*The brighter side of midnight, Tridivesh Singh Maini, TNN, Aug 15, 2010
There were instances of Muslims rescuing Hindus and vice versa at great risk to themselves. SociologistAshis Nandy says these account for at least 25% to 30% of all those who were saved from death at the hands of a mob. This is no exaggeration. The positive stories have largely remained untold. They were obscured by the larger tension and hatred.
*Partitioning India over lunch , BBC, August 10, 2007
Memoirs of a British civil servant never seen in public until now show how much the partition of India was decided by just two men, the BBC's Alastair Lawson reports.
In a quiet village in the northern English county of Yorkshire , Robert Beaumont rifles through his father's archives.
The various and somewhat tatty pieces of paper he unearths are no ordinary collection of paternal memoirs.
They are the thoughts and reflections of his father, Christopher Beaumont, who played a central role in the partition of India in 1947, which resulted in arguably the largest mass migration of peoples the world has ever seen.
After the death in 1989 of Mountbatten's Private Secretary, Sir George Abell, Beaumont was probably not exaggerating when he claimed to be the only person left who "knew the truth about partition".
'Bending the border'
It is estimated that around 14.5 million people moved to Pakistan from India or travelled in the opposite direction from Pakistan to India .
In 1947, Beaumont was private secretary to the senior British judge, Sir Cyril Radcliffe, who was chairman of the Indo-Pakistan Boundary Commission.
Radcliffe was responsible for dividing the vast territories of British India into India and Pakistan , separating 400 million people along religious lines.
The family documents show that Beaumont had a stark assessment of the role played by Britain in the last days of the Raj.
"The viceroy, Mountbatten, must take the blame - though not the sole blame - for the massacres in the Punjab in which between 500,000 to a million men, women and children perished," he writes.
"The handover of power was done too quickly."
The central theme ever present in Beaumont 's historic paperwork is that Mountbatten not only bent the rules when it came to partition - he also bent the border in India 's favour.
The documents repeatedly allege that Mountbatten put pressure on Radcliffe to alter the boundary in India 's favour.
On one occasion, he complains that he was "deftly excluded" from a lunch between the pair in which a substantial tract of Muslim-majority territory - which should have gone to Pakistan - was instead ceded to India .
Beaumont 's papers say that the incident brought "grave discredit on both men".
But Beaumont - who later in life was a circuit judge in the UK - is most scathing about how partition affected the Punjab , which was split between India and Pakistan .
"The Punjab partition was a disaster," he writes.
"Geography, canals, railways and roads all argued against dismemberment.
"The trouble was that Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs were an integrated population so that it was impossible to make a frontier without widespread dislocation.
"Thousands of people died or were uprooted from their homes in what was in effect a civil war.
"By the end of 1947 there were virtually no Hindus or Sikhs living in west Punjab - now part of Pakistan - and no Muslims in the Indian east.
"The British government and Mountbatten must bear a large part of the blame for this tragedy."
Beaumont goes on to argue that it was "irresponsible" of Lord Mountbatten to insist that Beaumont complete the boundary within a six-week deadline - despite his protests.
On Kashmir , Beaumont argues that it would have been "far more sensible" to have made the flash-point territory a separate country.
According to Beaumont , the "formidably intelligent" Radcliffe "did not get on well" with Mountbatten.
"They could not have been more different," he writes.
"Mountbatten was very good-looking and had a well-deserved history of personal bravery but, to put it mildly, he had few literary tastes.
"Radcliffe... was very quietly civilised. It was a relationship so like chalk and cheese that Lady Mountbatten had to use all her adroitness to keep conversation between them on an even keel."
Beaumont died in 2002 - his son Robert remembers him with great affection.
"He was also a man of supreme honesty, who spoke out on numerous occasions against the official British version of events surrounding partition without in any way being disloyal to his country," Robert Beaumont recalls.
*Crowds celebrate Independence Day at the place where it all began , Timesonline, August 15, 2007 http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article2260560.ece
As the dawn mist melted into thunder clouds the sound of motorbikes became a roaring crescendo and a crowd of several thousand surged towards Pakistan’s border with India. Mounted police lashed out with bamboo canes and women and children screamed as they were crushed against a gate barring the way to the Wagah frontier crossing, 50 metres away.
“Pakistan Zindabad!” (Long live Pakistan!) bellowed the crowd, in between cursing the police. One man fell to the ground, blood pouring from his head, scrabbling for his glasses amid a sea of lost shoes.
So began the Independence Day celebrations yesterday along the line where Britain hurriedly divided the “Jewel in the Crown” 60 years ago last night, triggering the biggest mass migration in history.
The prevailing atmosphere was actually more festive than aggressive — the crowds had come to see the ritual flag-raising ceremony by goose-stepping border guards in regimental finery. But the chaos and violence served as a reminder of the bloody scenes that followed Britain’s decision to split Punjab, one of its colony’s most populous and prosperous regions, down the middle.
