Monday, June 1, 2009
The area of Karachi, in Sindh, Pakistan was known to the ancient Greeks by many names: Krokola, where Alexander the Great camped in Sindh to prepare a fleet for Babylonia after his campaign in the Indus valley; 'Morontobara' port (probably the modern Manora Island near the Karachi harbor), from where Alexander's admiral Nearchus sailed for back home; and Barbarikon, a sea port of the Indo-Greek Bactrian kingdom. The Arabs knew it as the port of Debal, from where Muhammad Bin Qasim led his conquering force into South Asia in AD 712. According to the British historian Eliot, parts of district of Karachi and the island of Manora constituted the city of Debal.
According to legend, the city started as a fishing settlement, where a fisherwoma, Mai Kolachi, settled and started a family. The village that grew out of this settlement was known as Kolachi-jo-Goth (The Village of Kolachi in Sindhi). When Sindh started trading across the sea with Muscat and the Persian Gulf in the late 1700s, Karachi gained in importance; a small fort was constructed for its protection with a few cannons imported from Muscat. The fort had two main gateways: one facing the sea, known as Khara Dar (Brackish Gate) and the other facing the adjoining Lyari river, known as the Meetha Dar (Sweet Gate). The location of these gates corresponds to the present-day city localities of Khaaradar (Khārā Dar) and Meethadar (Mīṭhā Dar) respectively.
Talpur Period (1795 - 1839)
In 1795, Kolachi-jo-Goth passed from the control of the Khan of Kalat to the Talpur rulers of Sindh. The British, venturing and enterprising in South Asia opened a small factory here in September 1799, but it was closed down within a year because of disputes with the ruling Talpurs. However, this village by the mouth of the Indus river had caught the attention of the British East India Company, who, after sending a couple of exploratory missions to the area, conquered the town on February 3rd, 1839.
Company Rule (1839 - 1858)
After sending a couple of exploratory missions to the area, the British East India Company conquered the town on February 3, 1839. The town was later annexed to the British Indian Empire when Sindh was conquered by Charles James Napier in Battle of Miani on February 17, 1843. Karachi was made the capital of Sindh in the 1840s. On Napier's departure it was added along with the rest of Sindh to the Bombay Presidency, a move that caused considerable resentment among the native Sindhis. The British realised the importance of the city as a military cantonment and as a port for exporting the produce of the Indus River basin, and rapidly developed its harbour for shipping. The foundations of a city municipal government were laid down and infrastructure development was undertaken. New businesses started opening up and the population of the town began rising rapidly.
The arrival of troops of the Kumpany Bahadur in 1839 spawned the foundation of the new section, the military cantonment. The cantonment formed the basis of the 'white' city where the Indians were not allowed free access. The 'white' town was modeled after English industrial parent-cities where work and residential spaces were separated, as were residential from recreational places.
Karachi was divided into two major poles. The 'black' town in the northwest, now enlarged to accommodate the burgeoning Indian mercantile population, comprised the Old Town, Napier Market and Bunder, while the 'white' town in the southeast comprised the Staff lines, Frere Hall, Masonic lodge, Sindh Club, Governor House and the Collectors Kutchery [Law Court] (IPA:kə.tʃɛh.ɹi) located in the Civil Lines Quarter. Saddar bazaar area and Empress Market were used by the 'white' population, while the Serai Quarter served the needs of the 'black' town.
The village was later annexed to the British Indian Empire when the Sindh was conquered by Charles Napier in 1843. The capital of Sindh was shifted from Hyderabad to Karachi in the 1840s. This led to a turning point in the city's history. In 1847, on Napier's departure the entire Sindh was added to the Bombay Presidency. The post of the governor was abolished and that of the Chief Commissioner in Sindh established.
The British realized its importance as a military cantonment and a port for the produce of the Indus basin, and rapidly developed its harbor for shipping. The foundation of a city municipal committee was laid down by the Commissioner in Sinde, Bartle Frere and infrastructure development was undertaken. Consequently, new businesses started opening up and the population of the town started rising rapidly. Karachi quickly turned into a city, making true the famous quote by Napier who is known to have said: Would that I could come again to see you in your grandeur!
In 1857, the First Indian War for Independence broke out in the subcontinent and the 21st Native Infantry stationed in Karachi declared allegiance to rebels, joining their cause on 10 September 1857. Nevertheless, the British were able to quickly reassert control over Karachi and defeat the uprising. Karachi was known as Khurachee Scinde (i.e. Karachi, Sindh) during the early British colonial rule. AMR.
The British Raj (1858 - 1947)
An old image of Karachi from 1889
A postcard from 1930 of Elphinstone Street, Karachi.
