I’d like to thank the First Secretary of Pakistan in Iran, Mr. Syed Moazzam H. Shah, for allowing me to interview him and thereby giving me some of his invaluable time.
Furthermore, for all those who answered my questionnaire, I am greatly appreciative.
The following people in particular demand recognition for their in-depth answers. In alphabetical order: Asghar Hayat Khan, Ayisha Arshad, Haroun Sharif, Hiba Khan, Krishna Shivram, Murtaza Shah, Paul Philip Gomes, Rishil Mehta, Saleem Raza, Sarah Ali, Sina Nek Akhtar, Sohail Ikram and Uzma Javed.
Karachi, previously a fishing village, and now the largest city of Pakistan, was annexed by the British in 1839 from the Talpurs. The British developed Karachi’s infrastructure, ports, education, city planning and architecture, judiciary, police, municipality and commerce practically from scratch. Rail travel, which held a commercial and military value, was possible by 1864, and rendered otherwise lengthy journeys into a few days. It was also used as a means of communication with the rest of the world. The development of the Karachi port was arguably the most advantageous to both the British and the Karachiites as it was utilized for overseas trade and travel. The increase in trade as a result of the development of the port, was enormous, and helped establish Karachi as one of the premier seaports and trading sites in the world. Prior to the arrival of the British in the region, education was not very common. The British established numerous schools and universities in Karachi, which were run by missionaries and imparted an English education. Education given in contemporary Karachi is still based on Britain’s O/A Levels and Matriculation system. English was also made the official language of Pakistan. The British also instilled law and order in the country, introduced the English judicial system as opposed to the previous panchayat one, and implemented a regular police system. Karachi has been planned by the British as a city befitting the Empire, and the remnants of imperial architecture in the city are still left. Numerous clubs, gymkhanas, schools, old houses, offices, and hospitals are left from when the British Raj had control over Karachi. Due to efforts the British had taken to develop Karachi, it has been linked to the modern world. However, many in contemporary Pakistan feel that the British were motivated to do so because of their own interest.
Karachi, although a city with comparatively no history as opposed to that of other legendary Pakistani cities like Lahore, a replica from the Mughal era or Larkana, which accommodates remnants of the Harappan civilization, revels in a glorious two-century long past which the British Empire gave birth to, and nurtured. Sprung from a fishing village, Karachi is now one of the most populated metropolitan cities in the world, harboring over 10 million people in its vicinity.
Educated in the English school system, within reach of the global media, and living in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has created a deep sense of confusion in most Karachiites from the middle and upper echelons of society. There is a sense of being stuck in the past, as Karachiites suffer from an identity crisis and dwell upon the have beens and the could have been. They look for answers for what has caused this turmoil by looking back into the past, when the region was ruled by the British. To what extent did the influence of the British Raj prove to be beneficial for Karachi; can it be blamed for modern-day Karachi’s problems?
‘Karachi, thou shalt be the glory of the East! Would that I could come again to see you in your grandeur!’ Sir Charles Napier, first British Governor of Sindh, had prophesized about Karachi in 1843.
Napier was the first to put faith in Karachi and develop it into a port and commercial center. Until the British annexation, Karachi was a small fishing village which was under the feudal confederacy of the Talpurs. The English first entered the area when they established a factory in 1799 in Karachi, which was closed the following year. At the Battle of Miani in 1839, the Talpurs ceded Karachi to the British. As Karachi was strategically positioned on the sea and was near the Indus River, it attracted the attention of the British as it could consequently serve for trading purposes to other areas in the subcontinent and overseas.
Although many large fortunes were accumulated in the subcontinent by the British by exploiting the resources of the Indian subcontinent, nevertheless, they can be merited for doing general good for the city of Karachi. Although the British administration has laid the framework for nearly everything in contemporary Karachi, this essay aims to look at their influence on the infrastructure, ports, education, city planning and architecture, judiciary, police, municipality and commerce of Karachi.
The British changed the face of Karachi from a petite village to a metropolitan by building numerous roads, canals, implementing the railway system and ameliorating the port, which connected Karachi to the rest of the subcontinent and world.
