Monday, January 12, 2009

KARACHI Pre-Partition

Legend has it that Karack Bunder was an important port on the Arabian Sea in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. It handled the south Indian-Central Asian trade and was situated about 40 kilometres (km) west of Karachi bay on the estuary of the Hub River. The estuary was silted up due to heavy rains in 1728 and the harbour could no longer be used. As a result, the merchants of Karack Bunder, most of whom were Hindus, decided to relocate their activities to what is today known as Karachi.

In 1729, they built a fortified settlement on 35 acres on high ground north of Karachi bay and surrounded it with a mud and timber-reinforced wall of over 16 feet high which had gun-mounted turrets and two gates. The gate facing the sea was called Kharadar, or salt gate, and the gate facing the Lyari River was called Mithadar, or sweet gate. Mithadar and Kharadar are now important neighbourhoods in the old city around where these gates once stood. The settlement was strategically located. There were mangrove marches to the east and south-west, the sea to the west and south-west, and the Lyari River to the north and west. As such, the settlement was very well protected and storming it successfully was only possible from the sea.

Karachi, or Kolachi as the area where it was located was originally called, was a new settlement. However, in its immediate vicinity, there were important and ancient places of Hindu and Muslim pilgrimage. These included the temple of Mahadev, which is mentioned in the Ramayana; the Ram Bagh, where Ram and Sita, heroes of the Ramayana are supposed to have spent a night on the way to their pilgrimage to Hinglaj in Balochistan; the tombs of Abdullah Shah and his brother Yousef Shah, both tenth century sufis (religious person), and the twelfth century tomb and monastery of Manghopir. In addition, buried under the government houses on Bath Island are the remains of the sixteenth century capital of Raja Diborai. The tomb of Morerio, the hero of Shah Abdul Latif’s Sur Ghato is also close to the old city. He is supposed to have lived in the time of Raja Diborai. His descendants are living in the old Karachi goths of Baba Bhit, Rehri and Ibrahim Hydery and are called Moreriopota, of the sons of Morerio. All these important places are now within metropolitan Karachi. However, Karachi’s intelligentsia, academia, public representatives and the citizens at large know very little about these important places which have attracted a large number of pilgrims from the interior of Sindh, Kutch, Rajistan and the western coast of India, from times immemorial to the partition of the Subcontinent.

Between 1729 and 1783, Karachi changed hands several times as the Khan of Kalat and the rulers of Sindh tried to control it due to its strategic location. Finally, in 1783, the city fell to the Talpur Mirs after two prolonged sieges. The Talpurs constructed a fort at Manora point, the entrance to the harbour, and mounted it with cannons, thus making Karachi impregnable. At about this time, the British started taking an interest in Karachi due to the expansion of the Czarist Empire in Central Asia. This led to their opening a factory in Karachi at the end of the eighteenth century. However, due to disagreements with the Mirs of Sindh on trade tariffs, the factory was soon closed down.

In 1838, the British, obsessed with the fear of Czarist expansion to the Arabian Sea, occupied Karachi and it served as the landing port for their troops for the First Afghan War. In 1843, they annexed Sindh and shifted the capital of the province from Hyderabad to Karachi. Subsequently, they made Sindh a district of the Bombay Presidency and Karachi was made the district headquarters. Troops were stationed in Karachi and a services sector to cater to the needs of the army sprung up in what is today Saddar and the Cantonment. A district administration was also developed and it was housed in the Civil Lines area. Thus, the city became divided into the native city, consisting of the old pre-British town and its suburbs, and the European city consisting of the Cantonment, Civil Lines and Saddar Bazaar. The port was improved and steps were taken to develop and market Sindh’s agricultural produce to the Great Britain. To this end, the Indus Steam Flotilla and the Orient Inland Steam Navigation Company were developed to transport cotton and wheat down the Indus and across Karachi bay to Karachi port. As a result of these initiatives, a number of British companies opened their offices and warehouses in Karachi and its population increased from 14,000 in 1838 to 57,000 in 1856. Trade also increased during this period from £122,160 to £855,103.

During this period, a municipal committee, the first in British India, was also established for Karachi and two libraries, the General Library and the Native General Library were set up. The General Library became a part of the Frere Hall Library in 1865 and the Native General Library was absorbed in the Khaliqdinna Hall in 1906. Buildings essential to European social and cultural life were also constructed. The first Church was built in 1843 and is used today as the assembly hall of St. Joseph’s Convent School. Other important churches built during this period are Trinity Church and CMS Church on Lawrence Road. The Collector’s Kutchery (court) and the Kharadar Police Station are some of the few civic buildings belonging to this period that survive.

During this period, an important event occurred in Karachi. In 1857, the native troops rebelled against the British in support of the war for independence that had engulfed India. The rebellion was crushed by the British. Seven freedom fighters were publicly hanged in Artillery Maidan and three others were blown from the mouth of cannons. An eyewitness account states, "Their remains were immediately collected by sweepers and carted away to a pit at some distance. After this those who had been hanged were cut down like so many dead dogs and taken away in the same manner, and thus ended one of the most awful and imposing spectacles for the people of Karachi to be ever held.". One week later, another 14 freedom fighters were hanged in a similar manner and Ramdin Panday, the ring leader of the Karachi revolutionaries was blown from the mouth of a cannon. Karachi has not honoured these freedom fighters and no monuments have been built to them and nor have any roads been named after them.

