Reliving the Partition of the Sub-continent

Dhaka,  Wed,  20 September 2017
Published : 23 Aug 2017, 20:35:50

Reliving the Partition of the Sub-continent

Abdur Rahman Chowdhury
Last week marked the seventieth anniversary of the demise of the British Empire in the Sub-continent. Many newspapers in the region and in the United States published articles depicting the tragedies that unfolded in the aftermath of the Partition. The Hindus and the Sikhs migrated in groves from the areas that comprised the newly-created Pakistan and the Muslims moved to the opposite direction. About fifteen million people were uprooted from their ancestral homes and the death toll reached close to two million. Some survivors of one of the greatest tragedies of modern history recall their dreadful days and pray that such carnage should never happen again.

Britain survived the World War II but lost the muscle to perpetuate its colonial rule in the Sub-continent. The government realised that the Indian Congress and the Muslim League had taken unbridgeable position and there was no possibility of peaceful co-existence. The Cripps Mission, following protracted negotiations with the Congress and the Muslim League, outlined a framework of independent India granting autonomy to the regions but the plan collapsed before it was put to test. As the chance of a united independent India fell apart the British government conceded to the Pakistan demand of the Muslim League. The Indian Congress accepted partition of India on the presumption that Pakistan would be short-lived and "Akhanda Bharat" will be achieved in near future.

During the independence movement the relation between the Hindus and the Muslims gradually turned bitter on myriad issues and attempts of secular leaders like Chittaranjan Das, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Shubash Bose and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad to accommodate the legitimate demands of the minority Muslims hardly found acceptance by the communal forces led by the Hindu Mahashaba, Rastrya Shayma Shebak (RSS), etc. Though the Congress high command was in favour of accommodating the Muslims they could not ignore these radical forces. Consequently when the plan of Partition was announced the Hindus attacked their Muslim neighbours and tried to grab their properties in the areas sure to remain within Hindu-ruled India and the Muslims did the same in the areas expected to fall under Pakistan.

The notion that Pakistan would be a homeland for Indian Muslims and will safeguard their political, economic and religious interests did not seem realistic. Though in some states the Muslims were in majority they were in minority in the Utter Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Hyderabad, Mysore and Assam despite the fact that in these states Muslim population were significant. Pakistan, on the other hand, could not have embraced all the Muslim population in its territory and in no way could have offered their protection. This was why Maulana Azad termed the concept of Pakistan flawed and warned: "Mr. Jinnah and his followers did not seem to realise that geography was against them. Indian Muslims were distributed in a way which made it impossible to form a separate State in a consolidated area." Now, seventy years after Partition, the Republic of India still remains home to over 150 million Muslims.

As the process of handing over the reins of power drew closer, Cyril Radcliffe was appointed by the departing British government to divide Bengal and Punjab because in some of the districts the Hindu populations were in majority. He drew the knife from north to south and allotted West Punjab to Pakistan and East Punjab to India. In the case of Bengal, he did the opposite. Radcliff did not stop here. He allotted Murshidabad and 24 Parganas, despite having majority Muslim population to the Dominion of India, and Krishna Nagar, Maldaha and Dinajpur were divided between the two dominions of India and Pakistan. Sylhet opted to join Pakistan through a referendum; nonetheless, about 20 per cent of its territory was awarded to India. As a consequence, families got divided; they lost lands and their livelihoods. In the case of Punjab, Radcliffe acted so irrationally that most of the water reservoirs were allocated to India rendering the irrigation system in Punjab of Pakistan hostage to India's political whims.

The division of two populous states of Bengal and Punjab and splitting the districts between India and Pakistan gave impetus to communal tensions. Trains carrying the evictees in both directions were attacked and when trains reached the destinations, there were mostly corpses. Leaders on both sides of the aisles were less than farsighted - they were in delusion. Many cities had witnessed large-scale communal violence even before the Partition was announced. Nevertheless, neither the British administration nor the high command of the Congress and the Muslim League could put in place contingency plans to avert senseless killings.

Kishan Chandra in his book Gadder mentioned many heart-breaking stories. A young beautiful girl from a wealthy Hindu family fell in love with a Muslim boy. The father did not approve the relationship. He was an influential person in the area and got the boy assassinated. The parents of the deceased had moved to Karachi. The girl joined the caravan of refugees to migrate to Pakistan. She was asked why she was moving to Pakistan. Her reply was she would join the parents of the boy and remain with them as a bride.

An Indian journalist recently accompanied his octogenarian father to their ancestral home in Sialkot. His father left when he was only eight. Once they reached the intimidating but worn-down mansion the owner handed over the key of the bungalow without any questions. His father roamed from one room to another and then he wept like a baby. The journalist wrote, "Where he stood after 70 years was both home and enemy territory".

It is exceptional but not immoral to seek division of a country for peaceful co-existence of two estranged communities. What is outrageous is to remain antagonistic to each other. It was argued that the Partition took place at the height of communal frenzy and if transfer of power was deferred for some time, people would have settled down and the bloodshed could have been avoided. Congress leaders, however, felt that they were growing old and a postponement of transfer of power would have deprived them from participating in the post-independence nation-building exercise.

The Partition is a reality. The British left dividing the Sub-continent into two countries. Twenty three years later, Bangladesh emerged as another independent country in the map of the Sub-continent. The birth of Bangladesh witnessed massive bloodshed.

The existence of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan is an established fact. It is to the interest of the people of the region to seek peaceful existence. Tremendous opportunities exist to promote regional trade, tourism and water resources for the benefit of the people. Unfortunately, India and Pakistan accord high priority to defence and spend huge resources for this which to could be diverted to accelerate economic development. Both India and Pakistan have acquired nuclear weapons as deterrent against each other.

India has made remarkable progress in institutionalising democracy. What is disconcerting in India is the treatment of minorities. The Muslims are still persecuted by the communal forces led by the RSS which has sympathizers in the ruling Janata Party. Shashi Taroor, former Under Secretary-General of the United Nations and a former State Minister of India, remarked that "cows are safer than the Muslims in India". Taroor's remark speaks volumes on the plight of the Muslims in India. Muslims are being tortured by RSS acolytes for selling cows and beef. Since Partition, communal violence has erupted many times in India and Muslims were singled out for rape and killings, and the carnage took place in connivance with local administration and police.

A Partition museum will open this week in Amritsar containing items that were brought from Pakistan by refugees. One would hope that the museum will promote communal harmony and not turn itself into a breeding ground of hatred against the Muslims.

The writer is a former official of the United Nations.

Editor : A.H.M Moazzem Hossain
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