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Muhajir people

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A refugee train, Punjab, 1947.jpg
A train with a group of people affected by the exchange of population during partition of India
Regions with significant populations
Karachi, Hyderabad and mainly across large cities in Sindh & Pakistan
Islam 100%

The Muhajir people (also spelled Mahajir and Mohajir) (Urdu: مہاجر‎) are Muslim immigrants, of multi-ethnic origin, and their descendants, who migrated from various regions of India after the Partition of India to settle in the newly created state of Pakistan.[1][2][3][4][5] Although many of them speak different languages at the native level, they are primarily identified as native Urdu speakers and hence are called "Urdu-speaking people." The term Muhajirs generally refers to those Muslim migrants from India who settled in urban Sindh.[6]


The Urdu term muhājir (Urdu: مہاجر‎) comes from the Arabic muhājir (Arabic: مهاجر‎), meaning an "immigrant",[7][8] and the term is associated in early Islamic history to the migration of Muslims. After the independence of Pakistan, a significant number of Muslims emigrated or were out-migrated from territory that remained India. In the aftermath of partition, a huge population exchange occurred between the two newly formed states. In the riots which preceded the partition in the Punjab region, between 200,000 and 2,000,000 people were killed in the retributive genocide.[9][10] UNHCR estimates 14 million Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims were displaced during the partition; it was the largest mass migration in human history.[11][12][13]

Most of those migrants who settled in the Punjab province of Pakistan came from present day Indian states of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, and Delhi while others were from Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan and the United Provinces.

Migrants who moved to the Sindh province of Pakistan came from what then were the British Indian provinces of Bombay, Central Provinces, Berar, and the United Provinces, as well as the princely states of Hyderabad, Baroda, Kutch and the Rajputana Agency. Most of these migrants settled in the towns and cities of Sindh, such as Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur and Mirpurkhas.

Many spoke Urdu, or dialects of the language such as Dakhani, Khariboli, Awadhi, Bhojpuri, Mewati, Sadri, Marwari, and Haryanvi and became commonly known as Muhajirs. Over a period of a few decades, these disparate groups sharing the common experience of migration, and political opposition to the military regime of Ayub Khan and his civilian successor Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto evolved or assimilated into a distinct ethnic grouping.[14]

Pakistan Movement

Prior to 1857, British territories in south Asia were controlled by the East India Company. The company maintained the fiction of running the territories on behalf of the Mughal empire. The crushing defeat of Mutineers in 1857 -1858 led to the abolition of the Mughal empire and the British government taking direct control of the Indian territories.[15] In the immediate aftermath of the rebellion, upper-class Muslims were targeted by the British, as some of the leadership for the war came from this community based in areas around Delhi and what is now Uttar Pradesh; thousands of them and their families were shot, hanged or blown by cannon. According to Mirza Ghalib, even women were not spared because the rebel soldiers disguised themselves as women.[16]

The Pakistan movement, to constitute a separate state comprising the Muslim-majority provinces, was pioneered by the Muslim elite and many notables of the Aligarh Movement. It was initiated in the 19th century when Sir Syed Ahmed Khan expounded the cause of Muslim autonomy in Aligarh. Many Muslim nobles such as nawabs (aristocrats and landed gentry) supported the idea. As the idea spread, it gained great support amongst the Muslim population and in particular the rising middle and upper classes.

The Muslims launched the movement under the banner of the All India Muslim League and Delhi was its main centre. The headquarters of All India Muslim League (the founding party of Pakistan) was based there since its creation in 1906 in Dhaka (present day Bangladesh). The Muslim League won 90 percent of reserved Muslim seats in the 1946 elections and its demand for the creation of Pakistan received overwhelming popular support among Indian Muslims, especially in those provinces of British India such as U.P. where Muslims were a minority.[17][18][19]


The photo monument depicting a couple migrating from India To Pakistan with their household stuff and cattle during Partition of India.

It was the biggest immigration in human history, many Muslims migrating from India to Pakistan were killed by Hindus and Sikhs, many Muslims lost their families. However, the Muslims struck back and killed many innocent Hindus and Sikhs as well, who were migrating from Pakistan to India.[20]

First stage (August–November 1947)

Muslim refugees boarding a train in September 1947, similar to those involved in the massacre, with the intent of fleeing India.