Between 1856 and 1872, Karachi’s population did not increase although trade figures increased from £ 855,103 to over £ 5 million. The reason for the increase in trade figures is that between 1861 and 1865 there was a big boom in the cotton trade in Sindh as Sindhi cotton replaced American cotton as raw material in the British textile industry. This was because supplies from America had been disrupted due to the American Civil War. It was during this boom period that the Karachi Chamber of Commerce was established and has since then played an important role in the economic development of the city. However, at the end of the American Civil War, trade in Karachi dropped from Rs 66 million to 38 million and the membership of the Chamber of Commerce fell from 15 members in 1865 to 8 in 1872.

The expansion of trade during the American Civil War was aided by the development of the Sindh Railway in 1861, which linked Karachi to the cotton and wheat producing areas. The decision to extend this railway into the Punjab and subsequently link it up with northern India was taken in 1869 and this increased Karachi’s "catchment" area. At the same time the British began the development of perennial irrigation schemes in Punjab and Sindh. These schemes brought large desert areas under cultivation and increased activity at Karachi port. As a result, by 1868, Karachi became the largest exporter of wheat and cotton in India. Karachi also received a boost with the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, which made it the nearest port in India to the UK.

A lot of important civic buildings and churches were built during this period. They include St. Andrew’s Church in Saddar, St. Paul’s Church in Keamari and another St. Paul’s in Manora. In addition, City Courts and Frere Hall were constructed during this period and a number of mission and English language schools, including Grammar School, St. Joseph’s School and St. Patrick’s School were built. The Karachi Zoo was also established during this period on the site of the old British factory and a lot of domestic architecture of this period still survives.

Between 1872 and 1901, the population of Karachi more than doubled. The reasons for this were the completion of the railways which linked Karachi to the Punjab, northern India and Sindh and their wheat and cotton production started flowing through Karachi. Oil extraction was also undertaken in Sui, near the railway line 450 kms from Karachi. This was also exported from Karachi port. In this period water supply and drainage systems were developed for the city and the population of the old town decreased as water pipe lines were laid outside of it. In 1881 the population of Karachi was 73,056 of which 68,332 lived in the old town. By 1911 the population of the old town had decreased to less than 48,000. The Karachi Port Trust (KPT) was also created for the city during this period.

In 1885, the tramway was introduced in Karachi. It was owned by the East India Tramway Company and functioned on steam power. However, it was replaced by horse-drawn carriages in 1892 since Karachites objected to the noise made by the steam locomotives and claimed that animals which were then used for transport purposes, were scared of the locomotive sound. Empress Market was built in 1889, the D.J. Science College in 1887 and the Sindh Madrassah in 1885. Thus, Karachi acquired its most important landmark and its first institutions of higher learning during this period.

Between 1901 and 1911, Karachi’s population increased by 37 per cent. The reason for this was that a number of irrigation schemes were completed in the Punjab and Sindh thus increasing exportable agricultural produce. 260,000 acres of irrigated land producing more than 10,000 tons of wheat and cotton each were added by the Jamrao Canal Project in southern Sindh alone and over 6.8 million acres of irrigated land were added in the Punjab as a result of three major projects. To meet the resulting demand placed on Karachi by wheat and cotton exports, Karachi port was further developed, labour imported from the interior of the province, and merchants migrated from all over India to profit by the expansion of trade. By 1904, Karachi’s trade had expanded to over Rs 300 million.

During this period, Karachi expanded, and innumerable commercial, civic and educational buildings were added to it including Khaliqdinna Hall and the Victoria Museum. The Hall was built in 1906 and is famous because the trial of Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar and Maulana Shoukat Ali was held here during the Khalafat Movement.

Between 1911 and 1947, the expansion of irrigation systems in the Punjab and Sindh continued, adding to trade in Karachi. In addition, railways were expanded to link Karachi with Rajhstan, thus adding to its hinterland. During the First World War (1914-18) Karachi became a military base as it was the first port of call for ships coming through the Suez Canal and was the gateway to the Russian Empire north of Afghanistan. In 1924, the first airport in British India was constructed in Karachi and at about the same time Karachi also developed a reputation for having a healthy climate most suitable for patients of asthma and TB. This added to its population. In 1935, Sindh was separated from Bombay and became a separate province. Karachi was made its capital. Law courts, revenue departments, line departments and social sector departments were established in Karachi thus increasing its population and importance. Sindh’s landed aristocracy started building homes in the city and merchants who previously had their head offices in Bombay shifted to Karachi so as to be near the new seat of power.

During the Second World War, Karachi became the military base and port for supplies to the Russian front. Troops were stationed and trained here, military intelligence services functioned from here and telegraph and telecommunication systems were developed as a result. After the War Karachi became the centre for supplies to the allied troops in South and South-East Asia. This again increased its importance and between 1911 and 1941 its population increased by 133.4 per cent. It is estimated that 90 per cent of Karachi’s growth between 1921 and 1941 was the result of migration.
During this period, a number of beautiful buildings were added to the city, all of which testify to its growing importance and to the consolidation of its merchant classes. These buildings include the Karachi Port Trust (1915), Bank of India (1923), the Chamber of Commerce (1923), Hindu Gymkhana (1925), the High Court (1929), the Karachi Municipal Corporation (KMC) Building (1931) and the Old Sindh Assembly (1940) where the Pakistan Resolution was passed.


Source : Arif Hasan, Akbar Zaidi , Muhammad Younus, "Understanding Karachi" A publication of URC

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