Apr 20, 2012

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Lest We Forget the Falling Soldiers

I have just crossed the magic line of being a 70-year-old. If I had lived inTanzania, there are greater chances that I would be dead by now. Now I know that most of you would try to correct me by telling me that death is in the hand of God and geography has nothing to do with it. Nevertheless, beliefs aside, it does seem that people live a much fulfilling and longer life in the West than they do in a developing country. If we just learn, from time to time, to leave out the Almighty God in our discussions, we would learn that preventative medicine which is our right in the West is not readily available to people of little or no means in places like, say, Tanzania. That would explain the anomaly.

However, regardless of the general good quality of life in the West, we human beings have to face the fact, as Malcolm Muggeridge would put it in one his essays: ”The one sure thing about mortal existence is that it will end; the moment we are born, we begin to die.”

At my age, I tend to look at my life in retrospection. That is, I am afraid, the irony of being old. One spends too much time in the past rather than look forward to the future. One wants all to behave like we behaved when we were growing up in East Africa rather than embrace the present and explore all its potentiality. Frankly, I prefer the company of a younger generation. There is so much life, so much promise, and so much hope!

So befitting the tendency of looking at my life in retrospection due to my old age, I ask for your patience as I recall a special generation of the members of our community who were born inEast Africa within the two decades that spanned between 1935 and 1955.

A great many of this generation have fallen and the rest of us are waiting in the Departure Lounge for our plane to take us to the next stage of our being. Not a month passes by when I do not read an announcement in the Nasimco newsletter of yet one more soldier from this generation falling by the wayside.

You might ask: What is so special about this generation? In fact, by every theory of inheritance and environment, this generation should have been clad in complacency. It came into being on the foot steps of the preceding pioneering generations. The establishment in the new land comprised of Kenya,Uganda,Tanganyika and Zanzibar, had taken its roots.

The WWII was over when this generation was hardly into the teens, and with it, the economic struggles resulting from general shortages of goods and commodities. The community had matured in governance of the religious and social needs of the community at its local level and was now ready to tackle the common welfare of its people on national and multi-national levels. Our East African Federation was formed in the mid-1940s and thus sending the signal, loud and clear, that the community felt confident about itself and its place in the new environment.

The later part of the 1930s and 1940s saw the beginning of the independence movement of the Indian sub-continent and its eventual achievement of partition into India and Pakistan.

At this point I must stress the importance of the independence movement in the homeland and how, in East Africa, it affected the generation immediately preceding the subject group of this article. I would like to call that generation the renaissance generation.

The independence struggle in the sub-continent provided intellectual fodder to the renaissance generation. It changed the way we looked at ourselves. The leaders like Jinnah, Gandhi, Nehru and Iqbal provided the intellectual inspiration and we started to look at ourselves, for the first time, in a different state from what was imposed upon us by our colonial masters, the British and our inherent lack of self-respect.

That inspiration also was responsible for intellectual discourse in the community to the level not surpassed since. The inspired ones among us started to question our very existence, our religious beliefs, our rites, our cultural values. There was nothing sacred. There were more independently (private) published periodicals serving us then than we have today in our community. There were – Sal-Sabil, Inqilaab, Munadi, etc.- publications that enhanced religious and communal understanding as well as challenging the sacred cows of religious and cultural rites. The dreams that came out of their intellectual heads were never stifled or suffocated by the established power that existed then.

In the midst of this climate, a young man of 21 years of age wrote the following editorial in the monthly periodical called Munadi. It went thus: “Ithna-Asheri Society today is overwhelmed by layers of backwardness and retrogression. These layers have been building up for the last several years, and continue even today. The horizon is bleak and dark, and nowhere is a ray of light to be seen. The ship of our community is drifting aimlessly and helplessly in a vast ocean, and none can predict when it will perish against the rocks. This is not a figment of imagination by a poet, or empty, fictional verbiage by a writer. Those who care to spare a moment or two to make an appraisal will agree that our words portray an exact and accurate picture of the prevailing situation.”  In his published booklet, An Outline History of Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri inEastern Africa, the late Mullah Asghar M.M. Jaffer writes further about this editorial by this young man, saying, “And then he (the young man) proceeded to enumerate the ills of our society, condemning the time worn, sometimes outlandish traditions and social norms which he believed must be shunned.