A grand legacy left by the British to Karachi is undoubtedly the railway system. The railway industry was a matter of profit for the Empire, as many of the British came to invest in it. Scinde Railway Company was established in 1855, and in conjunction with the East India Company, lay a 110 mile rail from Karachi to Kotri to simultaneously establish communication between Sindh, Punjab and Central Asia. In 1853, Karachi was also connected to Multan via an experimental steamer service. A miniature track was laid from Kiamari to the Karachi Cantt Station, which was the first railway in Sindh, early in 1859. Due to railway construction, rail travel across the nation was possible by 1864, rendering otherwise lengthy journeys into a few days.
In order to lay the railway tracts in India a British civil engineer Rowland Stephenson, along with his unit, studied the topography, labour, timber, legal aspects and prospective market of the subcontinent. Applying Victorian railway technology in Karachi was no mean feat. Although the British played the role of engineers, skilled workmen and overseers, the Sindhis and Balochis were generally employed as laborers. These men built embankments, bridges and culverts over marshlands, the Indus River and channels and cut tunnels through the partly rocky terrain of Sindh. These obstacles were overcome under the supervision of the British while numerous natives were trained so that they could maintain what they had accomplished with regards to the railway tracts, traffic and institutions. The railway was truly transformed into an industry which employed thousands of people in one way or another, and helped expand trade and commerce.
The Railways not only held a commercial value, but also a military one. After the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857, the Raj decided to have a unified rail network in order to position troops easily around the nation. The then Commissioner-In-Sind, Frere, said that ‘a railway connecting the Karachi port and the Punjab would be of great strategic importance in the eventuality of Britain’s military involvement in and around Central Asia.’
After the railway industry was taken over by the government in 1907, the railways proved to be quite profitable. With the invention of the electric locomotive in 1908, transportation was further enhanced for Karachiites. After the formation of Pakistan in 1947, it acquired many of the railway lines. They architectural manner of the Karachi railway stations are described as a ‘magnificent eccentric assembly of venetian arches, oriental domes and gothic towers,’ which when combined, creates a Saracenic-Gothic ambiance.
According to economics historians, railways were intended to promote British products in India while simultaneously controlling potential anti-colonial resistance movements. With whatever intention the railways were constructed, they undeniably bestowed numerous economic, social, cultural and political benefits to Karachi.
Prior to the arrival of the British, the Karachi port was utilized for overseas trade to and from Bombay, Calicut (Kolkata), Daman, Gwadar and Muscat. Fifty merchant’s boats and 100 boats altogether belonged to the port. Sir Charles Napier, the premier Governor of Karachi, planned to develop and make it an unparalleled port and city. Napier ordered the widening of the harbor entrance to a depth of 25 ft, the constructing of the docks, and building timber piers for small vessels at Kiamari.
Later, landing-place for passengers and goods, causeway and railway connexions were also established by the Harbor Board. In 1874, in order to shelter anchored ships from the force of the waves, the Manora breakwater was erected. The Karachi Harbor Works also began and in 1886, steamers and barges were used as transportation between Kotri and Multan. In 1887, the Karachi Port Trust was set up to look after the administration of the port.
Not only did the British develop the Karachi seaport for launching a sea passage to India by establishing direct trade between Europe and Asia, but also for their own good so as to be able to crush any political upheavals.
Originally, under the Talpurs, Persian was the official language; this changed when the British entered the region. The first vernacular-medium English school in Sindh, called the Government English School, was established in 1853 in Karachi. In 1851, Karachi’s premier public library, the General Library, was opened to the public. The arrival of the British into the subcontinent saw the already well developed Indian languages being standardized by creating grammars and dictionaries.
As the Muslims were wary of the English education detrimentally influencing their children, the first institution was opened up to the matriculation stage in 1885 primarily to promote English education amongst the Muslims and make them more loyal to the British. This was Sindh Madrassat-ul-Islam, which was established “to impart secular education with an elementary knowledge of religion”.
