The idea of partition recedes in shadows

Published August 8, 2014
THE partition of the subcontinent in 1947 resulted in one of the largest migrations in human history.—AP
THE partition of the subcontinent in 1947 resulted in one of the largest migrations in human history.—AP

INDIA’S independence or the migration of Hindus and Muslims on the basis of religion is as old as 67 years. I remember leaving my home in Sialkot city on August 14 itself because the new state of Pakistan did not entertain non-Muslims, just as East Punjab did not want any Muslim in their midst. I heard Jawaharlal Nehru’s famous ‘tryst’ speech in Pakistan itself at my hometown, Sialkot.

However, I crossed the border only on September 17, 32 days after independence. By then, the fury of killing and looting had subsided. I did not see Hindus and Muslims quarrelling, or actually fighting. But I saw the pain etched on their faces — men and women with their meagre belongings bundled on their heads and the fear-stricken children following them.

The tragedy of partition is too deep to describe in words. But to convert it into a Hindu and Muslim question is to politicise the problem. The riots took the toll of 10 lakh people and uprooted more than two crore Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. Some biased elements in Pakistan propose to depict the rioting in reliefs to highlight “the oppression of Muslims”.

Unfortunately, this will whip up hatred against Hindus, who were as much at the receiving end in Pakistan as were Muslims in India.

Despite the stories of brutal killings there were examples of bravery and courage shown by the Muslims to save Hindus and that of Hindus saving Muslims in India. A study done by Ashish Nandy, a leading intellectual in India, has estimated that both communities saved 50 per cent of the opposite community from the brutality.

Nothing would be more futile than the effort to pin down who was responsible for the partitioning of the subcontinent. With the sequence of events stretching back for over six decades, such an exercise can only be an academic study.

It is, however, clear that the differences between Hindus and Muslims had become so acute by the beginning of the 1940s that something like partition had become inevitable. Pakistan founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah went on plugging that Hindus and Muslims were two separate nations and this made them increasingly distant from each other.

For those who still regret the division, I can only say that the British could have probably kept the subcontinent united if they had been willing to ladle out more power in 1942 when Sir Stafford Cripps tried to reconcile the aspirations of people in India with his limited brief. The Congress Party could also have done it if it had accepted in 1946 the Cabinet Mission proposals of a centre with three subjects — foreign affairs, defence and communications — and four states included in the zones.

But history’s ifs are at best hypothetical and at worst subjective. The partition was like a Greek tragedy. The climate in the country had become too polluted to escape the carnage and the migration that came in its wake. The speech on Aug 11, 1947 that you were either Pakistanis or Indians and that religion had nothing to do with politics could not assuage the parochial feelings which had been advanced to justify the constitution of Pakistan. The speech was too late. The mood of fanatics in that country can be judged from the fact that they suppressed the speech itself.

INDIAN and Pakistani border guards at a flag ceremony at the Wagah border.
INDIAN and Pakistani border guards at a flag ceremony at the Wagah border.

Has partition served the purpose of Muslims? I do not know. During my trips to that country, I have heard people saying that they are happy that at least they have “some place” where they feel secure, free of “Hindu domination” or “Hindu aggression”. But I feel that the Muslims as Muslims have been the biggest losers. They are now spread over three countries — India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Imagine the influence that their numbers and their votes could have commanded in the undivided subcontinent. They would have been nearly one-third of the total population.

The reliefs at the border would only widen the gulf between the two communities. Instead of blaming each other, it would have been far better to deal with the enmity and hatred that has been the fallout, keeping the two countries on tenterhooks.

I have returned from the Wagah-Amritsar border disheartened, not because there is no lessening of martial posture of soldiers at the sunset parade, but because of a new monstrosity that has come up there.

The Pakistan authorities have put up 10 reliefs, projecting figures in carving on boards to show how Hindus and Sikhs had killed and looted Muslims during partition. The reliefs have been displayed in such a way that they are visible only from the Indian side. They cannot be seen from the Pakistan side because the back of the reliefs are merely large billboards.

The reliefs put up at the border distort facts. Whatever has been shown happened on both sides. Hindus and Sikhs were victims in Pakistan and Muslims in India. It was the same sordid spectacle in the newly-born countries, neither less in brutality nor more in compassion.

If someone were to tell me that Hinduism is greater in generosity or that Islam emits more love, I would beg to differ. I saw the followers of the two religions killing in the name of faith.

Some incidents were captured in books which were published at that time such as Aur Insan Mar Gaya by Ramanand Sagar and Peshawar Express by Krishen Chander. Then there are Saadat Hasan Manto’s short stories in Urdu that tell how the two communities touched the depth of crime and callousness.

—By arrangement with The Statesman-ANN

Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2014



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