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He (the young man) described how the community was scattered in the remote parts of East Africa, gradually becoming disorganized, losing contact with the mainstream of the Ithna-Asheri society. Mincing no words, he (the young man) held the leaders of the major Jamaats responsible for the pathetic state of affairs: ‘Progress without reform and organization is difficult. We need a strong, fortified set of laws which should bring about order and discipline in all our Jamaats, big and small, and should open up the stifled path of progress and advancement. This has got to be our goal, and easiest way to achieve this is to form a Central Council of the Shia Ithna-Asheri Community in East Africa.’ ”

This young man, I am proud to say, was no other than my father, Abdulhusein “Azad” Sachedina. He was part of the renaissance generation that produced young and imaginative individuals who were not afraid to stick their necks out for principles they strongly believed in. The effects of ideas that were promulgated then still touch us today.

To measure truly the level of intellectual discourse that existed then can be ascertained only if we compare it with what we have today in our community, the electronic age notwithstanding. Our community (East African) today does not have a single independent publication dealing with prevailing issues facing our community. Granted, there is the old and tired Africa Samachar and there are some periodicals published by several Jamaats. But these are, to be blunt, official mouth pieces of the institutions, controlled and censored. Any notion contrary to the established party line never gets the time of the day in print.

So, our target generation, following the dynamic predecessors was doomed to be a do-nothing generation. The community was fully established; the infrastructure built; the War was over, presenting new economic and political opportunities. In such circumstances, what normally ensues is complacency. The community never felt more confident about itself and its mission. The dukawallas wanted their children to get better education in pursuit of qualifying as professionals. This was the first generation that produced more doctors, dentists, lawyers, accountants, architects, civil engineers, etc. than any of its preceding generations put together; as more and more went overseas for post-secondary education.

Some of them went to the UK and others attended colleges and universities inKenya,Uganda(there were none in Tanganyika and Zanzibar at the time), and India and very few went to America. The community established post-secondary education subsidy for its members who had limited means. However, that privilege was available to only male candidates.

The female applicants were discouraged from pursuing college or university education. There are many instances where the community leadership imposed its sacredly held personal value of depriving females with higher education. So if members of the community were determined to challenge the status quo, they had to find other means to pay for higher education of their daughters. The community purse, unfortunately, was not available to them.

We don’t know where this prejudice against educating our daughters came from. Was it religiously or culturally motivated?  Or was it simply to subdue women to their imposed inferior social status? Attainment of knowledge, after all, is synonymous with empowerment.

As some of the members of this generation were acquiring their education, others who were left behind were establishing themselves in civil, banking, insurance and other fields. Some even continued to pursue their family business traditions. But there was no disruption or any upheaval in the path of organized and tamed journey, as if the Providence had a hand in it to prepare this generation for what the Providence had in store for it.

The 60s brought about the period of decolonization and with it the disruption to the way of life of the Indians to the magnitude not felt before by any other preceding generations. When one considers that the Indian Traders and merchants were in East Africa prior to the British Government turning over the governance of vast track of land that became known as East African Territories to the Imperial British East African Company, founded in 1888 by Sir William Mackinnon (1823-93), the event of the 60s were not only disruptive but shocking for the community that had made East Africa its home for centuries.

The East African countries became independent, which marked the exodus of the colonials, leaving only few colonials to some key positions. The other senior positions had to be filled by the local professionals thus creating immediate demand for those Indian professionals who had just finished their studies overseas.

At first, the new professionals benefitted from this process, as it not only facilitated their employment but also provided for them an opportunity to be partners and co-owners in well established British firms which opportunity would not have been accorded to them had there been no major exodus of mzungu talent.

Tanganyika was the first country in East Africa to have achieved independence fromBritain(Dec/1961), followed byUganda(Oct/1962),KenyaandZanzibar(Dec/1963). As the Indians were adjusting to this major shifting ground under their feet, 1964 brought about two major disruptive events, an army mutiny in Dar es Salaam and a bloody revolution in Zanzibar, which further deteriorated the Indians’ confidence and sense of security in the lands where their fathers and fore-fathers had settled for more than 100 years.