There were three predominant stages of Muslim migration from India to West Pakistan. The first stage lasted from August–November 1947. In this stage of migration the Muslim immigrants originated from East Punjab, Delhi, the four adjacent districts of U.P. and the princely states of Alwar and Bharatpur which are now part of the present day Indian state of Rajasthan.[21] The violence affecting these areas during partition precipitated an exodus of Muslims from these areas to Pakistan.[21] Punjabi Muslims from East Punjab crossed to West Punjab and settled in a culturally and linguistically similar environment.[22]

The migration to Sindh was of a different nature to that in Punjab as the migrants to Sindh were ethnically heterogenous and were linguistically different to the locals. The migrants were also more educated than the native, and predominantly rural,[23][failed verification] Sindhi Muslims who had been less educated and less prosperous than the former Sindhi Hindu residents. The migrants, who were urban, also tended to regard the local Sindhis as backwards and subservient to landowners.[24]

Prior to the partition, the majority of urban Sindh's population had been Hindu[25] but after the independence of Pakistan in 1947, the majority of Sindh's Hindus migrated to India,[22] although a substantial number of Hindus did remain in Sindh.[26] 1.1 million Muslims from Uttar Pradesh, Bombay Presidency, Delhi and Rajasthan settled in their place; half in Karachi and the rest across Sindh's other cities.[6][22] By the 1951 census, the migrants constituted 57 percent of the population of Karachi, 65 percent in Hyderabad and 55 percent in Sukkur. As Karachi was the capital of the new nation, educated urban migrants from Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bombay, Bihar and Hyderabad Deccan preferred it as their site of settlement for better access to employment opportunities. The migrants were compensated for their properties lost in India by being granted the evacuee property left behind by the departing Hindus.[24] A sizable community of Malayali Muslims (the Mappila), originally from Kerala in South India, also settled in Karachi.[27] The partition brought about quite exceptional circumstances that facilitated the implementaion of these strategies.[28]

Second stage (December 1947 – December 1971)

This film contrasts the old and new India and Pakistan, with emphasis on the Bangladesh and Kashmir disputes.

Many Muslim families from India continued migrating to Pakistan throughout the 1950s and even early 1960s. This second stage (December 1947 – December 1971) of the migration was from areas in the present-day Indian states of U.P., Delhi, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The main destination of these migrants was Karachi and the other urban centres of Sindh.[21]

In 1959 the International Labour Organisation (ILO) published a report stating that between the period of 1951–1956, a number of 650,000 Muslims from India relocated to West Pakistan.[21] However, Visaria (1969) raised doubts about the authenticity of the claims about Indian Muslim migration to Pakistan, since the 1961 Census of Pakistan did not corroborate these figures. However, the 1961 Census of Pakistan did incorporate a statement suggesting that there had been a migration of 800,000 people from India to Pakistan throughout the previous decade.[29] Of those who had left for Pakistan, most never came back. The Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru conveyed distress about the continued migration of Indian Muslims to West Pakistan:[21]

There has...since 1950 been a movement of some Muslims from India to Western Pakistan through the Jodhpur-Sindh via Khokhropar. Normally, traffic between India and West Pakistan was controlled by the permit system. But these Muslims going via Khokhropar went without permits to West Pakistan. From January 1952 to the end of September, 53,209 Muslim emigrants went via Khokhropar....Most of these probably came from the U.P. In October 1952, up to the 14th, 6,808 went by this route. After that Pakistan became much stricter on allowing entry on the introduction of the passport system. From 15 October to the end of October, 1,247 went by this route. From 1 November, 1,203 went via Khokhropar.[21]

Indian Muslim migration to West Pakistan continued unabated despite the cessation of the permit system between the two countries and the introduction of the passport system between the two countries. The Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru once again expressed concern at the continued migration of Indian Muslims to West Pakistan in a communication to one of his chief ministers (dated 1, December 1953):

A fair number of Muslims cross over to Pakistan from India, via Rajasthan and Sindh daily. Why do these Muslims cross over to Pakistan at the rate of three to four thousand a month? This is worth enquiring into, because it is not to our credit that this should be so. Mostly they come from Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan or Delhi. It is evident that they do not go there unless there is some fear or pressure on them. Some may go in the hope of employment there. But most of them appear to feel that there is no great future for them in India. I have already drawn your attention to difficulties in the way of Government service. Another reason, I think, is the fear of Evacuee Property Laws [EPL]. I have always considered these laws both in India and Pakistan as most iniquitous. In trying to punish a few guilty persons, we punish or injure large numbers of perfectly innocent people...the pressure of the Evacuee Property Laws applies to almost all Muslims in certain areas of India. They cannot easily dispose of their property or carry on trade for fear that the long arm of this law might hold them down in its grip. It is this continuing fear that comes in the way of normal functioning and normal business and exercises a powerful pressure on large numbers of Muslims in India, especially in the North and the West.[21]

