Black Death & Moorish Physicians


Just a bit off on the tangent regarding this news ‘Black Death pit’ unearthed by Crossrail project: It was western Arabism that provided the world with the most concrete affirmation of the doctrine of the contagious character of disease. The cause of that discovery was the same plague that ravaged the world in the 14th century, causing Black Death. The plague travelled from India to China, Russia, Syria and finally struck the Europe. Many accounts record that nearly half of the population of western Europe suffered the “Black Death” caused by the plague.

It was two Moorish doctors from Granada, Ibn-Khatib and Ibn-Khatima, who found out that the “Black Death” was caused by contagion carried by rats and fleas.

Both of them wrote treatises regarding the plague. Ibn-Khatib wrote “On the plague” which was then remarkable for its courage and idea in defence of the contagion. He argued against the prevalent and popular belief that contagion wasn’t the wrath of God. It apparently required courage to defy the popular religious beliefs prevalent in both Europe and Asia which associated the contagion with God’s wrath.

Ibn-Khatima’s work in original Arabic is still preserved in Escurial.

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Partition & Muhajirs — I


According to the colonial census of 1941, Muslims in Delhi constituted a minority population of 33.22%. On the other side Karachi had a Hindu population of 47.6%. Hindus in Sindh were relatively in peace than in Punjab before partition. After the partition in September 1947, genocidal violence transpiring in Punjab finally reached Karachi. Vazira Fazilla-Yacoobali Zamindar notes in her book “The Long Partition and the Making of Modern South Asia: Refugees, Boundaries, Histories”  that most of the Delhi’s population was forced to leave their homes and take refuge in camps and wherever they could.

In the 1951 census, it was noted that 3.3 lakh Muslims of Delhi had left to Pakistan, and almost twice the number of Hindus and Sikh refugees had arrived to India from the Western (Pakistani) Punjab. Most of the Muslim refugees who arrived in Karachi belonged to Delhi and North India. Due to such a mass settlement of Muhajirs in Karachi, the city went through a drastic change: the city’s almost entire Hindu population had left the city by the census of 1951. The emigration of Hindus from Sindh ]read Karachi] to India after the partition of 1947 was primarily due to the mass flow of Muhajirs in the city after which the city’s population had almost tripled. Religious violence in the Karachi city was comparatively less, although still rampant, than it was in different parts of Punjab; out of 20 million people displaced in the sub-continent due to partition, 12 million alone were from Punjab. From this perspective, Punjab characteristically witnessed greater violence than Sindh or Karachi did.

Both India and Pakistan had agreed to a complete “transfer of population” of Punjab on the basis of religious community. Interestingly, there was no such agreement between India and Pakistan for the rest of the parts of both the states. As a result of this, the mass exodus of Muhajirs to the Sindh [read Karachi] was viewed by the Sindh Government with great alarm.

According to Dr Sarah Ansari in her journal “Partition, Migration, and Refugees“, the mass exodus of Muhajirs in Sindh gave rise to the sharp dissension between the Sindh and federal government of Pakistan as to how the migrants will be accommodated in the city. The leaders of Sindh showed their concern that the Sindh’s economic and cultural life may be impaired by the exodus of Sindhi Hindus. The Federal and Sindh government sat down to discuss about how many Muhajirs could the province accommodate as part of rehabilitation efforts.

With reference to this accommodation, Vazira Fazilla-Yacoobali Zamindar records that on the basis of the figures provided by the Military Evacuation Organisation (MEO), which was created to organise secure refugee movements to both the countries, the Ministry of Refugees and Rehabilitation argued that the West Punjab had received a “surplus” of 12 lakh refugees. Therefore, the distribution of 12 lakh refugees was essential to keep the population in provinces balanced. In order to grapple with the refugees tension, a conference of district officers was held on 22nd and 23rd November 1947 at Lahore to discuss how much population each district of Punjab could hold. The bureaucrats in the conference agreed that a quota needs to be devised to divide the population of refugees for each province that will then absorb the described amount of refugees. The bureaucrats agreed that Sindh should accept 5 lakh of the refugees in Punjab. The statistics and charts on population and refugees were prepared by Professor M. Hasan at the Secretary of the Board of Economic Inquiry of West Punjab.

