Around 1937, the Om Mandli conflict created fissures in the Bhaibands’ well-knit society, which had so far been strongly glued together by shared business partnerships and interests in foreign lands. In 1938, the faint cracks became visible fault lines. All newspapers, social forums and private gatherings were conditioned to be partisan – either one had to be a friend of Om Mandi or against it. Gradually, the issue flared up, and it engulfed the Sindh Assembly’s legislative members. The Hindu Azad members and Congress members were divided. Mukhi Gobindram Pritamdas (owner of Hyderabad’s Mukhi House, near Homestead Hall – now Hasrat Mohani Public Library) and his friends supported Om Mandli. However, R. S. Gokaldas Mewaldas, member of the Sindh Legislative Assembly, and his associates, were against Om Mandli. Surprisingly, none of the newspapers, except the Hindustan Times reported with any objectivity when it came to the Om Mandli issue.
The Om Mandli management had assumed that after the agreement with its opponents, brokered by the Collector and Magistrate of Hyderabad Mr. U. M. Mirchandani, the confrontation had ended. Afterwards, Om Mandli moved its offices from Hyderabad to Karachi. It rented two bungalows: one was known as ‘Bell Vue’, owned by Seth Tayabji Lotia, and other ‘Faiz-e-Hussaini Building’ which belonged to the Faiz-e-Hussain Trust. Both were on Victoria Road in Clifton, Karachi.
These were two-storey buildings. Om Mandi announced that only those girls and women could be shifted to Karachi who had obtained a ‘chhitty’ (permission slip) from their parents and guardians. At that time, only 15 girls succeeded in gaining such permission.
The anti-Om Mandli party followed with its own move to Karachi. Some of their members moved to Karachi, funds were raised and a base camp was established at Bagomal’s bungalow.
When it came to reconciliation with its opponents, Om Mandli’s assumptions proved wrong. In fact, they failed to read the intention of the anti-Om Mandli group. Opponents were not seeking any improvement in Om Mandli’s operations – very much the opposite. The plan was to prosecute Om Mandli leaders under criminal charges and have the outfit declared illegal.
Surprisingly, none of the newspapers, except the Hindustan Times, reported with any objectivity when it came to the Om Mandli issue
The leadership of the anti-Om Mandli tendency rallied around slogans and statements like ‘No more Om Mandli’ and ‘Dada Lekharaj and Om Radhe should be behind the bars’. On the other hand, the atrocities of parents and guardians against girls and women continued, but they never succeeded in ending women’s attachment to Om Mandli.
Critically observing the situation, the Amils were induced to initiate a platform for women. Therefore, in Hirabad, Hyderabad, the foundation stone for the Nari Sabha building was laid by none other than the famous U. M. Mirchandani, on the 11th of November 1938. It must be said that the Om Mandli issue catalysed the construction process of the Nari Sabha building: the plot was purchased six years prior, in 1932, but the construction had been delayed due to one reason or the other.
Quite unexpectedly, Om Mandli received a letter on the 17th of August 1938. It stated that Dada Lekhraj, Om Jasoda (wife of Dada Lekhraj) and his daughter-in-law had been served a ‘show-cause’ notice order under Section 112 of the Criminal Procedure Code. It further stated why they ought not to be booked under Criminal Procedure Code 107.
However, five members of the anti-Om Mandli party were also booked. One of them was the brother of Dr. Chamandas (President, District Hyderabad Congress Committee). But the leadership of the opponents of Om Mandli was left free.
When it came to reconciliation with its opponents, Om Mandli’s assumptions proved wrong
Again out of the blue, Hindustan, a Sindhi newspaper, published news on the 5th of December 1938 that Om Mandli promoted Hindi, and that Radhe was living with Dada Lekhraj at Soldier Bazaar. It shouldn’t be forgotten that the proceedings against anti-Om Mandli picketers were still ongoing in Hyderabad. In continuity of it, Om Radhe on the 31st of January 1939 was called as a witness by the City Magistrate, Hyderabad. She was cross-examined and was asked about “magic and antimony,” “Dada’s hypnotism,” “Satsang and trance,” “insults to Granth Sahib” and “Dada Lekhraj’s kisses and embraces to girls and women.”
She responded candidly to the questions.
Om Radhe stated that “to sit in Dada Lekhraj’s lap was not objectionable to her, because he was their spiritual father.” In the response to another question, she said, “Dada Lekhraj embraces all female inmates: whether children or adults, all were his Balkies (daughters).” She also said that “he has also kissed her more than one time as a spiritual father.”
Next day, Om Radhe’s statement became the lead of almost all newspapers. These stories created an opportunity for opponents of Om Mandli to further their aims. It gathered and dispatched the news items to various sections of the society. Consequently, a wave of hatred erupted against Om Madli, Dada Lekhraj and Om Radhe.
Later, a group of 15 girls left Hyderabad and reached Karachi. Upon their arrival, Mukhi Mangharam was told via telegram that parents should be informed. But, instead of that, the anti-Om Mandli party filed a complaint under Section 363 against Dada Lekhraj and others. As a result, an inquiry was conducted. But no action was taken. Then the anti-Om Mandli party instigated one Heitibai to file a case. She did, but it was not against Om Mandli!
In the meantime, picketing in Karachi continued. Now the anti-Om Mandli party applied new techniques: they managed to get warrants issued on the pretext that the girls were underage and were thus kidnapped. Three girls were taken away from Om Nivas Karachi, and thirteen girls went back to their parents through the Cantonment Police Station, Karachi.
Om Mandli may have shifted to Karachi but the true battle ground was still Hyderabad. If we scan old newspapers from February 1939 (from the 9th of February onwards), we will find that almost all Panchayats, Mandlis and associations of Sindh were against Om Mandli. Their demands were: ‘Ban Om Mandli’, ‘Severe Penalties to Dada Lekhraj’ and ‘Act against Om Mandli under Section 16 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act.’ These demands were addressed to the Sindh Government.
The intensity of the anti-Om Mandli movement could be gauged from a gathering of Hyderabad’s Bhaiband women on the 10th of February 1939, which appealed to citizens to proceed with a complete Hartal (strike) till the government banned Om Mandli!
(to be continued)
Dr. Zaffar Junejo has a Ph.D. in History from the University of Malaya. His areas of interest are post-colonial history, social history and peasants’ history. Presently, he is associated with Sohail University and Institute of Historical and Social Research, Karachi