What is Panchayats ?
It is more than half –a-century that the Hindus migrated on a large sale from sind. Naturally, it would be of great interest to the new generation of Amils to be aware of the origins of the community's premier institution, The khudabadi Amil Panchayat of Bombay (KAP), the main objective of which is to keep the community alive, vibrant and to work towards its progess for all time to come.
The origin of the Amil community, and therefore of its Panchayat, is not well established or authentic – and as such not clear, stresses Punwaney. It is generally belived that due to the hardships inflicted by Aurangzeb, many Hinhus fled Punjab and came to sind. Some hindus came from Jaisalmer and Jodhpur in rajputana, due ot the unrest there. Others came to sind from kutch, due to the famine.
During Kalharo's rule, hindus from many other places came and settled in sind. Among these hindus, many were followers of sikh gurus. Some others were devi disciples, Daya pujaris and followers of other faiths. Thus, many different castes, cultures and faiths settled in sind.
Khudabad was the capital where several migrants settled and began to work as government servants and businessmen. It was khudabad, ruled by main Yar Mohammed Kalharo, where migrant Hindus of all castes and faiths from different parts of the country came to and settled down and became one community of educated people.
They called themselves Amils. They were engaged in all types of government and Other jobs.It is believed that after the death of main nur Mohammed some Khosla tribesmen plundered khudabad and set it on fire in 1759 AD. The damage was so extensive that Khudabad could not be reconstructed as the capitalcity- and the capital was shifted to Hyderabad. There , Amils Bhaibunds (the not very well educated but adept business class) lived in ate but adjacent areas.
Lanes in the Amil and bhaibund areas, respectively, were named after the then prominent presons of the two sects. Thus, on the Amil side, there was an advain lane, Kripalani Lane, Mirchandani lane, Shivdasani Lane etc. It was in the midst of this complex area inhabited by Amils that a panchayat was established Known as the Khadabadi Amil panchayat.
It continued to function even at the time of the creation of Pakistan. This panchayat' had no written constitution – but had its canons and costoms meant for its members. Latter on, when the community grew in numbers, a new colony ws built beyond the old city boundary. Even with this wider physical area, the panchayat's writ on members contined.
Hyderabad flourished while it remained the capital city of the Muslim rulers. Economic conditions, however, worsened after the Muslim rules were replaced by the British, who made the port town of Karachi the capital of Sind. Soon thereafter, several prominent, educated Amils, including professionals like advocate, doctors and engineers, shifted from Hyderabad to Karachi.
With Karachi getting more and more Amils from Hyderabad, a Panchayat also without written Constitution – was established there and named the Hyderabad Amil Panchayat.
This Panchayat had no formal link with the Khudabadi Amil Panchayat in Hyederabad. However, the rules were similar. Election were held every year and a new president elected. It headquarters in Gaadi Khata in Karachi, were most of the Amils resided.
During World War II, the panchayat in Karachi had a ration shop catering to its members. It also had arrangements with Brahmins for performing requisite ceremonies for members when needed, at prescribed rates.
Besides these services, it undertook normal socialresponsibilities like holding marka ceremonies in respect of all deaths, enforcing social customs, sanctions and penalties for wrong doings and so on.
Then came Partition in 1947.The mass migration of the type and witnessed is Sind immediately after the Partition was unexpected and unprecedented. Hindus just fled from their hearts and homes, not knowing where they were heading to in india.
The dispersal was so rapid, so widespread and so extensive that within families, even the nearest and dearest, between themselves, did not know whether they would meet or see each other again. The migrating community broke up such that there appeared little hope of its reunification.
Although Mumbai was the immediate destination of all those who left Pakistan via Karachi, it did not provide the hope that families would find accommodation easily. Even if accommodation was found, it did not mean that familiar faces would be seen nearby.
" A community like ours, already relatively dispersed in Karachi (as against its erstwhile compactness in Hyderabad), had broken up even further in Mumbai so much so that it was considered well nigh impossible to bring even a few families within the fold of an organised unit, leave aside a Panchayat." notes Punwaney. He continues," With this backdrop, what happened in Mumbai in 1948 itself was a God sent gift for the future Panchayat. The late pahlajsing B. Advani, the last President of the Karachi Panchayat, Wadhumal H. Alimchandani, the last Secretary of the Karachi Panchayat and at least two other Managing Committee members. Namely Tarasing H Advani and myself, came to residing in Colaba, less than half a mile from each other.
"Pahlajsing was worried as to how a Panchayat as powerful and influential (as it was in Karachi) could be created (in Mumbai ), which alone could keep the community intact and alive. As a first step in this direction, he convened a meeting of influential and prominent Amils, to discuss the problem. Among those who attended the meeting were Diwanimal H. Hiranandani, Ranjitsing Ramchandani and jethi Sipahimalani."
After considerable discussions, extending over a few meetings, it was generally agreed that a Panchayat for all Amils, whether from Karachi or Hyderabad or elsewhere, be established as registered body.
The main objectives of the Panchayat were, as far as possible, to be the same as those of the Panchayat in Karachi and Hyderabad – viz. to have mandate to preserve, advance and ameliorate; frame rules of conduct and establish usages in keeping with changing times; and guard the cultural heritage of the community.
In the meantime, Punwaney personally launched a campaign to collect the addresses of a as many Amils as possible who met him on the road and elsewhere. Request was made to them to convey the addressed of other Amils known to them. That is how a couple of hundred addresses were collected in a short time, before a general meeting could be convened under the new Constitution.
Hence, after Partition, both previous Amil Panchayats earlier established at Hyderabad and Karachi, had to be wound up and a new Panchayat named. The Khudabadi Amil Panchayat of Bombay (KAP) was registered in Mumbai in 1952, with a provision to set up local branches or subsidiary Panchayats in different places.
The first Managing committee of the KAP in 1952 comprised:
- Fatechand Assudmal Jhangiani (President)
- Jagatrai Issardas Shivdasani (Vice-President)
- Wadhumal Hukumatrai Alimchandani (Honorary Secretary)
- Tahilram Assudmal Gurbaxani (Joint Secretary)
Recalls punwaney: " After the Panchayat was formed, but before it was registered under the societies Registration Act, Pahlajsing Advani and Wadhumal Hukumatrai Alimchandani Were the President and Honorary Secretary respectively. Wadhumal was conducting the Panchayat work from his residence.
"when the first Annual General Body Meeting was held, we had very few fee-paying members on our rolls. It was decided to invite all Amils in Mumbai, irrespective of whether ot not they were fee-paying members. For this purpose, as advertisement was inserted in the Times of India announcing the A.G.M. The meeting was held at Cama Hall near the Lion Gate Museum. Of course, the attendance was good.
"At the meeting, Wadhumal took out a handwritten sheet of paper and read out the report on the working of the Panchayat during the year. In the course of discussions, he was asked why the report could not be printed or cyclostyled and distributed to the members present. Wadhumal expressed want of funds for such a luxury!
"In the next A.G.M., however, it was found that a newspaper-sized sheet of paper was produced by Wadhumal on which the report had been printed, and paper was folded book-size. A few available copies were distributed to members. At these early A.G.M.'s, I found a lot of enthusiasm among those who were present. Among them, most non-memners, at our request, enrolled themselves as members."
The Panchayat, in its initial period of 30 years, constructed about 1000 houses for needy members of the community. On a regular basis, it began sending monthly financial aid to less fortunate members, and also started providing necessary educational/ medical aid to those members of the community who could benefit from such assistance.
It became a policy of the Managing Committee to have social gatherings and meetings at different locations as frequently as possible with the help and co-operation of those Amils living in the respectively localities.
In addition, it was also decided to combine social gatherings with annual general body meetings in different localities. In pursuance of this policy, the localities in which gatherings were held were Bandra, Sion, Churchgate, Warden Road etc. Lunch at these gatherings was prepared by voluntary works themselves among them, a prominent volunteer was the late Mangharam B. Punwani.
An extremely imported function of any Panchayat is to medicate and bering about settlement in social and family disputes and misunderstandings. This is indisputably a far better alternative for aggrieved parties then to approach the courts of law and expose their dispute in public. Amils in Karachi took full advantage of theis provision and many cases were handled by the Panchayat there. However, in Mumbai, this function of the Panchayat is perhaps not as pre-eminent as it once was, rues Punwaney.
However several other functions socio-economic functions are being successfully fulfilled. The Khudabadi Amil Panchayat Act 1860 and also under the Public Trust Act 1950. It is also registered with the Income Tax Department and donations to the Panchayat are exempt under section 80G of the Income Tax Act 1961. The Panchayat continues to publish a monthly newsletter, Amil Samachar.
Punwaney chronicles in his jottings on the KAP :" the Panchayat functioned in a manner to reach all members in Mumbai living in far flung localities periodically by holding meetings in different place. Panchayat representatives even kept visting distant places to contact members in a show brotherhood.
"it held seminars, discussions on Amil brotherhood and customs. Social gatherings, meetings, seminars and debates were excellent means of communicating ideas about the role of the Panchayat to a new generation of Amil. But these too had their limitations. At no time could the entire community be taken to Lonavala ot Sun-n-sand Hotel to participate in seminars! It was therefore considered that a periodical journal in Sindhi and English be published and mailed to all members to serve the purpose of keeping the community informed about the activities and seek their participate in absentia.
"So the Panchayat started a bilingual monthly journal to keep members informed of happening and events in the community. Late Gopal Gurbaxani took upon himself the responsibility of enditing the newspaper, saraswati, Gopal and his wife, Savitri, kept the journal reunning for many years." Subsequently, the Amil Samachar was started.
In December 2007, the KAP was branded with a sleek and contemporary logo, a vibrant wbsite, and a motto: Connecting Amil Community Worldwide.