The Indians from Zanzibarand Pembamoved to the mainland but they had lost everything – their businesses, their dukas, employment careers, farms, homes and properties of all kinds, and finally their communal infrastructure (schools, medical centres, places of worship, and community centres) for which they had sacrificed their personal wealth to erect for the common good of the community.

These two events prompted the Indian community to rethink its position in the fast evolving conditions the post-colonialEast Africa presented. The complacent generation was called to action by the trumpeter.

Thus began an organized emigration of the community to other areas of the world. The complacent generation was more equipped to take this on because it was more educated than the rest. The community set-up fact finding missions that were sent to India and Pakistan to look for investment opportunities and some even took the leap and established themselves in the sub-continent only to be disappointed with the results and had to move back. The families had a pragmatic approach by sending one or two members of the family to make a beach head landing and feel themselves out in the new surroundings before bringing others to join them.

The Sub-continent settlement having failed, the community focused its attention in settling in the West and thus began an orderly transition to the new frontier. Some settled in Britain where they had attended colleges and universities while others ventured to the Americas. The first settlement in Canada was in 1966, followed by a few individuals and family units and by 1971 the first community in Canada was organized. In UK there were already established students’ communities which evolved eventually into Jamaats and people started to settle down before they attempted to bring more families fromEast Africa.

Idi Amin’s expulsion of 75,000 Ugandan Asians in 1972, giving them 90 days to pack their bags and leave the country, changed the rate of orderly emigration. Their businesses were “Africanized” and given to Amin’s cohorts, who plundered and ruined them. The country lost a valuable class of professionals, sliding into a chaos that would eventually claim up to 750,000 Ugandan lives.

Some 27,000 Ugandan Indians moved to Britain, another 6,100 to Canada, 1,100 to the United States, while the rest scattered to other Asian and European countries.

And it was in their new lands, where the complacent generation showed its real mettle and transformed itself to a pioneering generation. The new immigrants settled down in their new countries, willing to start all over again. They were so focused in what they wanted to achieve that nothing would deter them from their objective. They took any job that was offered them. Most of them were underemployed; some of them had their qualifications not recognized in their new country of residence. No matter. They did not complain. They realized that they, as pioneers, had to bear the brunt as the first settlers so that their ensuing generation would reap the benefit.

This remarkable generation went even further than what anybody had expected of them. They organized themselves. They didn’t need Abdulhusein Sachedina to incite them into organizing themselves. It was already in their groove. They had their places of worship – rental premises in the beginning to be followed by premises they owned. They established religious educational infrastructure – teachers’ training, establishment of curricula, etc. They did everything and did it better that their forefathers when they first landed on the shores of East Africa from India in those Arab dhows.

Establishment of those community centres around North America, Europe, and Australasia that are humming with community activities is a testament to this generation. They gave it everything they had and more.  And now their children are taking over where they left off. The Bathurst Centre inToronto,Canada is a testament of the spirit of pioneering that the next generation of immigrants has taken upon themselves.

The early pioneers of this generation, the brave soldiers of our time, who carried the burden of the whole community that had settled in East African for centuries by uprooting it and reestablishing in the West, are now an aging group of soldiers, with their heads held high and with dignity.

Our establishment in the new lands owes a lot to these brave individuals who gave a lot of themselves so that the next generation would not have to uproot itself and go somewhere else.

A wholehearted salute to them!

Salim Sachedina

April 2012

  1. Murtaza Mohamedtaki says:

    A long article but none the less very informative. Thanks for sharing

  2. Amir Dattu says:

    Thanks Salim. Well written article reminding us of our background.
    Further cudo to your article, I read it in one sitting.
    Normally I don’t read such long mails, especially if they touch on religious issues, as nothing new constructive development comes out except, deep rooted, same old rigmarole

    • I know it is like pissing in the wind! But someone has to raise the issues.
      Anyway, I am glad you enjoyed going back into the past, and more importantly, you took to time to write. It makes my efforts worthwhile.

