups of Siddis live in the west Indian coastal states of Karnataka, Maharastra and Gujarat and the Sindh in Pakistan. The Makrani are descendants of slaves brought from the sultanate of Oman, when they ruled the region. See Separate Article EUROPEANS AND BLACK AFRICANS IN SOUTH ASIA factsanddetails.com
The Raisani are traditional rivals of the Bugtis, a Baloch tribe. There are about 20,000 of them and they speak a Dravidian language. The Raisani tribal chief is called the Chief of Sarawan. Sarawan is a princely state of Balochistan. The homeland of the Raisani tribe is Mastung.
“Muhajir (literally "refugee" also spelled Mohajir) is the name given to Urdu-speaking Muslims — and their descendant — who came to Pakistan from India after the partition in 1947. There are around 6 million Muhajirs. Their numbers are hard to determine because many of the Muslims that came to Pakistan from India came from the Punjab and are thus Punjabis. In a more technical sense Muhajirs are Muslims from a diverse set of communities in Hindu-majority provinces that adopted Urdu as their language and formed a socio-linugistic group of its own. In a census in the early 1950s, this group was counted to be around 1.2 million while Muhajirs in a generally sense were numbered at around 6 million, a fifth of the total population of Pakistan at that time. Most non-Punjabi, Urdu-speaking Muhajir are from families that originally came from Uttar Pradesh, Bombay Presidency, Delhi, Rajasthan and Gujarat who went to West Pakistan. Around 100,000 Biharis went to East Pakistan, now Bangladesh.
Most Muhajirs live in Sindh Province in southeast Pakistan. By one estimate they made up half the population of Karachi, far outnumbering the indigenous Sindhis there. Now Muhajirs make up a smaller percentage of Karachi than they once did as other groups — namely Pashtuns (Pathans) — have moved into Karachi. Most Muhajir migrated to Pakistan in three stages: 1) the First stage (August–November 1947), after India and Pakistan became independent and were divided ; 2) Second stage (December 1947 – December 1971); and the 3) the Third stage (1973-1990s). After partition waves of Muslims came to Pakistan when there were hostilities and wars between India and Pakistan.
According to the “World Education Encyclopedia”: At the time of the country's birth in 1947, large-scale human migrations took place: an estimated 4.7 million left Pakistan for India while 6.5 million came to Pakistan with a net gain in population of 1.8 million. The largest demographic changes occurred in the Punjab, which gained 5.2 million and lost 3.6 million. The second largest to suffer demographic changes was Sindh, which lost most of its Hindu population, which had controlled more than 90 percent of its economy and held important positions in bureaucracy, education, and the professions. Most immigrants flocked to the cities; in 1951, nearly one-half of the population in the major cities were immigrants, including a very large group from India's Bihar state. The Biharis and their descendants are pejoratively called Muhajirs (immigrants), a term that should have applied to everybody who came from outside and should, in all fairness, have a terminal date, after which time they should be considered regular inhabitants of the land. The Biharis, who concentrated in Karachi, remain unintegrated into the Pakistani society even a half-century after their initial migration. [Source: “World Education Encyclopedia”, The Gale Group Inc. 2001]
Muhajirs are considered better educated than "native" Pakistanis. In the 1990s they had a 90 percent literacy rate, compared to around 30 percent for Pakistan as a whole. They are generally concentrated in urban areas and have remained largely isolated from other ethnic groups in Pakistan. Urdu is the language they speak a home. Many other ethnic groups in Pakistan learn it in school.
Discrimination Against the Muhajirs
Sindhis generally don't like the Muhajirs and consider them rivals. The Punjabis and Pashtuns don’t like them either. When the Muhajir arrived in 1947 they took over many bureaucratic positions vacated by Hindus and Sikhs that fled to India. The Muhajir advanced rapidly in Pakistani society, taking top government posts, becoming the country's leading businessmen, and undermining the power of Pakistan's feudal landlords. Other groups resented this.
In recent decades, Muhajirs have claimed that they have been are excluded from high positions in government, police, military and judiciary. Over the years indigenous Pakistanis, jealous of the Muhajir's power, have gradually tried to push them out of the government. The nationalization of Pakistan's industries in the late 1970s by Prime Minister Zulifiqar Bhutto, a Sindhi, was seen by many as a move against the Muhajirs.
In the 1970s, Bhutto established quotas that reserved 60 percent of university slots and government jobs for rural citizens, mainly Punjabis and Sindhis. Other ethnic groups were promised other positions and the Muhajirs were effectively banished from the Pakistani civil service.
