The Hindu Mirjafar

Fascinating story on so many levels. Across muslim south asia the thinking is that but for Mir Jafar, the British would not have got a foot-hold in Bengal. Muslim rule would continue uninterrupted across the land. India would become another Indonesia with Hindu pockets (Bali) and a Sanskrit-named airline (Garuda).

In Sindh however there is a local villain who betrayed the kings (Mirs) and was rewarded in silver coins for his services to the British. He is Seth Naomal Hotchand. 

Right now there is a lot of controversy about a Big Boss speech- namely Indians (Hindus) were slaves for a thousand years. Secularists are (as usual) up in arms. We are allowed to say that British imperialists were bad but not the Turks-Mughals. Why is that?

It is a fair statement that in Hindu ruled India, the Dalits were the
slaves (and many remain to this day). They have been slaves for
thousands of years. Neo-Dalits like S Anand are happy to
denounce Hindu imperialism and they are perfectly justified in doing so.

then the double standards? When denouncing imperialism and slavery do it
for all cases without reservations, it would be the right thing to do.

Seth Naomal betrayed Sindh perhaps because he felt no allegiance to the people who tortured his family and treated his people as second class citizens (horses were reserved for Muslims, Hindus could ride only donkeys). For whatever faults of the British, they treated both Hindus and Muslims equally badly (worse than horses AND donkeys). Progress!!!
Muhammad Usman Damohi writes about Hotchand in the 2013 edition of his book Karachi: Taareekh Kay Aaenay Main: “The
man’s lust for wealth and status robbed Sindhi nationalist Muslims and
Hindus of their freedom, forcing them to live under tyranny and endure
the pains of slavery… This man helped the British defeat the Mir
rulers of Sindh.”

About his family background, Damohi writes:
Naomal was born in
Kharadar — one of the oldest areas of Karachi — in 1804. He was the
great grandson of renowned Hindu trader Bhojomal, who laid the
foundation for the city of Karachi in 1729. Naomal’s father Hotchand was
also a very successful merchant, with a business reach extending all
across India, Afghanistan, Iran and Muscat. This was one of those
powerful families who loaned money to the Mirs of Sindh, and even had
contacts inside the royal court of Hyderabad.

All this information
begs the question, even more – what would such a rich and powerful man
be aiming for in helping the British conquer Sindh? 

We turn to “Memoirs of Seth Naomul Hotchand of Karachi”, where he writes on page 89 (third edition, printed by the Sindhi Literary Board in 1996 and translated into English in 1915):

was somewhere between 1831 and ’32. In Nasarpur (near Mirpurkhas,
southern parts of Sindh), a young boy — the son of a Hindu peasant, and
upset at his teacher for, perhaps, giving him a beating — went up to the
gates of a local mosque and stood there.

When a group of Muslims
spotted him, they took the boy inside the mosque. This angered the
Hindu community and triggered reactions like Hindu shopkeepers refusing
to sell goods to Muslims, with Muslims retaliating by throwing litter
into the well in Lyari, where many Hindus got their drinking water from.

“The next day, a man named Nooral Shah, and a ‘Syed’ by lineage, came
to our neighbourhood, cursing Hindus. My younger brother, Pursuram,
who was standing at the outer gate of the neighbourhood, asked Nooral
Shah to refrain from it, but things heated up. In rage, Nooral Shah
began claiming that Pursuram had insulted the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH),
and a huge Muslim crowd gathered to agitate.

“Later, Nooral Shah went to various cities of Sindh with a Quran held
up to his chest, inciting Muslims [to act against the Hindus]. Somehow,
my brother managed to slip out of city and go to Jaisalmer. Meanwhile,
the matter was taken to the court of the ruler of Sindh, Mir Murad Ali
Talpur. It was a sensitive matter, with a lot of pressure being
generated by Muslim groups. Mir sahib sent for my father to send
Pursuram to Hyderabad. Since Pursuram was not in Karachi, Mir sahib
ordered my father to appear at his court. “

“When my father
reached Hyderabad, Mir sahib referred him to the Qazi (religious judge)
of Nasarpur, which is a small city not far from Hyderabad. The Qazi
refused to hear the case. Then all of a sudden, Muslims attacked my
father and kidnapped him. He was taken hostage for 10-12 days.”

“At first, they wanted to turn him into a Muslim (meaning, circumcise
him). However, my father was over 50 years old, not to mention such
an act was against Islamic prescriptions as well. Along with that, the
Muslims feared that the act would cause too big a reaction, so they
changed their mind. Later, Mir Murad Ali regretted the incident and
ordered that my father be set free at once. That’s when he was finally
let go.”

Nevertheless, the more common understanding in Sindh remained that Hotchand had been circumcised. The incident has been described in detail in Seth Naomal’s memoirs.

Before Partition, the Hindu community of Sindh was among the
wealthiest in the region. Not just the landlords but the very rulers of
Sindh were often in debt toward the Hindus for large sums of money. 

Hindus struggled to achieve the same social status that Muslims

Sharing what he saw during his days in the region, James Burns notes:
in Sindh are banned from riding horses. That is why even the wealthiest
of Hindus are seen riding donkeys instead. It is also a custom for
Hindus to respectfully give way to any Muslim rider while on the road.”

Renowned intellectual and historian Dr Mubarak Ali writes in his book Sindh Khaamoshee Kee Awaz
that Seth Hotchand’s was one of the most respectable families of Sindh.
That is why the whole episode… left a huge impact on the Hindu
community of Sindh.

This surely acted as a catalyst for the sense of insecurity that Naomal and his likes felt in his times.

It must have been a huge blow to Naomal’s ego. It seems this was the
episode that became the prologue to the tale of his treason. However, it
is unjust to claim that only Naomal was responsible for the end of the
Mir dynasty’s rule over Sindh.

The rulers, who controlled the
three regions of Hyderabad, Mirpurkhas and Khairpur, were always
indebted to Hindus for even basic state machinery, meaning they never
had enough resources. On top of that, the Mirs did not have a
well-trained army. This allowed the British to easily overcome the
once-mighty dynasty of rulers and their supporters in order to conquer
the Mehran Valley.

The British acknowledged Naomal’s services to
the crown by awarding him with a title. Khudadad Khan, a servant of the
British Raj, writes in his book Taareekh-e-Sindh (first published in
1900, reprinted in 2009 by the Sindhi Literary Board):

“The badge
for the CIE title was awarded to Seth Naomal Hotchand in a grand event
in his honour, held at Frere Hall. The Briton who had handed over the
badge spoke of how grateful the British government was for the immense
help Naomal’s information and recommendations provided in securing Sindh
in the 1843. He said the Great Queen (Victoria of Great Britain) was
proud to award him with the title of CIE (Companion of the Most Exalted
Order of Staff of Indian Empire). It was also announced that property
and pension both are awarded to Naomal henceforth.”

Dr Mubarak Ali writes in his essay titled ‘Kia Naomal Ghadaar Thaa?’ (Was Naomal a Traitor?):

“The role minorities play in a society is a highly sensitive one. The
more financially well-off the minority is, the more enemies it
creates. More often than not, members of the minority communities are
pronounced traitors or national enemies. In such cases, society falls
prey to schisms and minorities become disconnected from any kind of
national spirit. In the annexation of Sindh and India to the British,
the insecurity which the minorities lived in had a huge role to play.”

Naomal died aged 73 on September 16, 1878 in Karachi. His memoirs were published by the Oxford University Press in 1986. The translation begins with a note terming him a traitor.





Brown Pundits