  3. Arif Asaria says:

    Dear SalimBhai;
    I was just invited to an event at the newly built Bathurst
    Community Centre, specifically at the Marhum Mullah
    Asgar Resource Centre wherein I enjoyed reading this
    quote from “Azad” to which you allude in your article.
    My first comments are, that the apple doesn’t fall far from
    the tree. Secondly such writings would be met with fury
    and denial. Our progress is undeniable, however compared
    to other religious based communities, we had yet to embrace
    independent thinking and have a full and open discourse.
    I salute the fallen soldiers; for you I pray for a lengthy life
    so that you can continue to share your gems with us!

    • Now, why would you pray for a lengthy life for me? Are you trying to deprive me from enjoyment with those perpetually youthful and beautiful maidens who are supposedly awaiting me in the next life?
      Thank you, for your kind words. It makes it worthwhile for me to write.

  4. Feels good you have written such a wonderful historical piece for all to know – totally agreed that the fallen heroes need to be remembered at all times – part of your writing on this makes a good reply for Sibtain Panjwani’ s speech on problems facing the KSI Community – the quote from ‘munadi’ should help him understand that what he says now (and at the time when west did not even exist for us) was said so many years ago. Our downward slide had to come. hope you have seen the video on u- tube. Keep it up Salimbhai – it is good to feel someone is at least trying to push some facts through…salaams

  5. Zahir Paryani says:

    Came across your article while checking my father’s e-mail while he is traveling.
    Thank you for sharing your knowledge of the history and motivations which moved our fathers and grand-fathers to migrate. Very inspiring and well written!
    Please visit my recently published article in the Globe and Mail. It’s on an entirely different subject but I hope of interest to you nevertheless.
    Link: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/facts-and-arguments/the-essay/thinking-beyond-black-and-white/article2405377/
    please add my name to your mail list for future blog posts.


    • Thank you for your kind words, Zahir. Yes, I read your article, Thinking Beyond Black and White, in the Golbe and have further passed it on to my children and friends. What an insightful article it was! You are, socially, one of the very few who could have written that article and it was so well written. Thank you.

    • Zahir:
      Gabi has complimented you for your “Thinking Beyond Black & White” article in the Globe. See her comments below.

  6. thank you, nice article for sharing.http://www.pisconsulta.com

  7. Mohamed Sumar says:

    Informative and very comprehensive history of KSI community spanning several decades. Very commendable too. From small towns in India to East Africa and the world. The wise and adventurous leadership of our grand parents need a match in today’s leadership to face the challenges of the 21st. century and beyond and ensure survival of a cohesive community in the fast changing times.

  8. Wow Salim,

    After all these years you really do surprise me still.You have a blog of interesting articles, etc.!
    To begin, what an excellent and interesting article this is and how commendable of you to write this history and pay homage to the fallen soldiers who have paved the way for your ethnic community. How proud you must always have been of your father. I remember you speaking of you grandfather with great admiration but you never mentioned your father.
    We are all of the same stuff and each community has had a similar history and shared similar struggles and aspirations. We all bleed and feel pain and sorrow, laughter and fear, are born, give birth, and die. Once that is universally accepted as the undeniable/constant norm, all communities may unite to create a true mosaic of cultural exchange,respect,and acceptance, don’t you think? Let’s work on that and reach out from within the individual community constantly too..
    We must remember the elders who struggled and sacrificed to pave our way by continuing the traditional struggle for right and good.
    We should also discard our prejudices and strive for selflessness.
    I just wish we could find an enlightened world leadership. Maybe we need a new kind of election/search criteria.
    Individual communities can’t survive on their own in today’s fast changing and down-spireling world. Collectively, an enlightened mosaic community could solve the mess the individuals have put the world into. Let’s knock down the tower of Babel and built something more comprehensive and sane.

    You got me going Salim, but must stop now. I tend to get carried off.

    Put me on your mailing list too. I’s love to read what you have to say.

    Love and hi to Honey too.


    • Gabi: What a nice thing for you to say about this old man. Im’ glad you enjoyed reading it, not only that, but also you got the gist of it. But then again, I wouldn’t expect anything less from you.

      Love from Honey and I

  9. I thought Zahir’s article “Beyond Black and White” in the Globe was so very well expressed…..

  10. Abdul Sachedina says:

    Great work Dad!

    when is your next installment?

    • Thanks, Abdul. I don’t know if there will be another installment. I will write as new issues catch my fancy.

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