The St Patrick’s school, which was built in 1861, and run by missionaries as a mixed school, was made a boys only institution the following year due to few girls enrolling. An article that featured in the Imperial Gazetteer in the 1920’s adds to this outlook: “There is yet great hesitation on the part of both Hindu and Mahomedan parents to give their daughters a liberal course of study”
Bell Hooks claims that “It is difficult not to hear in Standard English always the sound of slaughter and conquest.” In Pakistan and India, the national language is English, but not language spoken by the majority; Pakistan’s national language is also Urdu, and as Karachi is situated in the province of Sindh, its provincial language is Sindhi. Thus, the inclusion of English into the education of the Karachiites was debatable. English was described as the “mask which hides the loss of so many tongues” A slavish mentality was implanted in the natives’ minds as their first language and culture was deemed deficient compared to that of the English which enabled that the small English speaking group could exercise power over the larger group of non-English speakers.
Karachi, in fact, the entire Pakistan’s contemporary university system is inherited from the British. The first college in the province, the Sind Arts College, was opened in 1887. Universities were first established after the Sepoy Rebellion, but it is questionable whether this was an act of goodwill, or done to generate a class of reliable natives with British mindsets. Although education was open to the elite, literacy rates remained pitiable during the entire period of British rule, especially amongst the Muslims, and only after independence was there slight improvement in these rates.
Karachi under the Talpurs was a walled village and its inhabitants consisted of fishermen and mariners. John Porter, who evaluated the Arabian coast in 1775 wrote that “Crotchey town was fortified by … mud walls with two cannons mounted on tower.... The streets were so narrow that no more than two horsemen could ride abreast. Sanitary conditions were poor.” However, the above source has its limitations as it was written by an Englishman who would obviously look down upon Karachi before it was under Western influence. Another source, which is written by a native at a much later date and also cannot be relied upon blindly, supports the above statement: “Prior to its annexation, Karachi … had grown organically with narrow streets and small semi-public, semi-private spaces contained within mud brick architecture.”
Before the arrival of the British, commercial, residential and religious buildings were amalgamated for the convenience of both Hindus and Muslims. Karachi was divided into districts with mosques and temples as the foci, with the Friday market at the core. The British, famous for their divide and rule policy, applied the ‘dual’ city plan on Karachi; they divided Karachi into the black, which accommodated the Karachiite mercantile population and the white town, which was fashioned after English industrial cities and where natives were not allowed.
The segregation between the two communities was firmly regulated via land ownership rights, and upper class Indians were only allowed to reside in the ‘white’ areas after WWI.
The British modeled Karachi’s architecture after that of ancient Rome, which epitomized British authority and was used to earn the reverence and awe of the natives. Karachi architecture was composed of different styles: neo-Gothic, Indo-Gothic (Frere Hall), Tudor style (Gymkhana), Italian Renaissance (Sind Club), Classical style (Cantt station). Indo-Saracenic or AngloMughal (Mohatta Palace) style, a blend of European and Islamic styles of architecture emerged with the rise of Indian nationalism.
The British beautified Karachi by developing numerous gardens around the city. The Zoological gardens, which possessed fine lawns, promenades, flowerbeds, a duck pond and a suspension bridge, and Avenue Burns garden, covering an area of 26 acres and containing a vinery, are just some examples of the gardens the British gifted to Karachi. There were 7 main markets in Karachi during the Raj; Saddar, Bunder, Somerset, Frere, Boree, Empress and Elphinstone. Empress Market was built to honor Queen Victoria, and contained 280 shops and 341 stalls.
The British created an elitist society in Karachi which would prefer to migrate for the summer migration to hill stations elsewhere on the Indian Subcontinent, which were also used when European invalids wanted to recuperate from the heat and disease of the tropics, or enjoy a rendezvous by Clifton Beach in Karachi itself. Other social institutions like the presence of Sindh clubs, cinemas and gymkhanas played a significant role in the British person’s life in Karachi, as they provided facilities for sports and entertainment, and after partition, in the life of Karachiites.
