After crossing those narrow streets, I and my friend Mir Hassan Mari finally reached the Muhalla of the Sansi tribe in Sanghar city of Pakistan’s Sindh province. They all call themselves ‘Soochis’ here but the history books tell that these people primarily belong to the Sansi tribe and their original homeland is Rajasthan, India. They left their homeland for the first time when Alauddin Khalji invaded their land. In 1303, they fought against Alauddin Khalji but lastly bowed down to his soldierly power and became nomads since that time.
In past, they also had a strong connection with Bhaati tribe of Jaisalmer who once were notorious for robbery in the entire Thar desert and Achro Thar (The White Desert) of Sindh so historically the people of the Sansi tribe have been well-known for their bravery and art of robbery but they had been very seriously pressed by the forces of Alauddin Khalji that they were forced to leave the country where they were born and lived for centuries and travelled to Punjab, Patiala, Fareed Kot, Haryana and Sindh.
The elders of the Sansi tribe were offenders for a long-ago who used to thieve flocks of cows, camels, and many other domestic animals and possessions expertly within no time as that were their art and they continued their practice of robbery even many years after the India-Pakistan partition.
Saansis were initially populated in areas around Amritsar and Lahore in United Punjab from where they further scattered/spread to other areas and astonishingly many of them converted their religion too. It was the time when they who previously used to call themselves the descendants of Lord Krishna were fast becoming the followers of Guru Nanak’s Sikh Dharam and Islam. Such a conversion helped them to leave the path of crime to some extent but the dot/spot of wandering couldn’t be cleaned up even after such a huge adjustment.
Maharaja Ranjeet Singh was also born in the house of such a nomad Saansi family who later on became the prominent ruler of Punjab. When the Britishers came, they imposed the ‘Tribal Criminal Act’ in 1871 on more than 200 tribes of India and declared all of them ‘Born Criminals’. Sansi tribe was also listed among them so that law was added as misery to the lives of Saansis across India.
The law remained imposed on every nomadic tribe of Rajasthan till the freedom of the subcontinent and in 1952 they got relief from that black law which had pushed their several generations to the wall. Now they were free to go where they want but the historic conception prevailing among the people about the Saansi tribe never got freedom and they remained robbers and thieves for years in the eyes of people. Still today, people in Thar taunt and call ‘you are like a Saansi’ when finding someone involved in a robbery.
The people of Sansi tribe speak their own Saansi language which is also called Pelaki language. Historians have the view that Sansi language is the original language of Aryans and till the beginning of 21st century, there were only 60,000 speakers of this language in the world that means the language has some serious threats of wiping out from the globe if not well-preserved.
In Punjab, Sansis have a large population living and wandering in different areas but as they are nomads so they have been reaching Sindh from time to time for a long time. They have small settlements in Sanghar, Nawabshah, Sukkur, Sakrand and Qazi Ahmed areas of Sindh. Manghi Lal Saansi is the identity of Sansi tribe here in Saansi Muhalla of Sanghar city who is well known to all Saansis of this region. All the Saansis of this Muhalla work as cobblers in town and follow Hindu religion. They say that they originally belong to Jodhpur, India and their relatives are still living in Ajmer Sharif. They have four sub-castes which include Machrani, Hemani, Raasani and Maryalani. They don’t marry in the same sub-caste, like many other Hindu castes.
Manghi Lal Sansi tells, “Till the separation line was not drawn yet between India and Pakistan and the country was one. Our elders were facing extremely problematic conditions in India so they put their possessions on donkeys and left for another area (which is currently Pakistan) in search of bread and butter and they found Pakistan an agriculturally rich place so decided to stay here till the cows come home. They first settled in Padeedan (a town in Sindh), then migrated to a place near Nawabshah Sugar Mill where my elders were captured and restricted by the British authorities and put into private jails (Lorrha in Sindhi). After getting freedom from that custody, we mostly remained on feet and kept wandering from one village to another”.
“We used to stitch and polish shoes of people and in return, they gave us wheat and other food items. Before the partition, our elders frequently used to come here and go back to India but since the partition episode occurred everybody remained blocked where he or she was at that time. Our family decided to stay in Sanghar so we are here since those days”, he added.
Saansis like many other Hindu castes burn/fire the dead body of every expired individual except children having an age of fewer than 10 years and the ashes of those dead bodies are immersed in the Ganga river instead of immersing in the Indus river. When someone from them goes to India, ashes would be handed over to him/her for immersing in Ganga till that the ashes are buried inland as deposit in their local graveyards. It’s also a custom in Sansis that died person’s ashes will only be taken to Ganga by the person who has the same sub-caste that died person had.
In Saansis, the couple about to get married conducts seven rounds of the holy fire. Groom takes shower before marriage in the bride’s house, wears a groom dress there and his sister in laws apply Heena on his hands in the same house. He would be given some desi ghee while departing to the bride’s house by his mother and sisters while Gur (Jaggery) is distributed in his father’s house.
When any pastor visits Sansi Yaqoob Masih’s place in Sanghar, all Saansis come to his house for listening pastor’s lecture. When verses of Holy Geeta are recited at Seth Mohan’s place all Saansis go there to attend that ritual. They remain sad, wear black and attend majlis of the first 10 days of Muharram month. They never miss the festival of Rama Pir which takes place every year in Sindh.
Now, they have disremembered the Rajhistani culture entirely, wear Sindhi outfits and speak Sindhi and Urdu languages. Manghi Lal’s younger brother can speak Gujrati, Marwarri, Parkari and some other languages too.
Manghi Lal holds a distinctive repute and profile among the Saansis of Sanghar. It’s he who first enrolled 20 Sansi children of Saansi Muhalla in a school. He was fond of being a popular personality so during teenage times he used to write on different walls of the city ‘Manghi Se Tooti Huwi Jooti Silwao’. In those days, Manghi also ran advertisements of his name on nearly all cinema houses of Sanghar city and then he was known by everyone in Sanghar. He wanted to be an actor so that passion also compelled him to do everything which can turn his luck. He recorded his dance and fighting performances on various Indian movie songs and dialogues as a model and sent them to different people in the showbiz industry but what he got, in the end, is ‘rejection’. He still remembers the day when he participated in Radio Pakistan’s show ‘Mehnat Kash’ which for him and his parents was a moment of pride.  He also acted on different roles in plays that happened in nearby Churches.
When I along with my friend Mir Hassan Mari was interviewing him in his house, he looked like a child who was telling us a story. Manghi Lal still stitches the shoes of people in Sanghar but if someone talks to him about his modelling madness, he speedily goes and brings in someone else’s mobile phone and makes him watch his recorded performances. When one talks to Sansis of Sanghar, he comes to know that even today they feel strange here and remember the gratitude of their gone generations.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy and position of Regional Rapport.