Sixty years ago, Shyam Kumar Suri followed a similar route to that of The Times yesterday, from the Pakistani city of Lahore to the Indian city of Amritsar, about 40 miles away. He was born in 1932 into a Hindu family in the town of Shahadra, near Lahore, where his father was head of the Institute of Dyeing and Calico Printing.
When Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy, divided British India along religious lines, Lahore became part of Pakistan and Mr Suri’s family found themselves on the wrong side of the border. On August 10, 1947, his father, learning where the new frontier would be, decided to send his wife and six children to India while he stayed in Shahadra.
“I still remember the anxious and emotional face of my mother when she was bidding goodbye to our father,” said Mr Suri, who is now 75.
Over the next few days, an estimated 15 million people crossed the border as Indian Muslims fled to Pakistan and Hindus and Sikhs headed the other way. Between 500,000 and a million people died in the plague of violence that ensued. Hindu women committed suicide by jumping into wells to defend their honour. Trains pulled up in Lahore packed with the bodies of slaughtered Muslims.
Petrified and confused, Mr Suri boarded a train packed with other Hindus and Sikhs fleeing with what belongings they could carry. “It was an atmosphere of grief, loss, confusion, anger and humiliation,” he recalled.
Finally, his family reached Kartarpur in eastern Punjab — but the violence did not end there. On August 15, local Hindus attacked Muslim households, killing dozens.
“Nothing could have been done,” Mr Suri said. “Had the Hindus not killed the Muslims, the Muslims would have done the same.” His father joined him later after being smuggled into a refugee camp by a Parsee friend.
As their family celebrated its reunion, and Mr Suri stood guard outside brandishing a sword, Ayaz Pirzada, a Muslim, was trying to flee to Pakistan from the nearby village of Mohallah Pirzadgan in eastern Punjab. He recalls how his elder brother, Khurshid, bundled them on to an army lorry he had commandeered, with three Muslim soldiers, to try to avoid the butchery on the trains. They escaped only narrowly. As they headed to the border, in driving rain, Sikh policemen stopped them, searched them all for jewellery and detained them for several hours. Had it not been for the Muslim soldiers, Mr Pirzada is sure he would have been killed.
A few hours later, as they crossed a river, Mr Pirzada noticed something floating in the water. “There were two bodies of women floating with many parts of their body cut with sharp knives or swords. One of them had some Arabic scriptures in her hand that indicated that they were Muslims,” he said.
Today, Wagah bears no visible signs of the bloodshed of 1947. It is an oddly cheerful place, considering that this border is one of the world’s biggest potential nuclear flashpoints. Every day hundreds of Indians and Pakistanis cram into stadiums on their respective sides of the border to watch elaborate flag-raising and flag-lowering ceremonies.
It is supposed to symbolise the hostility between the giant neighbours, but the relaxed, even jovial, atmosphere says as much about the heritage that binds them together. As The Times passed through Customs on the Pakistan side, officials were printing out a piece of paper wishing their Indian counterparts a happy Independence Day. “We’re sending some sweets as well,” one said. “We are enemies, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be friends.”
Voices from the past
“Some Hindu and Sikh girls, to save their honour, jumped into wells. They turned out 1,100 bodies from one well. My husband was the ruler of Patiala and his state was open so 300,000 people from Pakistan visited us. There was a constant flow of refugees coming and we set up camps for them.” Mohinder Kaur, Patiala
“My niece was just married. They got poison like to kill dogs . . . a mercy killing. But they did not get enough. She was strangled with her own dupatta (shawl), from one side her father and the other her husband. Eight or nine ladies in my family died this way. Some of the girls who survived were taken to the Pakistan area. What happened to them, only God knows.” Tirath Ram Amla, Delhi
“The guts shown by the women in those days, I did not see in the men. I did not come across an instance of a man lying across his children or somebody else to save their life. It was the wives, daughters and sisters who fell over their near and dear ones.” Malwinderjit Singh Waraich, Chandigarh
“I was born in India at Panipat. We lived there for 600 years and in 1947 we were asked to migrate. My mother always hoped she would go back. She would say ‘my father is buried there and I want to be buried near his grave’.” Dr Mubashir Hasan, Lahore
“I remember as a child, people hiding under our beds – little children told not to make a noise – and the sound of bullock carts. I can still hear their creaking as the refugees poured in.” Mira Philbaus, Lahore
Source: interview excerpts from The Sky Below, a film by Sara Singh, 2007
*A bloody March in 1947 , Ishtiaq Ahmed, The News, August 18, 2007
The Great Calcutta Killings of August 1946 in which both Hindus and Muslims lost lives in the thousands transformed forever the nature of the Congress-Muslim League standoff from a constitutional imbroglio to a violent communal conflagration that culminated in the subcontinent bleeding, burning and partitioned in mid-August 1947.
