70 years on, one Pashtun town still safeguards its old Hindu-Muslim brotherhood

Indian filmmaker Shilpi Batra Adwani with a Hindu Pashtun migrant woman. They pose with traditional Pashtun clothes. (Photo Courtesy: Shilpi Shilpi Batra Adwani)
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Updated 01 July 2020

70 years on, one Pashtun town still safeguards its old Hindu-Muslim brotherhood

  • As token of love, Muslims of Mekhtar have never opened the abandoned properties of town’s migrated Hindu community 
  • Around 400 Pashtun Hindus migrated from Balochistan‘s Pashtun belt and moved to Jaipur

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.




Old mud shops that belonged to Hindu Pashtuns in Mekhtar's Hindu Bazaar before 1947. The properties have remained preserved and unopened for over 70 years as a symbol of interfaith harmony. June 26, 2020 (AN Photo by Shadi Khan Kakar)  

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 Hajji 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 hastily flee their homes.




In this undated photo, a Pashtun Hindu woman in Jaipur shows off the blue tattoos distinctive of the Hindu Pashtun community. (Photo Courtesy: Shilpi Shilpi Batra Adwani)

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.
“It was like one’s brother was leaving,” Kakar reminisced.
The meat-eating Hindu Pashtuns 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,” Shilpi Batra Adwani, a documentary filmmaker from a Pashtun Hindu family in Jaipur, told Arab News. 
Her grandmother, who she calls Babai, migrated from the town during the partition.




Indian filmmaker Shilpi Batra Adwani with a Hindu Pashtun migrant woman. They pose with traditional Pashtun clothes. (Photo Courtesy: Shilpi Shilpi Batra Adwani)

Shilpi told Arab News 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 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.” 




Malik Haji Paio Khan Kakar, a 95 year old resident of Mekhtar, Balochistan, is interviewed for Arab News. June 26, 2020 (AN Photo by Shadi Khan Kakar)  

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 Attan [Pashtun folk dance]. No one would feel like they belonged to a different faith,” Shilpi said, recounting stories from her grandmother.




Indian filmmaker Shilpi Batra Adwani with a Hindu Pashtun migrant woman. They pose with traditional Pashtun clothes. (Photo Courtesy: Shilpi Shilpi Batra Adwani)

The film-maker told many other stories-- of one Hindu Pashtun 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.
Even 73 years on, Shilpi said, Mekhtar still lived on in the memories of those who had left behind their ancestral homes and shops. 




Old mud shops that belonged to Hindu Pashtuns in Mekhtar's Hindu Bazaar before 1947. The properties have remained preserved and unopened for over 70 years as a symbol of interfaith harmony. June 26, 2020 (AN Photo by Shadi Khan Kakar)  

Across the border in Mekhtar, Kakar too reminisced about meeting his old friends one more time.
“My health and finances don’t allow me to travel, but if they could come here... that would be great,” he smiled. 
“Then maybe once more, we could sit here. All together.”


UNGA adopts Pakistan-sponsored resolution on respect for ‘sacred religious symbols’

Updated 3 min 37 sec ago

UNGA adopts Pakistan-sponsored resolution on respect for ‘sacred religious symbols’

  • Protests broke out in several Muslim countries, including Pakistan last month, over cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) 
  • Deliberate vilification and negative stereotyping of Islam perpetuates ‘clash of civilizations,’ Pakistan’s envoy to the UN says

ISLAMABAD: Despite opposition from the European Union and other western nations and India, the UN General Assembly Wednesday adopted a Pakistan and Philippines sponsored resolution on inter-religious dialogue that emphasized the need to respect “sacred religious symbols,” Pakistan’s state news agency reported on Thursday. 

The resolution received a majority of 90 votes, none against, with 52 abstentions, APP said.

Protests broke out in several Muslim countries, including Pakistan last month, over France’s response to a deadly attack in October on a teacher who showed cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) to pupils during a civics lesson.

For Muslims, depictions of the Prophet are blasphemous.

Pakistan has condemned the recent re-printing of the cartoons. The French president has paid tribute to the murdered teacher, fueling further anger in the Muslim world. 

“Facing strong opposition from the powerful western bloc mainly based on freedom of expression, the Pakistan Mission worked hard to rally the OIC [Organization of Islamic Cooperation] and other developing countries to garner support for inclusion of new elements in the resolution,” APP reported. 

Pakistan’s Ambassador to the UN, Munir Akram, referred to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s repeated calls to the international community and the United Nations to counter Islamophobia and promote respect for religious sensitivities.

“Ambassador Akram also emphasized that the deliberate “vilification and negative stereotyping of adherents of one of the largest religions in the world –Islam — only perpetuates dangerous self-fulfilling prophecies such as the ‘clash of civilizations’ and must be addressed on urgent basis,” APP quoted the ambassador as saying. 

“After some intensive lobbying, the resolution acknowledges — for the first time — the significance and respect for religious symbols,” the state news agency added. “It also stressed that the exercise of the right to freedom of expression carries with it special duties and responsibilities, and must therefore be subjected to legitimate restrictions.”

“The resolution condemned any advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to violence or discrimination,” APP said, “and underlines the importance of interrelgious and intercultural dialogue as a valuable tool for promoting social cohesion, and peace and development in the world.”