Pakistan has a history of overlooking the rights of its minorities. But in the case of the country’s Sheedhi community, we have ignored their existence almost entirely. There are periodic articles, some news clips and an occasional ‘human interest’ fare. But by and large, the plight, grievances and resistance of Pakistan’s black community has been ignored. Just last month, Black History Month was celebrated across North America. Such a remembrance of our local black community is a faraway dream; but it can happen. And I hope, that before too long, it does.
The Moment of Epiphany
Throughout the video I kept using the word ‘we’; this was intentional. I was completely ignorant about the Sheedhi community, until my mother gave a speech at my school. She was initiating a seminar class about Sindhi language and culture. As an intro, she decided to talk about aspects of Sindhi history that was both inspiring and forgotten. Among them was the mention of a fierce general who died fighting the forces of Charles Napier. Interestingly, Pakistan studies classes always mentioned Napier, and the annexation of Sindh. But, the name Hosh Muhammad Sheedhi was new for me, and almost everyone else in the room.
The irony wasn’t lost on my mother; in fact she called it out. She called out that while we appreciated the civil rights movement and black activist, we had overlooked our own black history.
That was eight years ago. Today, Pakistan’s black history is still seldom discussed, or even acknowledged.
I have been trying to complete this video for a very long time. In fact, it’s fair to say that I have been trying to make it since I was sixteen. As will be the case for most of you, my first brush with our black history inspired me immensely. I spent the next couple of days reading about Hosh Muhammad Sheedhi. Through him I discovered the patterns of African movement into South Asia.
I also discovered that I wasn’t the only one in need of some education. Many an ill-informed family member ensured that I knew this. And while some of this was annoyingly ignorant, some of it was also innocent. We have never been taught our own history minus the bias. Hence the treatment of our black history shouldn’t be surprising.
But, the optimist in me is well, optimistic. Many of us have grown up not knowing about this part of our heritage. But we can learn, and do better in lieu of what we learn.
Rediscovering Pakistan’s Black History
So, as promised in the video, here are the sources I used for the video.
The book ‘Empires of the Indus’ by Alice Albania was one of the earliest books I read about Sindh’s history. It has an entire chapter dedicated to the Sheedhi community. Most of it revolves around personal interviews. Thus, it gives you a good sense of the community’s grievances. Alice Albania has also written for Minority Stories. The site has a ton of other information about Sheedhis as well.
Here is a link to Mr. Yaqub Qambrani’s YouTube channel. It includes a number of insightful videos about the community. There is also a documentary by CNBC titled ‘Deeply African’ clips of which were used in the video above.
If you’re a visual person, you’ll find this photography project by Luke Duggleby really interesting. He has documented many South Asian black communities, including the Sheedhi people.
I also found this interesting article about Noon Meem Danish. He was quite a famous Urdu poet, and also proud of his Sheedhi heritage. He once likened Liyari to Harlem. I have never been to Harlem, but I know Liyari to be a place of a simultaneous adversity and strength. In a way, it reflects the Sheedhi community itself. I hope you guys find some inspiration here.
Video clips and Images courtesy Yaqub Qambrani. All material used in accordance with fair use and fair dealing for the purpose of education and critique.