The first attacks on August 16 were the doings of Muslim hoodlums, but their Hindu counterparts retaliated with equal force within a day or two. South Asia's most revolutionary city had been turned into a killing field where poor and innocent blood was spilled without let or hindrance by criminals from the underworld connected to respectable political patrons. A few days later Hindus in Noakhali, East Bengal , were attacked by Muslims and hundreds were killed. In Bombay communal clashes took place at about the same time and the Muslims were on the receiving end.
It was followed by terror let loose on the Muslim minority in Bihar in September-October 1946. Official count of deaths in Bihar was put at 3000 and later at 5000, but the Muslim League claimed that at least 8000 Muslims were killed. In Garhmuktesar, UP, Muslims were killed in the dozens though the reason for that outrage was not political.
In December 1946, Sikhs and Hindus in Hazara district of NWFP were assaulted by Muslims. Hundreds of deaths and injuries took place and looting of property was widespread. Thousands fled to the Punjab taking refuge mainly in Rawalpindi . It must be said to the full credit of the Punjab Unionist Party that all its leaders, Sir Fazle Hussain, Sir Sikander Hyat and Sir Khizr Tiwana maintained impartial government, and communal peace and harmony were hallmarks of their government. All this was about to change.
A Muslim youth, Abdul Maalik, was killed on February 8 when a brick thrown at a Muslim League procession from a housetop in a Hindu locality of Lahore hit him. On February 24 an off duty Sikh constable was clubbed to death by a Muslim mob in Amritsar . The Punjab was now rapidly converting into a communal powder keg ready to blast any moment. Khizr resigned on March 2. On March 3 Master Tara Singh unsheathed his kirpan (sword) from the steps of the Punjab Legislative Assembly and gave the call to finish off the menace of Pakistan . That evening Sikh and Hindu Mahasabha leaders addressed huge crowds in Lahore making highly provocative speeches. Incited Hindus and Sikhs returning from the meeting killed three totally innocent Muslims when they reached their stronghold of Shahalmi Gate.
Regular communal clashes between armed gangs took place in Lahore and Amritsar on March 4. Knives, axes, long sticks and even firearms were used by both sides. In Multan on March 5 a Hindu-Sikh procession shouted anti-Pakistan slogans. It was immediately attacked by Muslims. Serious rioting followed in the next few days. Dozens of non-Muslims were killed and suffered huge loss of property.
But the most critical rioting took place in the Rawalpindi region. Rawalpindi city had almost a 50-50 per cent Muslim and Hindu-Sikh population balance, but in the district as a whole the Muslims were 80 per cent. The Sikhs were the most prosperous Sikh community in that district, while the Hindus were mainly small shopkeepers, many engaged in the jewellery business.
On March 5, Sikh-Hindu agitators began shouting anti-Pakistan slogans and were challenged by Muslims. Firearms, stabbings and arson were employed by both sides. Initially the non-Muslims felt they had been successful in driving off Muslims from the streets of Rawalpindi . In the evening of March 6, however, the direction of violence changed from the city to the villages in the district. Suddenly armed Muslims in the thousands began to raid Sikh villages. Neighbouring villages in the Attock and Jhelum districts were also surrounded. In some places the Sikhs fought back, but on the whole the conflict was one-sided.
Subsequent inquiry reports established that the attacks had been planned according to military strategy and tactics and carried out accordingly. These districts were the main recruiting ground for the British Indian Army and the government investigation found abundant evidence of Muslim ex-soldiers taking part in the attacks. Government statistics claim 2,000 dead, but Sikhs say that as many as 7,000 lost their lives. My own research, based on visits in December 2004 to some of the villages, suggest that the figure of 2,000 was too low. In some places nearly the whole Sikh and Hindu populations were wiped out. However, the deaths included the Sikhs killing their own women and children rather than letting them fall in the hands of Muslim marauders.
Additionally many Sikhs and Hindus were forcibly converted to Islam. Most of them reverted to their original faith when help arrived. Many women and children were taken away by raiders but most were later recovered. Looting and pillaging of property was the prime reason for the attacks. The raids on the Sikh villages continued for a week: from the evening of March 6 to March 12 or 13. Such villages were only an hour or two away for military trucks to reach from the city. The headquarters of the Northern Command was in Rawalpindi and there was no dearth of troops. But intervention was delayed for too long. Perhaps government preparation for controlling rioting anticipated urban trouble and that it occurred on such a large scale in rural areas surprised the administration, but my research suggests that at least locally there was some sort of conspiracy at work to let the blood-spilling go on for some time. There was an exodus in the thousands of Sikhs from Rawalpindi , Attock and Jhelum districts to the eastern districts and the Sikh princely states; some reports suggest hundreds of thousands left and never returned. It is among them that many members of future Sikh jathas (armed gangs, often on horseback) were recruited that from August 18 onwards wreaked havoc on the Muslims of East Punjab.