Stockwell states that ‘sport was one of the means by which British values were instilled into the peoples of the empire’. The once primarily English game, cricket, remains the unshakable passion of Karachiites, which can be seen by the packed stadiums and the ritual of street cricket.
Throughout the Talpur age, there was no separate department of judiciary. The Qazi (judge) settled minor matters, for example, marriage, cases of inheritance etc. Then there was the panchayat, which was made of influential members of the locality who listened to the case and decided as to the form of punishment given, ie: fine, imprisonment, flogging, and mutilation (for habitual thieves). Imprisonment was seldom of a long duration, for there were no jails and no funds of maintenance of the criminal. For the Muslims, the Mahomedan law was used, for Hindus, the panchayat decided.
However, with the arrival of Napier, who contributed immensely in diminishing lawlessness of the area, implementations, applying the Victorian model of administration, were brought about in the judicial system. Napier divided Sind into three zilas – one being Karachi. A zila was divided into revenue districts, each under the care of a collector who carried out the administration with a magistrate performing magisterial and revenue duties.
Initially, the posts of commissioner and judicial assistant to the commissioner were created. However, there was discrimination between European and non-European officers as non-European officers were denied certain powers which were vested in the European officers of the same rank. A non-European deputy collector could only deal with petty cases of civil nature; old offices abolished. Gradually the Indian Civil Service allowed the inclusion of capable Sindhis.
Death sentences had to be approved by the governor of Bombay whereas civil justice was administered by the magistrate or the deputy magistrate. In the early years of the British rule, the panchayat was still utilized for settling disputes amongst Hindus, and the Qazi to settle matters for the Muslims. Lawyers weren’t engaged to conduct a case; parties had to plead their cases themselves. This changed, however, when in 1861, the high court in Sindh was established and in 1862, the code of civil procedure was introduced.
British rule in Karachi was justified by claims that the tribes in the area needed to be civilized and that British rule would substitute the despotism and disorder of the Talpurs, with a reliable system of justice, the rule of law, and equality. To justify this approach, Captain Burton said this of the Sindhis: “Throughout the Muslim world, the two great points of honour are bravery and chastity in women. Judged by this test, the Sindhis occupy a low place in the scale of oriental nations” Thus, certain social or religious practices that the British found objectionable were eradicated; establishing law and order in Karachi guaranteed a high rate of return on British, and later Karachiites, investment in their enterprises.
In Karachi, there was no standard police establishment under the Talpurs; some soldiers were assigned to carry out the police functions, like preventing smuggling, returning stolen goods etc. Napier implemented a regular police system in Sindh which was considered very efficient. To ensure that the public wasn’t harassed unnecessarily by the police, a code of conduct was placed for the police. Due to Sindh’s sandy terrain, Napier instituted a camelry as camels proved effective in capturing criminals. From 1847 onwards, jails were built in Karachi, and could accommodate about 800 prisoners. In 1887, the system of fingerprinting was adopted throughout India (though this was not introduced in England itself until 1901), which alleviated the burden on the police and made it easier for them to identify criminals. New methods of surveillance, photography and mapping also helped. Not just technology, but natives were also used to pursue felons and Captain Burton writes this of the Sindhi with regards to tracking: “the native historians praise him for his skill in tracking footsteps, a common art in the Eastern World”
A quite bizarre law passed by the British government in 1871 was the ‘Criminal Tribes Act’. It was based on the idea that there were “criminal tribes” who were hereditary criminals. Basically, their only crime was to belong to some infamous tribe and had the potential to commit a crime. Members of these tribes had to register with the authorities, have a regular roll-call, and carry passes on themselves to be able to travel without being arrested! The British introduced the police system not only to eradicate crime, also to repress revolutionary activity and institute surveillance.
In 1860, the Karachi Chamber of Commerce was formed by an assembly of European mercantile concerns, and banks also opened. The British enabled the creation of a modern market in Karachi,.