In 1952 the passport system was introduced for travel purposes between the two countries. This made it possible for Indian Muslims to legally move to Pakistan. Pakistan still required educated and skill workers to absorb into its economy at the time, due to relatively low levels of education in the regions which became part of Pakistan. As late as December 1971, the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi was authorized to issue documents to educationally qualified Indians to migrate to Pakistan.[21] The legal route was taken by unemployed but educated Indian Muslims seeking better fortunes, however poorer Muslims from India continued to go illegally via the Rajasthan-Sindh border until the 1965 India-Pakistan war when that route was shut. After the conclusion of the 1965 war, most Muslims who wanted to go to Pakistan had to go there via the India-East Pakistani border. Once reaching Dhaka, most made their way to the final destination-Karachi. However, not all managed to reach West Pakistan from East Pakistan.[21]

A large number of Urdu-speaking Muslims from Bihar went to East Pakistan after independence of India and Pakistan in 1947. After the formation of Bangladesh in 1971, the Biharis maintained their loyalty to Pakistan and wanted to leave Bangladesh for Pakistan. The majority of these people still await repatriation, however, 178,000 have been repatriated.[30] In 2015, the Pakistani government stated that the remaining 'Stranded Pakistanis' are not its responsibility but rather the responsibility of Bangladesh.[31]

Third stage (1973-1990s)

The third stage which lasted between 1973 and the 1990s was when migration levels of Indian Muslims to Pakistan was reduced to its lowest levels since 1947.[21]

Indian Muslim migration to Pakistan had declined drastically by the 1970s, a trend noticed by the Pakistani authorities. On June 1995, Pakistan's interior minister, Naseerullah Babar, informed the National Assembly that between the period of 1973–1994, as many as 800,000 visitors came from India on valid travel documents. Of these only 3,393 stayed back.[21] In a related trend, intermarriages between Indian and Pakistani Muslims have declined sharply. According to a November 1995 statement of Riaz Khokhar, the Pakistani High Commissioner in New Delhi, the number of cross-border marriages has declined from 40,000 a year in the 1950s and 1960s to barely 300 annually.[21]


The Muhajirs have started many socio-political groups such as Muttahida Qaumi Movement under Altaf Hussain in 1984, All Pakistan Muslim League under Pervez Musharraf and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf under Imran Khan as a secular movement,[32][33][34] The literacy rate among the Muhajirs was very high in Pakistan.[35]

Pre-independence era

Most Muslim politicians of pre-independence era who supported the Pakistan Movement were the Urdu speakers, During the last period of the Ottoman Empire, the empire was indebted, the community provide significant financial support to preserve the empire, The members of the movement who are now Muhajirs grant the money to preserve the Ottoman Empire but were unable to prevent its decline, it was the biggest political eminence in pre-Muhajir history.[36][37]


The Muhajirs (Urdu-speakers) of Pakistan were largely settled in the Sindh province, particularly in the province's capital, Karachi, where the Muhajirs were in a majority. As a result of their domination of major Sindhi cities, there had been tensions between Muhajirs and the native Sindhis. The Muhajirs, upon their arrival in Pakistan, soon joined the Punjabi-dominated ruling elite of the new-born country due to their high rates of education and urban background.[38] They possessed the required expertise for running Pakistan's nascent bureaucracy and economy.[citation needed] Although the Muhajirs were, socially, urbane and liberal they sided with the country's religious political parties such as Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan (JUP).[39]

Upon arrival in Pakistan, the Muhajirs did not assert themselves as a separate ethnic identity but were at the forefront of trying to construct an Islamic Pakistani identity.[40] Muhajirs dominated the bureaucracy of Sindh in the early years of the Pakistani state, largely due to their higher levels of educational attainment.[38] Prior to the partition, Hindus dominated the professions of lawyers, teachers and tradesmen in Sindh and the vacancies they left behind were filled up by the Muhajirs.[22]

Many Urdu-speaking people had higher education and civil service experience from working for the British Raj and Muslim princely states. Out of the 101 Muslims in India's civil service, 95 chose to leave India. A third of those civil servants were Punjabis but there were many Muhajirs among them too.[22] From 1947 to 1958, Urdu-speaking Muhajirs held more jobs in the Government of Pakistan than their proportion in the country's population (3.3%). In 1951, of the 95 senior civil services jobs, 33 were held by Urdu-speaking people and 40 by Punjabis. The Muhajirs also had a strong hold over the economy, 36 of the 42 largest private companies belonged to Muhajirs, mainly those from the Indian state of Gujarat.[22]