Meanwhile on March 8, 1947 the Congress in its Delhi session had adopted a resolution supporting the Sikh demand for a partition of the Punjab in which the predominantly non-Muslim areas should be separated from the Muslim areas and given to East Punjab .
*Partition of Punjab , Ishtiaq Ahmed, The News, August 11, 2007
Scholarly works on the partition of India are legion, but those focusing on the partition of the Punjab are very few. Ian Talbot and Kirpal Singh indeed have pioneering works on the Punjab partition to their credit, but much more research needs to be done to shed light on the dynamics of that cataclysmal event. After all the greatest forced migration in history with its gory tales of massacres, looting, arson, rape, abduction of women and children and other acts of savagery were essentially facets of a Punjabi tragedy.
Although ideas of partitioning Punjab had existed since at least the beginning of the twentieth century it was only in the wake of the March 23, 1940 Lahore Resolution adopted by the Muslim League that the Sikhs began to demand that the Punjab should also be partitioned on a religious basis.
Sikh religion, culture and history were inextricably linked to the Punjab -- the founder of the Sikh faith, Baba Guru Nanak (1469-1539) and his spiritual successors were Punjabis, the only great kingdom ruled a Sikh, the Kingdom of Lahore under Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1799-1839), was essentially a Punjabi state, most of the holy shrines of the Sikhs and the vast majority of their community were based in the Punjab. Therefore the Sikhs demanding partition appears to be a contradiction in terms. But they did and the question is: why? Certainly the clues are not to be found in their demographic complexion.
The Sikh argument was that India should not be partitioned, but if it became inevitable then the Punjab should be divided and the borders between a predominantly Muslim Punjab in the West and a Hindu-Sikh majority East Punjab should be drawn on the Chenab, so that East Punjab would include their holy places as well as the majority of the community. The Sikh leadership feared persecution in a predominantly Muslim Pakistan , just as the Muslim leadership argued that permanent Hindu Raj based on caste prejudices will be established if India remained united.
On February 20, 1947 Prime Minister Clement Attlee announced that His Majesty's Government intended to transfer power to Indian hands, in a united or partitioned India , by June 1948. The Sikhs reacted angrily to that declaration because no mention of a Sikh right to a separate homeland was included in it.
In the meantime, the Muslim League had launched on January 24 1947 direct action in the Punjab against the coalition government headed by Sir Khizr Hayat Tiwana, which it alleged was not representative of the Muslims of Punjab. The main supporters of Punjab Unionist Party, the Muslim landlords, had decamped and were now members of the Punjab Muslim League. The Muslim League won 75 out of the 83 seats fixed for Muslims. Two Unionists crossed the floor and joined it but it was still short of a majority by 10 seats in a house of 175.
On the other hand, the Unionist Party led by Tiwana was routed in the election. It won only 18 seats. Tiwana managed to put together a coalition government, which included the Akalis and other Panthic Sikhs who won 23 seats and the Congress which did very well by winning 50 general seats. The coalition government also included some scheduled caste members of the Punjab Assembly.
Direct action or a civil disobedience movement as the Muslim League preferred to call it lasted from January 24 to February 26. Its mass character multiplied every day and the jails were filled with leaders and cadres who defied Section 144 and were arrested. Although it remained peaceful, each day the slogans the crowds shouted became more and more menacing and threatening, striking fear and terror in the hearts of the non-Muslims.
The government and the Muslim League, however, reached an agreement on February 26 according to which the agitation was called off and the Muslim League leaders and cadres were released. But those several weeks of mass agitation provoked a determined reaction from the Hindu and Sikh leaders in the Punjab who vowed not to let a Muslim League minority government come to power. On March 2 Khizr resigned. He had been badly shaken and demoralised by the abuse directed at him and by the fact that the landlords had abandoned him.
The Punjab Governor, Sir Evan Jenkins, invited the Muslim League leader Nawab Iftikhar Hussain Khan Mamdot to prove that he had a majority in the house. Although he claimed that he could muster a majority with the help of some scheduled castes members of the Punjab Assembly Mamdot failed to do so. That created a political impasse. Governor Jenkins therefore imposed governor rule on March 5 under Section 93 of the India Act of 1935. Punjab continued to remain under governor's rule until partition in mid-August 1947.
*The Partition debate - I , By Mushirul Hasan , The Hindu, Jan 02, 2002
The transfer of power may not have taken such an ugly and violent turn had Gandhi's Congress colleagues allowed him to wield his moral stick.
