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As in 2023
Nagpur : Pashto-speaking Yograj Sahni unfailingly prefixes “Hindu” to any conversation about his Pathan ancestry. “We are Pathans, but mind you, we are Hindu Pathans,” he declares, seeking to pre-empt the question he possibly gets asked often. This year’s Dussehra ritual of Ravan Dahan will be his 72nd since he, his family and scores of other battle-weary natives of Thal and Bannu towns in Kohat district of Pakistan’s “wild west” — the North-West Frontier Province — migrated to India. Yograj, 84, was barely eight then. “Our home was close to the Afghanistan border, and the salt mounds were just some distance away,” he remini sces, rolling out a map of undivided India. “Our kin traded in the commodity,” his nephew Milan interjects.
Hindu Pathans migrated to central India around 1947
Seated in the living room of his home in Nagpur’s Kadbi Chowk, Yograj points to a sepia-toned portrait of hardy, turbaned men standing on craggy terrain with cartridge stuffed bandoliers strapped across their chests. The mustachioed gent in the portrait is Yograj’s granddad Maniram, standing next to a gun-wielding figure he identifies as Jairam.
These are people who migrated to central India just before and after Partition, carrying with them all the derring-do of their dangerfraught native land along with the dogmas of the Sanatan Dharma they were born into.
Three of the men in the picture died defending their village in Bannu from warring Afghan tribesmen. “Guns were intrinsic to the culture in NWFP, and both Hindus and Muslims stashed ammunition in their homes,” says Yo graj, lapsing into Pashto. “Men couldn’t find brides if they didn’t possess guns.”
From then to now, what remains unchanged is the minuscule Hindu Pathan community’s enthusiasm for Dussehra rituals. “We would throng Ram Leelas and burn the effigy of Ravan,” says Yograj. “Hindu Pathans were a micro minority, but we treated Muslims as our brethren. A temple and a mosque in Kohat shared a common wall. Sounds of azan and temple bells mingled with each other.”
After Yograj’s family arrived in India in April 1947, they spent a few years in Haridwar and then in Faridabad before choosing to settle in Nagpur.
It was the Hindu Pathans who established the Sanatan Dharm Yuvak Sanstha in India, later opening a branch in Nagpur with Yograj a s its chief patron. There are currently 200 Hindu Pathan families from Kohat living in Nagpur.
As in previous years, the Sahnis, Soomros, Talwars and Sehgals look forward to next week’s Ravan Dahan in Nagpur, an event that draws thousands to the city’s Kasturchand Park Ground. Politicians like Union minister Nitin Gadkari, Maharashtra deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis and R S S chief Mohan Bhagwatare regular invitees.