In 1795, the village became a domain of the Balochi Talpur rulers. A small factory was opened by the British in September 1799, but was closed down within a year. In 1864, the first telegraphic message was sent from India to England when a direct telegraph connection was laid between Karachi and London. In 1878, the city was connected to the rest of British India by rail. Public building projects such as Frere Hall (1865) and the Empress Market (1890) were undertaken. In 1876, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, was born in the city, which by now had become a bustling city with mosques, churches, courthouses, markets, paved streets and a magnificent harbour. By 1899 Karachi had become the largest wheat exporting port in the east. The population of the city was about 105,000 inhabitants by the end of the 19th century, with a cosmopolitan mix of Muslims, Hindus, Europeans, Jews, Parsis, Iranians, Lebanese, and Goans. By the turn of the century, the city faced street congestion, which led to South Asia's first tramway system being laid down in 1900.
The city remained a small fishing village until the British seized control of the offshore and strategically located island of Manora. Thereafter, authorities of the British Raj embarked on a large-scale modernisation of the city in the 19th century with the intention of establishing a major and modern port which could serve as a gateway to Punjab, the western parts of British India, and Afghanistan. Britain's competition with imperial Russia during the Great Game also heightened the need for a modern port near Central Asia, and so Karachi prospered as a major centre of commerce and industry during the Raj, attracting communities of: Africans, Arabs, Armenians, Catholics from Goa, Jewish, Lebanese, Malays, and Zoroastrians (also known as Parsees) - in addition to the large number of British businessmen and colonial administrators who established the city's poshest locales, such as Clifton.
Port trust Building
British colonialists embarked on a number of public works of sanitation and transportation - such as gravel paved streets, proper drains, street sweepers, and a network of trams and horse-drawn trolleys. Colonial administrators also set up military camps, a European inhabited quarter, and organised marketplaces, of which the Empress Market is most notable. The city's wealthy elite also endowed the city with a large number of grand edifices, such as the elaborately decorated buildings that house social clubs, known as 'Gymkhanas.' Wealthy businessmen also funded the construction of the Jehangir Kothari Parade (a large seaside promenade) and the Frere Hall, in addition to the cinemas, and gambling parlours which dotted the city.
In 1911, when the capital was shifted to Delhi, Karachi became closer to being a gateway to India and by 1914, Karachi had become the largest grain exporting port of the British Empire. In 1924, an aerodrome was built and Karachi became the main airport of entry into India. An airship mast was also built in Karachi in 1927 as part of the Imperial Airship Communications scheme, which was later abandoned. In 1836, Sindh was separated from the Bombay Presidency and Karachi was made again the capital of the Sindh. By the time the new country of Pakistan was formed in 1947 as British India was gained independence, Karachi had become a bustling metropolitan city with beautiful classical and colonial European styled buildings lining the city’s thoroughfares.
As the movement for independence almost reached its conclusion, the city suffered widespread outbreaks of communal violence between the majority Muslims and the minority Hindus, who were often targeted by the incoming Muslim refugees. In response to the perceived threat of Hindu domination, self preservation of identity, language and culture in combination with Sindhi Muslim resentment towards wealthy Sindhi Hindus, the province of Sindh became the first province of British India to pass the Pakistan Resolution, in favour of the creation of the Pakistani state. The ensuing turmoil of independence lead to the expulsion of most of Karachi's Hindu community. While many poor low caste Hindus, Christians, and wealthy Zoroastrians (Parsees) remained in the city, Karachi's native Sindhi Hindu community fled to India and was replaced by Muslim refugees who, in turn, had been uprooted from regions belonging to India.
Pakistan's capital (1947-1958)
District Karachi was chosen as the capital city of Pakistan and accommodated a huge influx of migrants and refugees from India to the newly formed country. As a consequence, the demographics of the city also changed drastically. However, it still maintained a great cultural diversity as its new inhabitants arrived from the different parts of the India . In 1958, the capital of Pakistan was shifted from Karachi to Rawalpindi and Karachi became the capital of Sindh.
This marked the start of a long period of decline in the city due to settlement of huge crowds of illegal Indian refugees. The city’s population continued to grow exceeding the capacity of its creaking infrastructure and increased the pressure on the city. The 1980’s and 90’s also saw an influx of illegal Afghan refugees from the Afghan war into Karachi,and the city now also called, a "city of illegal refugees". Political tensions between the Indian refugees groups (descendants of migrants from the partition era and in 1960s Economic migration) and other groups also erupted and the city was wracked with political violence. The period from 1992 to 1994 is regarded as the bloodiest period in the history of the city, when the Army commenced its Operation Clean-up against the Mohajir Qaumi Movement.
Since the last couple of years however, most of these tensions have largely simmered down. Karachi continues to be an important financial and industrial centre for the Sindh and handles most of the overseas trade of Pakistan and the Central Asian countries. It accounts for a large portion of the GDP of Sindh, Pakistan and a large chunk of the country's white collar workers. Karachi's population has continued to grow and is estimated to have passed the 10 million mark. Currently, Karachi is a melting pot where people from all the different parts of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iran and India. The Sindh government is undertaking a massive upgrading of the city’s infrastructure which promises to again put this heart of Sindh city of Karachi into the lineup of one of the world’s greatest metropolitan cities.