IT IS hard to comprehend how and why Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, having dominated the political scene for three decades, could do so little to influence the Congress to take effective steps to contain Partition violence. Even if this illustrates Gandhi's diminishing political influence, we can still ask why he became `a spent bullet', and what turned him into `a back number'. What led him to conclude that he could not influence, much less lead, India on the eve of Independence? Was it because he had found no way of tackling the communal problem, and that he himself was groping in the dark?
It may well be that the otherwise well-tested Gandhian methods became out of place in the new political culture fashioned by the Congress. Or, do we see the balance of power tilting against him from the time he suggested the dissolution of the Congress? He had stated at the Congress Working Committee meeting, which finally approved the Partition plan, that he would have declared rebellion single-handedly against the CWC if he had felt stronger or an alternative was available. That he did not feel strong enough to carry out his threat is a powerful indictment of the Congress party and its tall poppies.
Doubtless, Gandhi did not have a ready-made answer to allay Jinnah's anxieties or curb the stridency of Hindu militants. Yet, he still commanded the allegiance of millions across the subcontinent to reconcile competing political aspirations. His charisma still worked, as in Bihar, where his presence did much to reassure local Muslims. Doubtless, he lacked the political resources to prevent Partition, and yet the transfer of power may not have taken such an ugly and violent turn had his Congress colleagues allowed him to wield his moral stick. Violence had engulfed the country, and yet he hoped that the people's goodness would assert itself against the mischievous influence.
Gandhi did not expect to convert Jinnah to his creed. Still, he counted on his party comrades to pay heed to his warnings. The fact is that they did not. Gandhi was deeply hurt, complaining to friends about his estrangement from those very Congress leaders whose careers he had nursed assiduously. Sometimes he would ask himself, `had India free no longer any need of him as it had when it was in bondage'.
In Noakhali, a weary Mahatma, leaning against his lathis that had stood him in good stead in his political journeys, had to prove to the world that personal courage, moral fervour, and commitment, more than formalistic ideologies, could soothe violent tempers. In Noakhali, he would have said to his restless audience basking in the morning sunshine that violence breeds more violence. Hatred, he would have reiterated in his low and soft voice, betrayed weakness rather than strength, generated fear, heightened anxieties, and created insecurities. Never before had a political leader taken so bold an initiative to provide the healing touch not just to the people in Noakhali but to the warring groups across the vast subcontinent. And yet, never before did so earnest an effort achieve so little.
After Noakhali, Gandhi was caught up in the whirlpool of hatred, anger and violence. Jinnah, on the other hand, steered his ship through the rough currents seeking a secure anchorage. Riding on the crest of a popular wave, he seemed oblivious to the human sufferings caused by his cry for a Muslim homeland. The Lincoln's Inn-educated barrister told Gandhi during talks in early September 1944, `we are a nation'. Gandhi did not agree.
Was there even the slightest possibility of mediating their differences within or, outside the party structures? Were they politically equipped to push through a negotiated settlement against the wishes of their following? Frankly, the pressures from below, as indeed the exertions of senior leaders, were too strong for reversing attitudes and strategies. A groundswell of rural Punjabi support for the League was in evidence. In Bengal, the League captured, in the 1946 elections, 104 out of 111 seats in the rural areas. The Great Calcutta Killing of August 1946 completed the convergence between elite and popular communalism. Jinnah could ill-afford to backtrack. For him, achieving `Pakistan' became a matter of life and death.
Similarly, Gandhi could not single-handedly negotiate an agreement without incurring the hostility of his own Congress colleagues. The Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS, too, emerged out of the dark corridors to ensure that Gandhi and the Congress did not yield to Jinnah's demands.
At the crossroads of communal polarisation, India became a fertile ground for the idea of a divided India to nurture. Most found, willy-nilly, and that included powerful Congress leaders who had until now paid lip service to the conception of a united India, Partition the way out of the impasse. The options, if any, were foreclosed. The Congress agreed to Partition because, as Nehru stated at the All-India Congress Committee meeting on August 9, 1947, there was no other alternative. This was not an admission of failure but a recognition of the ground realities that had moved towards the polarisation of the Hindu, Muslim and Sikh communities.
For Jinnah, the real and ultimate challenge was to translate his otherwise nebulous idea of a Muslim state into a territorial acquisition that he could sell to his partners in Punjab, Bengal and United Provinces. When the Lahore Resolution was adopted in March 1940, Jinnah hesitated placing his cards out in the open because he could not predict the reactions of his own allies in these provinces. But once the edifice of resistance crumbled, especially in Punjab after the deaths of Sikander Hayat Khan and the Jat leader Chhotu Ram (both had kept the Punjab Unionist Party intact), and popular support for the Pakistan idea gathered momentum, Jinnah had no qualms in defining his future Pakistan.
