TOI Thane: It has been a long journey from their family mansions, huge land holdings and thriving business enterprises in Multan or Balochistan, to the cramped refugee shelters in Thane and Ulhasnagar, surviving on free food packets in camps built for those fleeing their homeland in Pakistan.
For the Sindhi community, memories of the partition that ravaged their homes and lives will never be erased. Nonetheless, the Sindhi diaspora bonded well in a completely new cultural milieu in Thane—their new home since 1947-50.
More than 65 years later, occupants of these once-refugee camps here have been given the rights to purchase these tenements, which are more than brick and mortar for them. Inside these small tenements is a treasure trove of memories of their loved ones and struggle to eke out a living in a new neighbourhood.
The recent announcement by revenue minister Eknath Khadse to allow them the right to purchase their old homes has invited cheer among the community elders here who have seen the metamorphosis of these camps into a bustling colony.
There were a total of 25 ground-plus-one storied buildings at Kopri, 17 of which were given to the refugees. A special rate of Rs 2,800 was declared for outright purchase of these tenements, and those who could ill-afford this amount had the option of paying a monthly rent of Rs 21 then.
“While some could pay the whole money within a few years, the others failed to do so, they were then told by officers to vacate the house as it would be auctioned, but the people were reluctant to give up their houses and didn’t move out. The officers later didn’t interfere in the matter nor ever came back,” said Parasram Tikmani (72), who was all of four when he landed in Thane from his home in Balochistan.
“I was four years old when we came to Mumbai. We boarded a ship from Karachi port and landed in Mumbai after three days. The docks was our home for the first two days, after which we were taken in a truck to Kolshet-Akbar camp. We lived there in a barrack, which was dimply lit by a bulb, and wall partitions were done by cloths.”
Tikmani’s elder brother, Chandumal, was the only person in the family who was working. He used to roll 1,000 bidis in a day and earn Rs 1.
The family lived in the Kolshet camp for six years and was later asked to shift to Kopri. “We were reluctant to move out as we were scared that it would be worse than what it was in Kolshet. We held on for days but eventually they cut off our electricity connections and we had to move out.”
The Kopri house has been the Tikmani residence for years and the family has fond memories of their home.
For Khushal Patoli (77), the Kopri camp is a place which symbolizes a sense of survival and triumph over an avalanche of difficulties.
“I was nine when we fled from our Pir Goth village in Sukkur district in Sindh province as the mindless masscare had began. My parents took me and my younger sister to Karachi from there we chose to come to Mumbai where we were initially sent to the Kolshet-Akbar camp. My mother, who was 40-year-old then, died while giving birth to a baby in the camp due to the inadequate medical facilities in the camp hospital. We moved to Kopri later and purchase this house for Rs 3,100. It is here that I got married when and started my career and my family. This place have given me so much in life and the memories are to be cherished forever.”
Ditto in the case of Hemraj Jethani (75) who was all of seven years when the family left their home in Sindh provice for survival and were brought to Thane.
“After spending some years at the Kolshet refugee camp, we moved to Kopri. My brothers were married till then. It is here that I completed my studies and paid for my education by taking tuitions, working in Reserve Bank as a coin examiner etcetera,” a retired civil engineer told TOI.
The state government decision to give them rights to purchase this property has brought a sense of relief to their long-pending demand and they all hope the decision will not only restore the crumbling structures but protect their long history and association with these homes.