Gradually, as education became more widespread, Sindhis and Pashtuns, as well as other ethnic groups, started to take their fair share of the pool in the bureaucracy.[41] But even by the early 1960s, 34.5 percent of Pakistan's civil servants were those who had not been born in the territory comprising Pakistan in 1947, many of them were born in the United Provinces.[22]


On 27 October 1958, General Ayub Khan staged a coup and imposed martial law across Pakistan.[42] The dichotomy between the Muhajirs' social and political dispositions was a result of the sense of insecurity that the community felt in a country where the majority of its inhabitants were 'natives.' Lacking the historical and cultural roots of native Pakistani ethnicity, the Mohajirs backed the state's project of constructing a homogeneous national identity that repulsed ethnic sentiment.[43] The Mohajirs also echoed the views of the religious parties that eschewed pluralism and ethnic identities and propagated a holistic national unity based on the commonality of the Islamic faith followed by the majority of Pakistanis. By the time of Pakistan's first military regime (Ayub Khan, 1958), the Muhajirs had already begun to lose their influence in the ruling elite.[25][43] With the Baloch, Bengali and Sindhi nationalists distancing themselves from the state's narratives of nationhood, Ayub (who hailed from what is now the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province), slowly began to pull the Pakhtuns into the mainstream areas of the economy and politics. This caused the Muhajirs' to agitate against the Ayub dictatorship from the early 1960s onwards.[44]

The percentage of Urdu-speaking people in the civil service declined while the percentage of Pashtuns in it increased. In the presidential election of 1965, the Muslim League split in two factions: the Muslim League (Fatima Jinnah) supported Fatima Jinnah, the younger sister of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, while the Convention Muslim League supported General Ayub Khan. The Urdu-speaking people had supported the Muslim League before the independence of Pakistan in 1947 and now supported the Muslim League of Fatima Jinnah. The electoral fraud of the 1965 presidential election and a post-election triumphal march by Gohar Ayub Khan, the son of General Ayub Khan, set off ethnic clashes between Pashtuns and Urdu-speaking people in Karachi on 4 January 1965.[44]

Four years later on 24 March 1969, President Ayub Khan directed a letter to General Yahya Khan, inviting him to deal with the tense political situation in Pakistan. On 26 March 1969, General Yahya appeared on national television and proclaimed martial law over the country. Yahya subsequently abrogated the 1962 Constitution, dissolved parliament, and dismissed President Ayub's civilian officials.[45]


The 1970 Pakistani general election on 7 December 1970, Awami League won the elections. The Urdu-speaking people voted for the Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan and Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan. Muhajirs had decisively lost their place in the ruling elite, but they were still an economic force to reckon with (especially in urban Sindh). When a Sindhi, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, became the country's head of state in December 1971, the Muhajirs feared that they would be further side-lined, this time by the economic and political resurgence of Sindhis under Bhutto.

The Pakistan Peoples Party government nationalization the financial industry, educational institutions and industry. The nationalization of Pakistan's educational institutions, financial institutions and industry in 1972 by Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan Peoples Party impacted the Muhajirs hardest as their educational institutions, commerce and industries were nationalized without any compensation.[46] Subsequently, the quota system was introduced and this limited their access to education and employment.

In 1972 language riots broke out between Sindhis and Urdu-speakers after the passage of the "Teaching, Promotion and use of Sindhi Language" bill in July 1972 by the Sindh Assembly; which declared Sindhi as the only official language of Sindh. Due to the clashes, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto compromised and announced that Urdu and Sindhi would both be official languages of Sindh. The making of Sindhi as an equal language to Urdu for official purposes frustrated the Urdu-speaking people as they did not speak the Sindhi language.[41]


In the 1977 Pakistani general election, Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan and Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan joined in a coalition named the Pakistan National Alliance. The Mohajirs enthusiastically participated in the 1977 right-wing movement against the Bhutto regime (which was largely led by the religious parties). The movement was particularly strong among Karachi's middle and lower-middle-classes (and aggressively backed by industrialists, traders and the shopkeepers).[41] The Urdu-speaking people voted mostly for the Pakistan National Alliance.[25] The alleged electoral fraud by Pakistan Peoples Party caused protests across the country. On 5 July 1977, Chief of Army Staff General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq led a coup d'état against Bhutto and imposed martial law.