Muhajir Qoumi Movement (MQM)
In 1984 the Muhajirs established their own political party called the Muhajir Qoumi Movement (MQM), which at one point routinely captured about three-fourths of the vote in Karachi elections. The group was founded and has been led by the firebrand former student leader, Altaf Hussain. Currently the party is split between two main factions. MQM-London faction is controlled by Altaf Hussain from London, while MQM-Pakistan is run by Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui based in Pakistan.
The MQM was Pakistan’s third largest political party. The main rivals of the MQM was Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party. Bhutto's justice minister called the MQM a "thoroughbred terrorist from top to bottom. Their basic character is violent and blood-thirsty." The MQM counters that Bhutto government let charges be levied against the Muhajir leaders and let Karachi fall into a state of anarchy as punishment for an election boycott that resulted in only 2.5 percent of Karachi's population casting votes in the election.
MQM dominated Karachi politics for a while and used its powerbase there as a platform to criticize the national government. In 1992, the army called in 30,000 troops to crush the MQM, which returned to power with a large majority in the next election. Between 1992 and 1994, most of the party's important members — including Karachi's mayor — were arrested, leaving the local government leaderless and the city in virtual anarchy.
After the mayor and elected government were ousted, the MQM went underground and employed urban-guerilla tactics. In 2002, two top MQM leaders — Mishat Mallick and Mustapha Kamal Rizvi — were murdered on Sunset Boulevard in Karachi. The two men took 14 bullets. Many suspect the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI, was involved.
The MQM was heavily armed. Critics of the party accused it of being a haven for criminals involved in extortion. In some parts of Karachi, every businessman had to pay protection money to MQM thugs. The MQM has been blamed for instigating the violence that has rocked Karachi in the 1980s and 1990s. The MQM has often been at the center of violence involving the Muhajirs. The group takes on all comers: battling with other ethic groups, the police and the military. Much of the MQM violence in the late 1990s involved shootouts between the MQM and a breakaway faction known as Jaqiqi — "the original." According to human rights groups, the government helped form the Haqiqi to harass and weaken the MQM.
Muhajirs and Pashtuns and Groups Involved in Sectarian Violence
Much of violence in Karachi in the 1990s involved disputes between Muhajirs and Pashtuns and Muhajirs and Sindhis. A variety a groups fought each other for different reasons. Saudi-backed Sunni Muslim militants and Iran-supported Shiite radicals attacked each other's buses and mosques. Muhajir militants fought with Karachi police and Pakistani soldiers for control of Karachi. Criminals to took advantage of the anarchy to loot and steal and ethic gangs used the chaos to settle old scores.
Because it was often difficult to determine why particular individuals had been killed, killers began leaving behind notes. "This is the fate of informers" was scribbled on a paper found with three corpses in central Karachi. "Fate of a man who dishonored a Muhajir daughter’s body" was the message attached to the body of man whose head and genitals had been removed.
In the early 1990s, more than a 1,000 people died in riots between Pashtuns and Muhajirs in Karachi after a Pashtun bus driver shot and killed a young Muhajir girl. In February 1998 riots in Karachi that left two people dead were triggered by the elopement of a Muhajir man in his 20s and an 18-year-old Pashtun woman, against her family's wishes. Pashtun elders sentenced the woman to death because she dishonored the family. The man was shot three times with an AK-47 as he arrived at a court to address charges of having kidnapped his bride. He survived and went into hiding. The couple were called the Romeo and Juliet of Pakistan. From a prison cell he said, "We loved each other and they would not allow us to marry, s we did it anyway. I will not leave here, come what may."
Tensions Between Muhajirs and Pashtuns in Karachi in the Early 2010s
Reporting from Karachi, Karin Brulliard wrote in the Washington Post: “A trash-strewn dusty street here became a front line in recent ethnic battles that killed 100 people in four days.Now, in the aftermath, residents speak of the street as though it is a chasm...On one side, the Muhajirs, long the dominant group in this economic hub, seethingly point to bullet-scarred and burned houses and demand a new province that would be theirs alone. On the other side, Pashtuns who migrated here in recent years after fleeing an Islamist insurgency in their native northwest also point to bullet holes, and some express worry that a sort of ethnic cleansing is to come. “Now they are asking for their own province,” Adnan Khan, a Pashtun whose brother was fatally shot by unknown assailants this month, said of the Muhajirs. “Next maybe they will ask for their own country.” [Source: Karin Brulliard, Washington Post, July 18, 2011]
“Karachi, Pakistan’s most diverse city, is once more spewing violence that goes unchecked by police and is stoked by thuggish politicians. While the fierce Taliban insurgency seeks to overthrow the government from mountain hideouts hundreds of miles away, the city’s battles are laying bare the deep ethnic, political and sectarian cleavages that pose an additional threat to this fragile federation — as well as an impediment to its unity against Islamist militancy.