During the conference, the division of refugees was deemed necessary so to make them manageable in a national economy. Professor Hasan’s analysis of Sindh’s position to hold refugees was based on the notion that the surplus Muslim refugees in Punjab could be accommodated in Sindh in place of those Hindus migrating to India. According to Professor Hasan, Sindh had population of 7.81 lakh non-Muslim agriculturists or rural non-agriculturists; and, as per his belief, as most of these must have left Sindh, 5 lakh of the refugees could very well be accommodated in Sindh. However, it merits mentioning that Professor Hasan himself accepted that his calculations faced the limitation that all non-Muslims would not be leaving the Sindh and there was no “actual” data on the exodus of Hindus until the 1951 census.

The political leadership in Sindh refused to accept the 5 lakh refugees, but agreed that 1.5 lakhs refugees could be accommodated. Ayub Khuhro in his letter to Jinnah argued that Professor Hasan’s calculations were not all correct. Khuhro argued that Sindh had a population of 14 lakh Hindus, most of whom were living in urban areas, while 2.5 lakh were living in Karachi alone. He further argued that 4 lakh Muslims had already arrived in Sindh, replacing the outgoing Hindu population.

Ayub Khuhro further presented his argument to Jinnah that the lands abandoned by the Sikhs were able to accommodate only 50,000 people, and further 10,000 could be accommodated by persuading the feudal of Sindh, making a total of 60,000. In any case, he agreed to accommodate not more than 1 lakh, instead of actual 5 lakh, of Muslim migrants in Sindh.

Khuhro’s resistance against the bureaucratic and federal policy on dividing the “surplus” refugees in Punjab and accommodating them in Sindh was based on the notion that while many Hindus were gone from Sindh, this had rendered Sindhis an opportunity to revive its economy and claim whatever was left by the Hindus, as surely Sindhis had the first right over the leftovers of Hindus.

More on “Muhajirs” in the next write up.

Equality in Education


The burning of hundreds of Christian houses in Badami Bagh in Lahore on account of so-called blasphemy committed by an individual — innocent until proven guilty — engulfs whole nation with horror. The festive faces of the miscreants, sadly many of them teenagers and precious youth of trembling nation, should serve as a rude awakening to the educated people of Pakistan as well as the government about the need for quality education on “equality” basis. An educated man is less likely to fall into the trap of extremist thoughts and acts.

All the pre-emptive measures taken by government so far have turned out to be penny in the fusebox. The best and only measure in this grim situation which we can surely afford if we put a good thought and planning to it is education. The seeds of education we will plant will take sometime to bear the fruits.

One way or the other, we, as a nation are responsible for our acts collectively, even of those committed by individuals.

I Have Sinned


This hitorical account of Sindh as I was reading in a book actually reminded me somehow of the current political and ethnic scenario in the Urban Sindh V Rural Sindh. Here is how it goes. Matthew Cook writes in the “Introduction” of Robert Huttenback’s book “British Relation With Sindh”:

Sindh generally attracts little attention in South Asian history. Perhaps the best known historical ‘document’ about the region comes from the pen of Sir Charles Napier. According to many reports, he sent a laconic dispatch to Lord Ellenborough, the Governor-General of India, after Sind’s conquest in 1843. It consisted of a single Latin word: peccavi (I have sinned).

Matthew Cook writes in the “Introduction” of Robert Huttenback’s books “British Relation With Sindh” that some historians question the veracity of Napier’s pun. Philip Woodruf, in “The Men Who Ruled India” writes: “Sir Hugh Dow, the last British Governor of Sind but one [i.e., second to last], traced its origin to Punch in 1846. Woodruf is correct to note that the pun originates in the satirical magazine “Punch”, but is incorrect regarding another fact: the year of the pun’s publication was 1844.

Ignoring the rest of the discussion over the veracity of this pun allegedly by Charles Napier, let’s get to the bonafide record straight.

Cook writes further that inconsistencies regarding the “peccavi” pun clear when one rejects Napier as its author. In an ignored 1938 Sind Historical Society lecture, N.M. Billimoria states that the pun’s author was Catherine Winkworth, a young schoolgirl living in Britain. Billimoria reports that Winkworth originated the pun during a class discussion on Napier’s conquest of Sind. Her teacher, obviously struck by his student’s wit, suggested that she sent it to “Punch”. She did and it appeared in the magazine’s 18 May 1844 edition.

How the “peccavi” links to the present political and ethnic dilemma in Sindh must now be plain and clear: people are trying to sin, more in the urban centres.

Reference: Robert Huttenback, 2008. British Relations with Sind 1799-1843: An Anatomy of Imperialism. Edition. Oxford University Press, USA.