The story of the Sheedi community might be an interesting one for others but for the people of the community it was a plethora of traumatic stories of slavery, repression and discrimination that did not allow them to thrive.
Tanzila Qambrani, the first Sheedi woman who became a member of the Sindh Assembly in 2018 on the Pakistani People’s Party ticket, made the remark as she addressed the recent launch of an Urdu translation of the famous educator and writer Muhammad Siddique Musafir (1879 -1961) reporting the Sheedi community to the Pakistan Arts Council.
The translation, titled “Ghulami Aur Azadi Kay Ibratnaak Nazarey – Zindabad Azadi”, was done by the famous researcher Aslam Khwaja from Sindhi into Urdu.
Haris Gazdar, Senior Researcher, Social Science Research Collective, Karachi; Iqra Qambrani, academic researcher from the Sheedi community; and Iqbal Haider Sheedi, a Badin-based community activist, also spoke about the book at the event moderated by academic and journalist Dr Tausif Ahmed Khan.
Speakers said the Sheedi community faced widespread discrimination in Pakistan from other community groups because of their appearance and color, especially in social areas such as marriage and education.
Tanzila said Musafir was a true hero who taught many members of the Sheedi community to lead respectable lives. She added that both of her parents were her students.
Commenting on how difficult it was for the Sheedi community to share their plight, she remarked that it was easy to talk about their successes but it was always traumatic to describe the mistreatment a person faced in their life. daily. “When we talk about community issues in Tando Bago, in Karachi or in a United Nations forum, we are talking about pain and heartbreak. “
She said the community had fought hard to prove that they were equal to others, but even after centuries they were still subjected to humiliation. “Education is our way out of poverty,” she said, describing the stigma many Sheedi children still face in schools.
In his speech, Gazdar cited his field research trip to a town in Balochistan where locals said there was no caste discrimination. “But when I visited the school and checked the student registration register, ‘ghulam’ (slaves) was written in front of some children’s names.”
He said that culture and identity are born from the struggle of the people. Praising the translator, he said these books and research should be published regularly as they help empower everyone, especially marginalized communities like the Sheedis.
In his preface to the book, Khwaja wrote that no research on the Sheedi community of Sindh has been conducted on a scientific basis. Regarding Musafir’s work, he said that Musafir was born to slave parents and that he compiled direct observations and experiences in his memoirs published in Sindh about five decades ago.
In the book’s introduction, Mishal Khan, a sociologist at the Center for International Social Science Research at the University of Chicago, said the book provides analytical insight into the lives, ideologies and memories of the Sheedi community in Sindh.
“The book is not only useful for scholars who focus on comparative slavery systems, African immigrants and various aspects of the slavery abolition movements in various parts of the world, but it is also an invaluable treasure. for those interested in various identities in South Asia in the context of the twentieth century.
Musafir’s book began with the origins of the Sheedis, a community in Pakistan who are the descendants of East Africans brought to the region as slaves by Arab and Egyptian merchants for several centuries. The first chapter of the book deals with the historical background to the slavery of the Sheedi community and the second chapter deals with the history of various black liberation movements initiated by community leaders in various parts of the world.
The third chapter of the book deals with the struggle of African Americans. In the fourth chapter, the author describes the stories of various slaves who were brought to Sindh by their masters. Musafir wrote that most of the Sheedis in Sindh were slaves to wealthy people, but a significant number of them were also held by Baloch tribes, the Syeds and the Pirs (spiritual figures). According to the author, the Hindu masters of the Sheedi slaves were comparatively more merciful.
The fifth chapter deals with the situation of Sheedis in Sindh after the British abolished slavery in 1843 by declaring the holding of slaves and their trade a crime. Although the Sheedi were no longer slaves after that, their problems did not perish as the community had to contend with poverty, illiteracy and disunity.
In the second part of the book, Musafir described his own experiences and observations. The author’s father was sold at the age of seven in a slave market in Zanzibar to an Arab trader in Muscat. It was then sold to a sculptor in Thatta. He tells how his father, after the abolition of slavery, started his new life and formed an organization of Habshis of Tando Bago.