“The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says 490 people were killed in Karachi in targeted ethnic or political killings in the first six months of” 2011. “This month’s violence erupted after the killing of an ANP activist. After fighting subsided, the MQM was accused of provoking ethnic tensions by spray-painting graffiti throughout the city calling for a separate Muhajir province — a charge that it denied. A provincial minister from the ruling Pakistan People’s Party accused Urdu speakers of trying to divide the province after having migrated to it “hungry and naked.” That sparked another daylong spiral of violence that left 15 people dead.
“It also prompted yet another shutdown of a city that provides 65 percent of the revenue to Pakistan’s tanking economy, worrying the shaky civilian government in Islamabad. According to Pakistani media reports, President Asif Ali Zardari, whose party is also accused of backing gangsters in its Karachi strongholds, apologized to the MQM on behalf of the provincial minister and pleaded for unity to combat what he called Pakistan’s “real enemy” — terrorism.
“Law enforcement authorities said the majority of the nearly 100 people killed in the second week of July were noncombatants who were targeted for their ethnicity or who were caught in the crossfire. Muhajirs in Qasba Colony said bullets rained down for days from the Pashtun-dominated hills, atop which a red ANP flag flies. A few blocks away, Pashtuns say bullets flew from the other direction, fired from MQM weapons. People on both sides acknowledged the existence of ethnic gangs but said they were formed for self-defense. Aisha Bibi, 45, said her son, a 22-year-old Urdu-speaking factory worker unconnected to political groups, was fatally shot when they braved gunfire to buy groceries. His death had eliminated the family’s only breadwinner, and replacing his income would be hard, she said.”
Why There Are Tensions Between Muhajirs and Pashtuns
Karin Brulliard wrote in the Washington Post: “Why are they fighting in Karachi? Because they have not become Pakistani yet. People have not become a nation,” said Syed Jalal Mahmood Shah, the Karachi-based leader of a small nationalist party that represents people native to surrounding Sindh province. Muhajirs, like Pashtuns, are themselves migrants to Karachi: They are Urdu-speaking Muslims who fled Hindu-majority India at partition. [Source: Karin Brulliard, Washington Post, July 18, 2011]
“ Shifting demographics are the root of the fighting in Karachi, where an influx of ethnic Pashtuns from the war-torn region along the Afghan border is challenging the Muhajirs’ long-standing grip on the city. The struggle is waged through assassinations, land-grabbing and extortion, and it is carried out by gangs widely described as armed wings of ethnically based political parties. The Urdu speakers, represented by the dominant Muttahida Qaumi Movement, or MQM, accuse the Pashtuns of sheltering terrorists in Karachi; the MQM’s main rival, the Awami National Party, or ANP, says the city’s 4 million Pashtuns are ignored politically.
“Karachi’s police force is too small and outgunned by the city’s gangs, said Sharfuddin Memon, an adviser to the provincial home minister, who oversees security. But Memon also said police are not “a totally independent force” — they, too, are aligned with political parties, partly out of fear.
“Outside her house, a group of Muhajir woman railed against Pashtuns, a word they used interchangeably with “terrorist” and “Taliban.” The only solution is complete segregation and the expulsion of Pashtuns back to the northwest, they said. “Sindhis have their own province. Punjabis have their own province. Pashtuns have their own province,” said Nusrat Siddiqui, 30. “Why not Muhajirs?”
“A short drive away, Mohammed Amin, who said he has lived in Karachi for nearly two decades, tended his tiny grocery in the Pashtun area. Muhajirs used to buy from him, but no longer. His son and nephew were wounded during this month’s battle, he said wearily, and the neighborhood’s water lines have been cut off for 20 days. “We are all poor people,” he said, gesturing toward the Muhajir areas. “But some miscreants kill people for their own vested interests.”
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (tourism.gov.pk), Official Gateway to the Government of Pakistan (pakistan.gov.pk), The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.
Last updated February 2022