At every critical moment, Jinnah's great asset was the colonial government's readiness to negotiate with him as an ally rather than as an adversary. This had not been the case earlier, though Nehru had pointed out that the third party could always bid higher and, what is more, give substance to its words. The Quit India movement (August 1942) turned out to be yet another milestone. From that time onwards the League bandwagon rolled on, and Jinnah developed the habit of reminding senior British officials of their obligations towards the Muslims. Whenever he found them dithering or tilting slightly towards the Congress, he, conjuring up the self-image of a wounded soul, raised the spectre of a civil war.
Words were translated into deeds on Direct Action Day on August 16, 1946. This ill-advised call did not exactly heal the communal wounds, but proved to be, as was the undeclared intention, Jinnah's trump card. The Quaid, says Ayesha Jalal, was forced by the Muslim League Council to go for Direct Action; otherwise he would have been swept aside himself. What remains unexplained is how this decision, besides leading to the Great Calcutta Killing, sounded the death-knell of a united India. If the resignation of the Congress Ministries allowed Jinnah to jump the queue and gain proximity to the colonial government, direct action confirmed his capacity to call the shots and create, with the aid of his allies in Bengal particularly, the conditions for civil strife on a continental scale.
Meanwhile, the colonial government - the `third party' - nursed its wounds. Bruised and battered by the impact of World War II, it had little or no interest in curbing violence. As the sun finally set on the empire, the imperial dream was over. ``Your day is done,'' Gandhi had written. The British, having read the writing on the wall, had no desire or motivation to affect a peaceful transfer of power. Having bandied round the view that Hindu-Muslim violence resulted from a civilisational conflict between Islam and Hinduism, they now put forward the thesis that it could not be contained once Pakistan became inevitable.
*The Partition debate - II , By Mushirul Hasan , The Hindu, Jan 03, 2002
As a metaphor, an event and memory, Partition has to be interpreted and explained afresh to remove widely-held misconceptions.
IN THE histories of imperial rule, the retreat of the British administration was an act of abject surrender to the forces of violence. ``We have lost,'' wrote the British Viceroy, Wavell, ``nearly all power to control events; we are simply running on the momentum of our previous prestige.'' When the dead count was taken, the people paid the price - and that too a heavy one - for the breakdown of the law and order machinery. For the most part, the small boundary force in Punjab stayed in the barracks, while trainloads of refugees were being butchered.
No one knows how many were killed during the Partition violence. No one knows how many were displaced and dispossessed. What we know is that, between 1946 and 1951, nearly nine million Hindus and Sikhs came to India , and about six million Muslims went to Pakistan . Of the said nine million, five million came from what became West Pakistan , and four million from East Pakistan . In only three months, between August and October 1947, Punjab was engulfed in a civil war. Estimates of deaths vary between 200,000 and three million. An anguished Amrita Pritam appealed to Waris Shah ``to speak from the grave'' and turn the page of the book of love.
Public men, social scientists, especially historians, writers, poets, and journalists shared this concern, in equal measure, and represented violence, pain and struggle in such a way as to reflect the present-day language of historical discourse. Implicit in their concern is a sense of moral outrage, an unmistakable revulsion towards violence, the fear of its recurrence, and, at the same time, the hope of its being prevented in free India and Pakistan .
Another noteworthy point is that violence is not celebrated (as was done by the Serbs and Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina) but decried in the narratives I have accessed. Violence is, in fact, not only condemned but is so often attributed - often as a means to disguise the collective guilt of a community - to anti-social elements, unscrupulous politicians, and religious fanatics. It is worth reiterating that the `heroes' in the Partition story are not the rapists, the abductors, the arsonists, the murderers and the perpetrators of violence, but the men and women - living and dead - who provide the healing touch.
Even at the risk of oversimplification, I wish to argue that the general tenor of the literary and political narratives, both in India and Pakistan, is to emphasise that Partition violence sounded the death-knell of those high moral values that were essential components of Hinduism, Islam and the Sikh faith. Naturally, the definition of such values, rooted in diverse traditions, varied. But the consensus, though unstructured, is to invoke diverse religious, intellectual, and humanist traditions to serve the crying need of the hour - restoration of peace and inter-community goodwill. Thus Nanak Singh, the Punjabi writer, invokes Guru Gobind Singh to lend weight to his moralistic plea for communal amity (he had ordained: every one of the humankind is same to me); Amrita Pritam, the Punjabi poet, vividly recalls the dark nights on the train and the images of death and destruction which Haji Waris Shah had seen in Punjab at the end of the 18th century, with the butchery and rape that accompanied Partition. For scores of writers, social activists and publicists, secularism, in the sense of anti-communalism, was a deeply held faith, an integral face of nationalism, a value to be upheld even during the difficult days of August 1947 and thereafter.
