This piece was orginally published on March 16, 2015
It was no surprise that the 1992 Babri Mosque episode in India had repercussions in Pakistan; in fact, the reaction was inevitable.
In the Kyamarri region of Karachi (Kemari is a misnomer, since Kya is the name, while marri is for building), an angry mob that could not find a temple to tear down headed for the Christian missionary-administered Sacred Heart School.
The mob was rapidly advancing toward the school when suddenly, an old man stood before the crowd and yelled in Pashto:
“Da Kristaan baanday, Hinduan na dey. O Babri Jama’at Hinduan hamla karrey da.”
[These are Christians, not Hindus, and the Babri Masjid was attacked by Hindus.]
What happened next, I will share with you shortly.
My journalist friend Anwar Khan was the one who narrated this incident to me. One day, I asked him, “I’ve heard there was an Arya Samaj Organisation active in Karachi and it had its own temples as well.”
Anwar told me there was a building in his area Kyamarri, which had an inscription in Urdu that said ‘Arya Samaj Compound’. I asked him to take me there.
Two weeks later, on a Sunday afternoon, Anwar Khan, my photojournalist friends Majid Butt and Akhtar Soomro, and I went to the place. Walking in and out of various streets, we finally reached an old building.
But there was no plaque. I gave Anwar Khan a look of discontentment.
“Yaar the plaque was here some time ago!” he exclaimed.
Majid pointed to some plaques on the left, but they were all in Hindi.
A friend of Anwar Khan’s, Muhammad Ali Soomro, who was a local of Kyamarri, pointed in the direction of a kindergarten school, saying, “Here’s the place where once there was a temple.”
Anwar Khan and Muhammad Ali Soomro took us to another old building nearby, which could easily have been mistaken for a temple if not for the plaque announcing that it was yet another kindergarten school.
We needed someone to translate the Hindi plaques for us now. In fact, even before that, we had to know that if the Arya Samaj did indeed exist in Karachi and elsewhere in Sindh, what exactly were its activities?
The founder of Arya Samaj
Renowned historian Usman Damohi writes in his book Karachi Taareekh Kay Aaeenay Main:
“A few Hindu extremists were of the mind that the Aryans ruled the whole world in ancient times, and thus they should take back what was theirs. And since they are the greatest nation, therefore a sense of superiority should also be encouraged among Hindus; followers of other religious should either be exiled, or torched as dry wood is for fuel.
“Arya Samaj is an old Hindu organisation which came into being even before the Hindu Maha Sabha. Its founder was a fanatic Hindu named Munshi Ram. He was an educated man and had also remained an employee of the Punjab Police. Later, he quit the police job and became a lawyer. A few years later, according to his claims, he left everything as it was and adopted a life of meditation.
“Finally, from Munshi Ram he became Shradhanand. This organisation had backdoor connections with the British government. It was with their help that the organisation established branches in various parts of India in order to end the interfaith harmony among Hindus and Muslims.”
Swami Shradhanand Jee was assassinated in 1926. Diwan Singh Maftoon, who was a renowned journalist of his day and published a newspaper by the name of Riyasat, wrote of how and why Swami Jee was murdered in his book Naaqaabil-e-Faraamosh.
He says it was one of Swami Jee’s employees, who had previously shown signs of religious extremism, who killed Swami Jee on religious grounds.
Arya Samaj in Sindh
In his book Uhay Ddeenh Uhay Sheenh, Pir Ali Muhammad Shah Rashidi writes that after the 1920 reforms, three Hindu organisations emerged in India almost simultaneously; the Shudhi Sangathan, the Arya Samaj and the Hindu Maha Sabha.
He claims that the organisations were spearheaded by the old Congress – the party that otherwise claimed to be a representative of both Hindu and Muslim interests in India.
Regarding Arya Samaj activities in Sindh, Rashidi writes:
“On March 29, 1928, Hindu-Muslim communal riots erupted first in Larkana because of a matter related to a Muslim woman. The woman, Kariman, a wife and mother of three, was from a village near the city. She eloped with a Hindu man and came to Larkana, where she forced her children to convert to Hinduism along with her. It was the Arya Samaj people (who were running the Shudhi – literally meaning ‘purity’ – movement) who took care of the conversion and accommodated the woman and her children.
“Muslim elders of the city approached the courts to bring the children back home, but the case never proceeded. They then approached the district administration for the children’s custody. Meanwhile, Hindus had hidden Kariman and the children somewhere unknown. The collector, whom the delegation had approached for a solution, did not respond positively. The delegation, which by now had turned into an overwhelming mob, then went to Late Haji Ameer Ali Khan but again, to no avail.
“On its way back, a few members of the mob looted a few Hindu shops and roughed up a couple of Hindu young men. Later, riots erupted on a larger scale. Hindu shops were burnt and as a result, their businesses suffered. Although the riots were religiously fuelled, no Hindu was killed or injured badly.
“That the shops were looted was also proved a lie, in the courts. The Hindus themselves could not prove that the Muslims had attacked their shops. British judges disregarded all Hindu witnesses as liars.
“Hindus would not let the episode be forgotten. They then filed baseless police cases against the Muslims. Muslim activists were being targeted specifically. Khan Bahadur Ayub Khoro, who was an elected member of the Bombay Council, was also named in police cases only because he was elected by Muslims.”
Presently, in Karachi or elsewhere in Sindh, Arya Samaj is non-existent.
Its only remnants are the plaques in Hindi that can be seen at the Arya Samaj Compound in Kyamarri. My friends Hassan Mansoor, Hafeez Chachar and Ajmal Kamal helped me read the plaques. They said:
Arya Samaj Kyamarri
Yeh aadhar sheela Shri Acharya Ram Dev (Gurukul Kangri) nay 15-9-1929 ko rakhha.
[The foundation stone was laid by Shri Acharya Ram Dev (of) (Gurukul Kangri) on 15-9-1929.]
Om Shri Swami Sevak Anand Jee kay adyog say yeh mandir banaaya gaya.
[The temple was constructed with help of Om Shri Swam Sevak Anand.]
Both the Kyamarri temples now host kindergarten schools. As far my knowledge goes, the Arya Samaj, too, was interested in engaging with the Hindu youth, introducing them in detail to the greatness that lies in the ancient Hindu history. They considered it as a means of redemption.
You will only see Muslims in Arya Samaj Compound now. The schools in the temples are imparting modern knowledge to children. I wonder if the Arya Samaj had not disappeared, would these academies still be open for Muslims? And, if there was no Arya Samaj building, who would take time out to build schools in Kyamarri?
Anyway, here is the end to the story I was narrating above:
The old man shouted to the crowd about how it was Hindus who had demolished the mosque and not Christians.
Soon after, an even louder voice from the crowd shouted back: “They are all infidels!”
What happened next is what has been happening to this day.
At that time, the school was surrounded by a boundary wall only four feet high. The wall is now almost twice the height of the tallest man in that mob.
—Photos by author
Akhtar Balouch is a senior journalist, writer and researcher. He is currently a council member of the HRCP. Sociology is his primary domain of expertise, on which he has published several books.