Zain Noorani, a prominent member of the Memon community, was appointed as Minister of State for Foreign affairs with the status of a Federal Minister in 1985.


Christophe Jaffrelot says that, as per the 1951 census, Muhajirs in the generic sense constituted 6.3 million souls, or one-fifth of the total population of 33.7 million, but the towering majority were from East Punjab, India, who migrated into West Punjab, Pakistan, not constituting a different community because of obvious ethnic similarities, and in fact not using the "Muhajir" tag anymore; the Muhajirs in the more accepted formal sense, that is diverse set of communities from Hindu-majority provinces which eventually adopted Urdu and formed a socio-linugistic group of its own, were numbered at around 1.2 million, 1.1 million being from Uttar Pradesh, Bombay Presidency, Delhi, Rajasthan and Gujarat who went to West Pakistan, while 100,000 Biharis went to East Pakistan, now Bangladesh.[47]

Notable people


The Muhajir culture refers to the Pakistani variation of Indo-Islamic culture and the Culture of Karachi city in Pakistan.[48][49]

See also


  1. ^ Nadeem F. Paracha. "The evolution of Mohajir politics and identity". Archived from the original on 17 June 2015. Retrieved 17 June 2015.
  2. ^ "Karachi Bloodbath: It is Mohajir Vs Pushtuns". Rediff. 20 September 2011. Archived from the original on 17 June 2015. Retrieved 17 June 2015.
  3. ^ "Don't label me 'Mohajir'". Archived from the original on 17 June 2015. Retrieved 17 June 2015.
  4. ^ "'Mohajir card' – all key parties contesting by-polls using it". The News International, Pakistan. 20 April 2015. Archived from the original on 17 June 2015. Retrieved 17 June 2015.
  5. ^ Dr Niaz Murtaza. "The Mohajir question". Archived from the original on 17 June 2015. Retrieved 17 June 2015.
  6. ^ a b Javaid Rehman (13 April 2000). The Weaknesses in the International Protection of Minority Rights. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. pp. 215–. ISBN 90-411-1350-9.
  7. ^ "MQM to observe 'black day' over Khursheed Shah's 'Muhajir' comment". Dawn. 26 October 2014. Archived from the original on 24 December 2014. Retrieved 27 April 2015. Read 5th Paragraph
  8. ^ "Muhajirs in Pakistan". European Country of Origin Information Network. Archived from the original on 18 August 2016. Retrieved 27 April 2015.
  9. ^ Paul R. Brass (2003). "The partition of India and retributive genocide in the Punjab, 1946–47: means, methods, and purposes" (PDF). Journal of Genocide Research. p. 75 (5(1), 71–101). Archived (PDF) from the original on 14 April 2015. Retrieved 16 August 2014.
  10. ^ "20th-century international relations (politics) :: South Asia". Encyclopædia Britannica. Archived from the original on 26 April 2015. Retrieved 16 August 2014.
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  13. ^ Basu, Tanya (15 August 2014). "The Fading Memory of South Asia's Partition". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on 19 March 2017. Retrieved 16 August 2014.
  14. ^ Oskar Verkaaik, A people of migrants: ethnicity, state, and religion in Karachi, Amsterdam: VU University Press, 1994
  15. ^ Nayar, Pramod K. (editor) (2007). The Penguin 1857 reader. New Delhi: Penguin Books. p. 19. ISBN 9780143101994.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  16. ^ Nayar, Pramod K. (2007). The great uprising, India, 1857. New Delhi: Penguin Books. ISBN 9780143102380.
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  19. ^ Mohiuddin, Yasmin Niaz (2007). Pakistan: A Global Studies Handbook. ABC-CLIO. p. 70. ISBN 978-1-85109-801-9. In the elections of 1946, the Muslim League won 90 percent of the legislative seats reserved for Muslims. It was the power of the big zamindars in Punjab and Sindh behind the Muslim League candidates, and the powerful campaign among the poor peasants of Bengal on economic issues of rural indebtedness and zamindari abolition, that led to this massive landslide victory (Alavi 2002, 14). Even Congress, which had always denied the League's claim to be the only true representative of Indian Muslims had to concede the truth of that claim. The 1946 election was, in effect, a plebiscite among Muslims on Pakistan.
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  34. ^ Sardar, Ziauddin; Yassin-Kassab, Robin (2012). Pakistan?. ISBN 9781849042239. Imran's mother was Muhajir and father Pashtun; both were Karachi natives. ... Imran if he felt as torn as the city itself, between allegiances, even within his own family.
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External links