Possibly, one can take this as an entry point to vindicate the importance of a liberal and secular polity. At the same time, setting out an agenda for the future historian of Partition is not easy. The literature that has appeared during the last decade or so points to the possibilities of charting new territories, and breaking free from the boundaries defined by Partition historiography. Using fiction to portray the other face of freedom, and introducing poignant and powerful gender narratives has, likewise, triggered lively discussions that go far beyond the limited terrain explored during the last few decades. When artfully undertaken, invoking popular memories too shifts the burden of the argument outside the familiar realm of elite manoeuvres and high politics to local specificities and personal and family traumas.
Realistically speaking, however, gender narratives and personal and collective memories can at best enrich Partition debates and not constitute an alternative discourse to the existing ones. Oral interviews can only go that far; they cannot be a substitute for archival research, especially because they are conducted over space and time by writers who have a agenda of their own. Historians, too, have their agenda, but their script can be read and interpreted differently. The same cannot be said of gender narratives and other accounts, often contrived, of pain and suffering. Although intellectually rewarding, our preoccupation with pain and sorrow that resulted from Partition has limited our understanding of many other crucial areas, including the political and civic fault-lines revealed then - fault-lines of religion, gender, caste and class that still run through our lives.
All said and done, it may not be easy displacing the dominant intellectual discourses. Whether this can or should be done is not the issue at hand. The reality, is that South Asian readers everywhere still earnestly desire to know a lot more about the triangular narrative, with the British, the Congress and the League occupying centre stage, and pay no heed to the historian's plea to eschew preoccupation with national leaders and national parties.
Though sensitised to alternative discourses, most people in the subcontinent discuss not so much the enormity of the tragedy in 1947, but the factors leading to the country's division. They want to know about the intractable stubbornness of one or the other leader, and make sense of the ill-fated talks in Delhi and Shimla. In short, they wish to unfold the great drama being enacted, with the spotlight on their `heroes' and the `villains'. Consequently, they follow the moves and countermoves of the `major' actors performing on the grand Indian stage to satisfy both plain and simple curiosity, or to reinforce ideas inherited from family and friends, and school and college textbooks.
In the aftermath of the September 11 and December 13 attacks, there is talk of Partition's `unfinished agenda'. The pot is kept boiling, as illustrated by the speeches delivered by the RSS stalwarts. Today, the unending turmoil over Kashmir , the worsening Indo-Pakistan relations, and the resurgence of Islamist ideas and trends are conveniently attributed to Partition's unfinished agenda.
For the historians located in South Asia there is no escape route: they have to whet the appetite of their readers. Though it may take a long time for the scars to be healed, it is important to sensitise them to Partition as the defining moment in South Asian history, and, in the words of Intizar Husain, ``the great human event which changed the history of India''. The Lahore-based Urdu writer goes a step further. The agony of India 's Partition, he suggests, could be lessened, perhaps, by exploiting the event's potential creativity: ``To salvage whatever of that (pre- Partition) culture, if only by enacting it in literature. To preserve a memory, however fugitive, of that culture before time and history have placed it beyond reach.''
Partition's impact on the individual and the collective psyche of the two nations is too deep-seated to be wished away. As a metaphor, an event and memory, it has to be interpreted and explained afresh in order to remove widely-held misconceptions. As I read the recent outburst of the RSS chief, I know that this is easier said than done. The only hope lies in what Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib wrote long ago: ``My creed is oneness, my belief abandonment of rituals; Let all communities dissolve and constitute a single faith''.
*The Troubled History of Partition, Radha Kumar, Foreign Affairs,
A rticle preview: first 500 of 4,341 words total .
BOSNIA GOES THE WAY OF CYPRUS
The September elections in Bosnia highlighted what was until then an implicit aspect of the current peace: it is more likely to move Bosnia toward the ethnic states for which the war was fought than to reestablish the multiethnic Bosnia that once was. Indeed, as the Dayton process unfolds, it becomes clearer that the peace agreement signed in November 1995 after three and a half years of war was something historically familiar: a so-called peace accord that is in reality a partition agreement with an exit clause for outside powers.
At the same time, while key aspects of the document, such as the creation of two "entities" with virtually separate legislatures, administrations, and armies, tend toward partition, the pact attempts to get around some of the more hostile legacies of partition through a common economic space and arms control, and it creates structures that could reverse the partition process by returning refugees and rebuilding civil society. So far, these structures have been dormant, and the holding of national elections in a still highly uncertain peace marks the tilt toward partition. As was widely predicted, the Bosnians gave their ethnic leaders new mandates, and Bosnia took another step toward partition. However, the postponement of the municipal elections due to irregularities in voter registration means the international community is not yet in a position to accept partition as the democratically expressed will of the people.
