Pak­istani town safe­guards Hindu-Mus­lim broth­er­hood

Mus­lims of Mekhtar have never opened the aban­doned prop­er­ties of Hin­dus

Arab News - - News Internatio­nal - Naimat Khan Karachi

For more than 70 years, locked-up mud shops lin­ing a street in Pak­istan’s south­west Balochis­tan prov­ince have stood the test of time as mon­u­ments to one small town’s ex­tra­or­di­nary Hindu-Mus­lim broth­er­hood.

The Pash­tun com­mu­nity of Mekhtar, where a lit­tle over a thou­sand fam­i­lies re­side off a main na­tional high­way, was once a tight-knit small town where peo­ple of the two faiths lived side by side.

Dur­ing the vi­o­lent par­ti­tion of the In­dian sub­con­ti­nent in 1947, the Hindu fam­i­lies of Mekhtar were forced to mi­grate to Jaipur across the bor­der, where they formed a tiny com­mu­nity of 400 Pash­tun Hin­dus with a very dis­tinct cul­ture. But in all these years, the dozens of shops they left be­hind have never been opened again — pre­served ex­actly as they were left by their own­ers seven decades ago.

“When our Hindu friends were leav­ing us [af­ter par­ti­tion] they handed the keys of their shops to us,” Ma­lik Haji Paio Khan Kakar, a 95-year-old res­i­dent of Mekhtar told Arab News.

The keys were never used, he said, and the prop­er­ties sit as though ly­ing in wait for their right­ful own­ers to re­turn.

The town’s in­tegrity is an anom­aly in the history of the par­ti­tion, where land grab­bings of aban­doned prop­erty were com­mon in the ab­sence of for­mal reg­is­trars af­ter the two new coun­tries were carved out and mil­lions were forced to flee their homes.

Just be­fore the Hin­dus of Mekhtar mi­grated to Jaipur, Kakar said they stayed as guests in the homes of their Mus­lim friends for sev­eral nights be­fore find­ing safe pas­sage across the bor­der.

“It was like one’s brother was leav­ing,” Kakar rem­i­nisced.

The meat-eat­ing Pash­tun Hin­dus are a lit­tle known tribe in In­dia even to­day, with a dis­tinct cul­ture car­ried for­ward from Afghanista­n and Balochis­tan which in­cludes blue tat­toos on the faces of the women, tra­di­tional Pash­tun danc­ing and clothes heav­ily adorned with coins and em­broi­dery. “It was lovely to hear that the peo­ple of Mekhtar still re­mem­ber us and have taken care of the shops as a to­ken of love,” said Shilpi Ba­tra Ad­wani, a documentar­y film­maker from a Pash­tun Hindu fam­ily in Jaipur.

Her grand­mother, who she calls Babai, mi­grated from the town dur­ing the par­ti­tion.

Shilpi said that el­derly mem­bers of

Jaipur’s Pash­tun Hindu com­mu­nity still sat to­gether and spoke about the “golden pe­riod” of har­mony and love they had left be­hind in Mekhtar. They still speak Pashto, she said and re­mained fiercely proud of the cul­ture they had brought with them to Jaipur — though ac­cep­tance had not al­ways come easy.

“Be­cause the women had tat­toos, peo­ple in In­dia used to be cu­ri­ous about look­ing at them. Some found them ex­otic, and some found them ques­tion­able,” Shilpi said.

“They would spend most of their time at their homes, re­mem­ber­ing their lovely past times.”

Shilpi, who made a documentar­y about the roots of In­dia’s Hindu Pash­tuns last year, in­ter­viewed sev­eral women in her com­mu­nity about the days of the par­ti­tion.

From them, she dis­cov­ered that the Mus­lims of Mekhtar had come to the rail­way sta­tion to bid them farewell on the day they had left, with ghee and gifts of food for their long jour­ney. “To­gether, they would do em­broi­dery, to­gether eat their meals and to­gether do the At­tan (Pash­tun folk dance). No one would feel like they be­longed to a dif­fer­ent faith,” Shilpi said, re­count­ing sto­ries from her grand­mother.

The film-maker told many other sto­ries — of one Pash­tun Hindu who fell in love with a Mus­lim woman from Mekhtar and stayed be­hind, and of old trunks of Pash­tun clothes lov­ingly re­stored and worn tear­fully by the last re­main­ing gen­er­a­tion of the par­ti­tion.

BACK­GROUND

The meat-eat­ing Pash­tun Hin­dus are a lit­tle known tribe in In­dia even to­day, with a dis­tinct cul­ture car­ried for­ward from Afghanista­n and Balochis­tan which in­cludes blue tat­toos on the faces of the women, tra­di­tional Pash­tun danc­ing and clothes heav­ily adorned with coins and em­broi­dery.

Sup­plied

In­dian film­maker Shilpi Ba­tra Ad­wani with a Hindu Pash­tun mi­grant woman. Both are wear­ing tra­di­tional Pash­tun clothes.

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