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Meet Shilpi, the film maker who bats for Hindu Pashtuns from Balochistan

Hamid Karzai, former President of Afghanistan visited Jaipur to meet Hindu Pashtuns

Tears and blood of partition might have dried up but memories have scarred the lives of millions on the subcontinent. As the sun sets in one part of the world, dawn is coming in another part of the world. One such community that was forced to flee was the Hindu Pashtuns of Balochistan, who made Rajasthan and Punjab in India their new home.

Baloch have been living in India since 1555. A tiny population also resides in Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan. Ethnically, they are Pashtuns whose forefathers came from Quetta, Loralai and Maikhter regions of Balochistan and spoke Pashto. Currently, Hindu Pashtuns are settled in Jaipur – 200 families, Chittorgarh – 50 families and Rajpura in Punjab – 15 families.

After a bit of research, I came across Shilpi Batra Adwani, who is herself a Pashtun from Balochistan and whose family migrated during partition. Shilpi is born and brought in Jaipur and speaks Hindi, English and Pashto. She completed her Masters in Mass Communication from Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi, and has worked as a journalist for DNA for two years. She also worked for two years in Afghanistan with Sayara International as their Programme Manager. Currently, she is successfully running a film school named TOSS in Jaipur while taking care of her house and kid with equal zeal.

While talking to Shilpi about her community and its history, she states: “Ours is a very small community which had to flee partition because it was becoming unbearable to live over there, as there was always a threat of death, conversion and rape. Our community which was about 150-200 families, all came and settled in India”. Today the community lives all around Jaipur but there is a small concentration in Murlipura and Dher Ka Balaji.

While talking about her painful memories of fleeing, I remember my conversion with Anil Marri, a Baloch who is settled in New Delhi. He got Indian citizenship in 2015 and said he never faced security issues until Nawabs like Khair Bux Marri were there to protect Hindus. Baloch from his community came to India only as late as 1978 when insurgency created havoc in Balochistan and Nawab was no more there to protect the Hindus.

Shilpi’s hard work brought the community into limelight. It all started because Shilpi wanted to find her roots. Shilpi is a Kakkar Pashtun of Jogezai Tribe in Balochistan. She brought out the identity of her community to the world with her documentary ‘Sheen Khalai – The Blue Skin’. Women of the community had permanent tattoos on their faces and hands to enhance their appearances. The documentary caught the attention of not just their Indian neighbours but also brought the long-lost connections back from Balochistan. The former President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai even came to Jaipur to meet the elders of the community.

Refugees who came from today’s Pakistan have built their new lives but they’ve kept the remnants of the past alive by naming their localities from the places they came from like Quetta Colony in Nagpur and Frontier Colony in Jaipur.

Frontier Colony, as the name suggests, was a colony established for all the refugees from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. Today, ironically, the neighbourhood is home mostly to Sindhis and Punjabis. Shilpi tells me that their community was a minuscule in front of Punjabis and Sindhis who had also fled during the partition and settled in Jaipur. Punjabis and Sindhis had larger voices because of their population, therefore, they got a larger share. Our community on the other hand had to live in slums like Jawahar Nagar Kachi Basti of Jaipur.

Shilpi mentions that the community had to struggle a lot and had to start afresh since their arrival to India and even today out of the 200 families in Jaipur, about 150 families are lower-middle-class and struggling with roti, kapda and makaan and the rest 50 families can be termed as middle class. Some families are so poor that their house is in shambles and the last rains in Jaipur destroyed the structure of their houses. I tried to help one elderly from our community – Dawai Mami and repaired her roof as her house was flooded in the rains.

Unlike the Baloch community in Delhi, which established Balochistani Hindu Panchayat in 1990, just 12 years after they arrived in India, the Pashtuns of Jaipur have not been able to organize themselves even after 75 years. Although the community has formed ‘Kakari Samaj’ which is mostly engaged in arranging marriages between the community members. But this too has diminished because the new generation has started eloping in inter-caste marriages including Shilpi who had a love marriage and her husband is a Sindhi.

A common trait that we noticed between Sindhis and the Baloch is that they have family members across the borders with marriages happening amongst them. Shilpi’s husband, Hitesh Adwani had a cousin who got married in Karachi and his other cousin’s wife is from Karachi. Shilpi mentions we were not fortunate enough as all of us had to leave except one person. He stayed back and got converted because he fell in love with a Muslim girl. She says it is only due to my work that some of our neighbours and tribesmen from Balochistan recognized us and contacted me but otherwise, the community has no link to Balochistan except their memories.

Refugee families had to struggle hard to find a place in society but thanks to the will of the families and the hard work of the new generation, women like Shilpi runs a film school and make documentaries. Shilpi’s female cousin who is also a Pashtun is a banker and both of them are making a mark in the new India.

I asked Shilpi if she as a woman, would have achieved the same if their families had stayed back in Balochistan? To which she says, "Balochistan even today is a conservative place for women. I don’t think that we would have been able to do what we are doing today in India. But I try to look at things optimistically, our families were in business and if things didn’t have become so ugly during the partition, then there would have been a possibility that we might have moved to bigger cities like Quetta or even Karachi or Lahore. Who knows I could have been a journalist in Pakistan? I know several female journalists who are working in Pakistan and have seen the new generation of Pakistan from my travel time there".

Shilpi’s ‘IF’ is a big one but it is commendable as to how young women from the community have achieved so much.

Other than family’s perseverance and the young generation's hunger for achievement, there is another important factor i.e., security, which gives you the freedom to think, fly and be who you are. Families thought of long-term consequences. Even if they would have survived the genocide what would be their future?

India has been that place for most refugee families like myself. I feel that the word ‘refugee’ is a poor term for the subcontinent as we were all part of United India, displaced people would suit our apathy better. With Hindu Pashtuns making their mark in a new India, it’s not just an achievement of an individual or a community but adds one more leaf to the glorious history of India.