The Bosnian war and the Dayton peace agreement have reignited a debate on whether partition is an effective solution to ethnic conflict. Although Bosnia is the starting point, the arguments in this debate have broad resonance at a time in which the rapid spread of ethnic and communal wars east and south of Bosnia is of increasing concern to the international community. Defenders of partition make an argument that runs as follows. When an ethnic war is far advanced, partition is probably the most humane form of intervention because it attempts to achieve through negotiation what would otherwise be achieved through fighting; it circumvents the conflict and saves lives. It might even save a country from disappearing altogether because an impartial intervenor will attempt to secure the rights of each contending ethnic group, whereas in war the stronger groups might oust the weaker ones. In fact, its advocates say, the ideal strategy for resolving an ethnic conflict is to intervene and take partition to its logical conclusion by dividing a country along its communal battle lines and helping make the resulting territories ethnically homogeneous through organized population transfers. This will ensure that partition is more than a temporary means of containing conflict. Less thorough partitions, however, can still be a lasting means of containment.-1
Partition, however, has its own sordid history, not arising as a means of realizing national self-determination, but imposed as a way for outside powers to unshoulder colonies or divide up spheres of influence -- a strategy of divide and quit. Although described as the lesser of two evils, the partitions in ...
*End of Forever, Time Magazine, Monday, Jun. 30, 1947
(Clips from the Time magazine report published on Jun. 30, 1947, shortly before India's independence.)
Last week in New Delhi, Queen-Empress Victoria's great-grandson, Rear Admiral Viscount Mountbatten of Burma, Viceroy of India, was working hard to get out of India as fast as he could. To Hindu and Moslem politicos responsible for setting up two new dominions in India before mid-August he sent memos reminding them "only 62 more
But as he wrestled, India and Indian politics changed along the road. The Indian National Congress, which claimed to represent Indians of every religious community, finally had to admit that Mohamed Ali Jinnah spoke for the Moslems.
Jinnah was already using his new power to disrupt India further. In the face of Jawaharlal Nehru's blunt warning to the Indian princes ("We will not recognize the independence of any state in India"), Jinnah began courting them. Most princes had already decided to join
Jinnah dangled alliance-bait before them: "If states wish to remain independent ... we shall be glad to discuss with them and come to a settlement." Big Kashmir, still on the fence, was ruled by a Hindu, but its 76% Moslem population would probably bring it into Pakistan sooner or later.
On both sides of the new dividing line, between Pakistan and Hindu India, minority groups wondered what to do. A Moslem tonga (two-wheeled carriage) driver, who had lived 20 years in Delhi, thought of moving to the Punjab. "I will wait and see what happens," he said. "If there is any trouble, I will send for my mother, my sister and my two buffalo, on my farm in the United Provinces." But it would cost him $50 to move to the Punjab—and the meager amount he collects in fares barely pays for food on the black market. Besides, he was still paying off a $200 debt incurred when he had tried vainly to
Who Will Pay? A Hindu chaprasi (office boy) in a Delhi Government office, who owned three acres of land in a Pakistan district, thought he had better bring his wife and family to Delhi. But then he would have to sell his land. "Who will pay a good price for my property?" he asked. "I tried to sell it recently, but some Moslems who were originally prepared to purchase it now say they will get it anyway, once Pakistan comes into being, for little or no money."
All along the prospective border between Pakistan and Hindu India, minorities were on the move. From little villages in the Moslem Punjab, Hindu and Sikh traders and moneylenders trekked to Delhi or the United Provinces.
In sweltering Calcutta, it took but the flick of a Moslem cigaret butt against the flanks of a sacred Hindu cow, or a Hindu tonga driver's bumping a Moslem child, to start a fight that would engulf the city. Last week Calcutta was still divided into " Pakistan" and " Hindustan" quarters, with strong points bristling with .barbed wire and machine guns. A Hindu driver dared not cross into a Moslem quarter, nor a Moslem into " Hindustan." In Bombay, where Hindus and Moslems had formerly lived mixed in together, streetcar signs now said "Pakistan Bombay," meaning the Moslem quarter.
One Moslem, who had lost his leather works in riots at Amritsar, no longer cared whether he was in Pakistan or Hindustan. Unshaven and ragged, Chaudhri Ahmen Hasan wandered aimlessly among the ruins of his property, carrying a big framed photograph of Jinnah. From time to time Hasan paused and addressed the picture: "Are you happy now,
Noakhali was the first place Gandhi visited last spring in his tour of India's riot areas. Barefoot, staff in hand, leaning on his grandniece Manu, he had padded through the water-soaked fields and the mixed Moslem-Hindu villages, preaching peace. Last week Gandhi planned a symbolic return. "My work is in Noakhali," he said. "Nobody will prevent me from going there." For Gandhi considered himself a citizen of both new Indian states. "I will go freely to all parts of India . . . without a passport." The question was, would other Indians be able to do the same?
"Oh Lovely Dawn," Time, Aug. 15, 1947: