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Muhajir diaspora

Muhajir diaspora

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Published by neoindus
the Muhajirs of Sindh as yet another diasporic nation, crushed between territory-based nation-states, and suffering from an almost transhistoric longing for an homeland of its own............... They (Muhajirs) felt to have two options. One, increasingly difficult, option was to become a labor migrant and in time become part of another nation. The other option, in case of escalation, was to defend Karachi and Hyderabad as Muhajir territory and become a majority.
the Muhajirs of Sindh as yet another diasporic nation, crushed between territory-based nation-states, and suffering from an almost transhistoric longing for an homeland of its own............... They (Muhajirs) felt to have two options. One, increasingly difficult, option was to become a labor migrant and in time become part of another nation. The other option, in case of escalation, was to defend Karachi and Hyderabad as Muhajir territory and become a majority.

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Published by: neoindus on Dec 28, 2009
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..Back in Diaspora: 'Fun' and Nostalgia Among Muhajirs in Pakistan
- Paper given at South Asia Workshop, University of Chicago -
The title of this paper contains three conceptual terms which are the key words of thispresentation. They are diaspora, fun and nostalgia. Not all of them are regular theoreticalconcepts. 'Fun' in particular might raise several questions and I am sure that I cannotanswer all these questions in this presentation. My aim is to introduce the term and indicatewhy I find it an useful concept and also to relate it to the other two terms, diaspora andnostalgia. I think that the three terms together can give us a good idea of the position of Muhajirs in the last two decades of the past century, in particular how this position haschanged. In very general terms I would say that the 'fun' that was so typical of the 1980shas been replaced by the nostalgia of the late 1990s, and this, in turn, has revived thenotion of diaspora among Muhajirs.Before moving on to these three key words, then, I want to say a few introductory wordsabout the people we are actually talking about, Muhajirs. I don't think I have to explain toyou that Muhajirs are partition-related - or, from the Pakistani point of view -independence-related migrants who travelled from India to Pakistan after 1947. Still, that isnot the whole meaning of the term Muhajir. Although it is true that immediately afterindependence, all migrants could be called Muhajir, more recently the term is only used fora smaller, more specific portion of these migrants. The term no longer connotes to the East-Punjabis who travelled to the West-Punjab and are widely believed to be totally assimilatedwith the local population.Today, the term Muhajir only includes the mostly Urdu-speakingmigrants who came to Pakistan slightly later, from 1948 onwards.Most of them came fromurban settings in North-India. And they settled in Sindh - in Karachi as well as Hyderabadand small smaller towns in this province. The term Muhajir had always been used for thesemigrants, yet it was more common to use other names, such as Urdu-speakers. It was onlyin the mid-1980s, with the founding of the Muhajir Qaumi Movement, the MQM, that theterm Muhajir was again on everybody's lip.Today, the term Muhajir has therefore as muchto do with changing social relations in Sindh as with independence-related migration.
In a way, this already brings me to the main argument I want to make - and that is anargument about the notion of diaspora. It is, as we will see, an important notion in present-day Muhajir identity, and unlike 'fun' it is of course a well-known and often-explored themein recent academic debates, and one of the themes of the Globalization Project.Diaspora isintrinsically connected to the nation and its territory, the homeland.In the works of a wholerange of scholars, one is confronted with the notion of diasporic nations in search of anhomeland and lost within a world of territory-bounded nations which have divided theavailable land on this planet among themselves.The imagination of diaspora can thus be acause of collective anxiety, desire as well as political aspirations, whereas the settlednations may look at the diasporic nation as a threat to its existence.
Given the attention that is given to the issue of diaspora - rightly, I think - it only seems amatter of time for a study to appear that will describe and analyzethe Muhajirs of Sindh asyet another diasporic nation, crushed between territory-based nation-states, and sufferingfrom an almost transhistoric longing for an homeland of its own.In fact, I have recently
seen an article, that is part of a work in progress, which argues precisely this. It can, inother words, perfectly well be argued that the notion of diaspora not only gives Muhajirs of today a sense of displacement, but also that the notion has been among Muhajirs since theirmigration, or perhaps even longer, and that, thirdly, this notion is itself one of the reasonswhy Muhajirs have become or remained a distinct group in Pakistan. In other words, theirown fear has significantly contributed to the realization of that fear. Always feeling distinct,and fearing that this feeling would one day turn against them, they have indeed become, inMary Douglas' words, an 'abomination' towards the end of the 1990s.There is a lot to say for this and yet I think that the argument falls short insofar as it fails totake into account that the diasporic identity, and the anxiety of displacement, seems to befrom a much more recent date. Or rather, the notion of diaspora itself is not new, but itseems to have been fairly absent for, perhaps, several decades after independence. I wouldtherefore be inclined to endorse only part of the argument I just sketched.I think it canhardly be denied that diaspora and displacement are central features of Muhajir identitytoday.Yet, I am not so sure that this has always been the case. And that leads me to thinkthat the notion of diaspora has returned with a vengeance because of a rather recentreevaluation of Muhajir's history and place in Pakistan rather than because of a givenproblematic position as migrants.This is, in fact, one of the claims I want to make this afternoon. Initially, independence-related migration was not at all interpreted as a new chapter in the history of a diasporicpeople. It was, initially, not talked about as an uprooting process. Migration was - certainlycollectively, but I think also in many cases personally - rather experienced as an home-coming - or even a second birth into an homeland finally found.Migration was initially verymuch the end of the nation's diasporic destiny.This is in fact expressed in the term Muhajirthat refers to the Islamic exodus that marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar.Whenlearning about Muhajirs today, one can of course never forget that Muhajirs, as a group,were among the most vocal nation-builders in the first few decades of independence. To avery large extent they managed to make Pakistani nationalism into a profoundly migrantnationalism.In that sense, Pakistan forms an intriguing reminder to the fact that, althoughnations are connected to an homeland or have a longing for an homeland, the imaginationof several nations also rests heavily on collective memories of migration, travel, movement.Israel is of course an example that comes easily to mind, but one can think of others. TheUS, or the Americas in general, are also examples. The comparison between Pakistan andthe US was in fact made in Pakistan itself, in the 1970s, when Sindhi intellectuals becameincreasingly afraid that they would be marginalized in Sindh, and in order to express thatanxiety said that they were on the verge of being 'red indianized', that is, of sharing the fateof the native Americans in the New World.I think, therefore, that the present-day Muhajir diasporic identity and the sense of beingdisplaced, and of having been so for already many, many generations, should be seen inrelation to more recent political developments in Pakistan, and especially in Sindh. This is, Ithink, not simply a story of Muhajirs gradually losing their privileged position after the firstdemocratic elections of 1970,as is often argued - or rather, taken for granted. I think thestory is slightly more complicated. The transition of the democratic political process thatbegan to set in the late 1960s were, indeed, the background for the founding of the MuhajirQaumi Movement in the mid-1980s, but initially the MQM was, in my view, not areactionary, conservative, nostalgic movement of an overprivileged people under threat. It

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