The American Civil War created a need for Indian cotton which led to period of unparalleled prosperity. In Karachi, the total value for the trade of the port rose to Rs. 6.66 000 000 000 and of this, the value of only the cotton was Rs. 80 000 000. Some years passed before European firms brought raw produce for export purposes to Karachi, which was not only inspected but prepared for shipment. Karachi, was also used to press cotton, wash wool and garble seeds. A.W.Hughes, the cotton inspector in Sindh, discovered that the production per acre of cleaned cotton in Sindh was three times that in the Punjab, and that the values acquired by Sindh was equal to the cotton growing districts in the United States.
In 1869, an industrial exhibition was held at Frere Hall, like the ones that were finding popularity in Britain, but nevertheless, the first of its kind in Sindh. Central Asian and other sub continental traders displayed and sold their merchandise.
The Karachi Chamber of Commerce was amongst the first in India to recognize the promises of the export trade in wheat. The government of India encouraged the export trade by improving the quality of produce, removing transit dues, reducing railway freights to the sea-board and constructing branch lines, especially to serve the wheat-growing districts.
In 1883, Karachi exported 2, 732, 257 cwts. of wheat, third after Bombay and Calcutta. By 1886, Karachi had surpassed Calcutta as the exporter of wheat and was closing in on Bombay as well. In 1889, Karachi overtook Bombay as well and exported 340 000 tons to Bombay’s 310, 000 tons, and reigned as the leading what exporter in Asia. In fact, in the year of 1912-1913, it made a record in the British Empire by exporting 1, 380, 000 tons. This helped establish Karachi as a chief port in the Indian Subcontinent.
Napier designed a contemporary water supply system which utilized the Malir River, some sixteen miles from Karachi, and enforced it as the supply for potable water. Formerly, people used mainly tanks and wells as the source of water. A water carrier was paid at the rate of Rs.2/month for supplying a leather bag of water daily, containting 25 gallons of water. However, in 1882 a scheme was unveiled in which two large wells at the banks of the Malir River, with a reservoir of two million gallons, was enough to supply the then population of 80, 000 persons with 25 gallons a day each. For the sanitation of Karachi, Napier appointed a Board of Conservancy which was later merged with the Karachi Municipal Commission in 1852. With the start of the 20th century, Karachi was dubbed the cleanest city in the entire subcontinent.
Later during the Raj’s rule, a civic body for Karachi was set up to serve the municipality. It comprised of 32 members, 16 elected and 16 nominated. However, only 2.5 percent of Karachi’s population was allowed to vote, due to lack of money/property which qualified them to vote. The discrepancy could especially be seen when only a few Muslims represented the majority of Muslims who comprised Karachi; the Muslims were relatively poor when compared with the Christians, Hindus or Zoroastrians.
Initially, when the first British traders came to India, the relationship between the Indians and the British was symbiotic. However, when Karachi was being established there was an increase in English-language and vernacular journalism, which drastically altered the mindset of the natives; there was an increase in Brown Englishman – i.e: brown men wishing to be English, or imitating the ways of the British in order to appear enlightened and learned. They changed their thought through English language and education and their appearance through English clothes. For those dominated by the Raj, English represented oppression, but was essential for technological, political and financial power, which can best be seen by the following quote “This is the oppressor’s language, yet I need it to talk to you.” Karachi follows the British education system to date, but the English language is looked upon as either an elite factor which everyone wants to attain, or a means of enslaving the population via the English thought and culture. Although Karachi wasn’t as deeply rooted in culture as other more ancient cities, it still underwent a loss of language. It can be argued that using the English language unified the country, as the many provincial languages of the Indian subcontinent only served to divide the nation.
It’s a feat in itself that such a small country like the UK exercised power over a population of 570 million; a quarter of the world’s population! Karachi’s port revenue profited the British more than it did the Karachiites. The British mistreated the more rebellious natives and rewarded those who adapted to their ways. Dale Kennedy observes that ‘at least ten Indians needed to support each European’.
Britain’s colonial policy was guided by its trading interests, and the divide and rule policy was applied to segregate different communities and religions, and the Indians with the British. However, with Karachi, this was not the case, as before the Indo-Pak partition, at least, there were minimal communal riots. During the Sepoy Rebellion, an uprising in Karachi also took place, but before the plan could be acted out, it was discovered, and the insurgents executed at the point where the Empress market now stands. It can be noted that the British have not recorded much of what happened during the troubles brought upon by the Sepoy Rebellion, in the period 1857-8. Otherwise very apt at recording each and every detail, the details of the rebellion and its consequent suppression, have not even been vaguely recorded in the Chamber Records of the British government.
Many still blame the British Empire for modern conflicts, especially the Kashmir dispute. Professor Hans Kohn, argues that ‘the west suffers from an unnecessarily bad conscience.’ This statement, although biased, especially with the inclusion of the word ‘unnecessary’, does hold true in the case of Karachi, as this city mostly benefitted from colonial rule.
Whether the conquest of India by the British was deemed positive or negative, nevertheless, it raised and still raises, numerous questions and views among the people of the Indian Subcontinent. Although several consider that the education and infrastructure imparted by the British was beneficial to the country, many still feel that it does not excuse the injustices doled out to them and that the British should apologize for their past actions. Furthermore, some people are concerned with the material aspect of the British rule over India, and believe that the resources ‘stolen’ from the land should be returned. Arguably, media has changed subcontinent values and mode of life more than the British did. From the surveys conducted (featured in the appendix), it seems as if Britain is generally forgiven for its past misconduct, and that America is considered the new face of imperialism.
Accompanying volume to the exhibition Jewel in the Crown; Visions of Empire: Karachi Under the Raj 1843-1947; Pakistan Herald Publications (PVT.) LTD.; Karachi, 2003
Anniqua Rana; Linguistic Elitism; Dawn Group of Newspapers; Karachi, 2005
Azimusshan Haider; History of Karachi with Special Reference to Educational and Commerce Development (1839-1900); Thesis presented to the University of Karachi for PhD in General History; Karachi, 1971
Ministry of Planning and Development; Pakistan 2010 Programme; Government of Pakistan; Islamabad, 1997
East Indian Railway, 13.May.2006, Available from World Wide Web: <http://banglapedia.search.com.bd/HT/E_0007.htm>
Hameed Haroon, Hamid Akhund; A Promenade Through Kurrachee’s Past; Pakistan Herald Publications (PVT.) LTD.; Karachi, 2003
Karachi, or Kurrachee, Online Encyclopedia, originally appearing in classic Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911. 17 December 2007. Available from World Wide Web: <https://www.jrank.org/>
Karachi, 17 December 2007. Available from World Wide Web: <https://www.archnet.org/library/places/one%02place.tcl?place_id=1800&order_by=title&showdescription=1>
Qadeer Hussain Tanoli; Shopping for History: Life and times of Empress Market; Jung Group of Newspapers; available online at: <https://jang.com.pk/>
Vinay Lal; Criminality and Colonial Anthropology; Available from World Wide Web: https://southasia.ucla.edu/
Vinay Lal; Hill Stations: Pinnacles of the Raj; Available from World Wide Web: https://southasia.ucla.edu/
Vinay Lal; A review article of Good Nazis and Just Scholars: Much Ado about the British Empire; Available from World Wide Web: https://southasia.ucla.edu/
Sources for Images
Boree Bazaar; 22.Feb.2007, Available from World Wide Web: <https://gillottfamilyhistory.com/images>
Hindu Gymkhana, DJ Singh Science College, Frere Hall, Trinity Church, Karachi Port Trust, Mereweather Tower, Mohatta Palace, Sindh Club, Three Swords; 22.Feb.2007, Available from World Wide Web: <www.personal.kent.edu/.../Karachi/hinduGym.jpg>
Keamari, Kharadar, Saddar, Star Cinema House, Elphistone Street ; 22.Feb.2007, Available from World Wide Web: <http://www.worldisround.com/articles/104540/photo2.html>
Sources for Maps
Azimusshan Haider; History of Karachi with Special Reference to Educational and Commerce Development (1839-1900); Thesis presented to the University of Karachi for PhD in General History; Karachi, 1971
Source for Diagrams, Charts and Tables