Tag Archive for 'Partition'


Raghu Karnad in n+l:

There’s no picture more traumatic to the Indian imagination than that of thousands of people crammed into trains, fleeing for their lives. Flash back to 1947, when trains crossing between West Pakistan and north India steamed out of their stations filled with refugees and arrived at their destinations filled with corpses. The migrating dead were Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims who—stranded on the wrong side of the religious partition of British India, learning that it was now open season on their community and property—took flight for the border. About a million never made it. So (sixty-five years ago to the day), as India awoke to sovereignty and democracy, the sight before its eyes was a snarl of minority terror, slaughter, and trains.

This was the image that much of India had to suppress, and a few provocateurs predictably stoked, on August 15 this year. It should have been another drowsy Independence Day, a mid-week chance to sleep in while the monsoon shook the last drops out of its watering-can. Instead, at Bangalore’s City Station, thousands of people pressed into emergency trains leaving for distant Guwahati, the latter a transport hub for the seven small states in India’s out-flung northeastern limb.

Most of the indigenous groups in that region (“Northeasterners” to the rest of us) have facial features and skin-tones that make them look more like South-East Asians than what we think of as Indians—a matter they’re rarely allowed to forget when they live away from home. In recent weeks, two situations had set the dismal categories of “Muslims” and “Northeasterners” (or in the nasty demotic, “chinkies”) against each other. First, there was a spike in the decades-old persecution of Muslim Rohingyas by the Burmese-majority state of Myanmar. Shortly afterward, violence flared up between indigenous Bodo and migrant Muslim communities in Assam, the largest of the northeastern states, which led to Muslim groups agitating in cities like Bombay. Eventually, in Bangalore, tales of Muslim rage quivered with hyperbole. Skull-capped goons were banging on doors, warning that when Ramadan ended, the blood of Northeasterners would mingle in the streets with blood of the goats. By Independence Day, thousands were crammed into trains, apparently fleeing for their lives. More:

The ghosts of Partition

Yaqoob Khan Banghash in The Tribune (Pakistan)

Every country’s Independence Day is a defining moment in its history. The events of the day are the culmination of years of struggle and the day hearkens to a new beginning. The same is true for Pakistan, except that we have yet to move on from our ‘1947’ moment. This is not because historians keep writing about it but that in our collective memory, we still have to reconcile with the events of 1947 and move forward. Let me highlight just a few aspects.

First, and here I am utilising the work of Professor Gurharpal Singh — of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London — is the legacy of violence. Since Pakistan was born in violence, violence has become intrinsic to the body politic of the country. Let us not forget that it was not the constitutional brilliance of Mohammad Ali Jinnah which finally convinced the Congress, especially Nehru and Patel, and Mountbatten to agree to a partition, but the deteriorating law and order situation in the Muslim majority provinces, which was directly related to the ‘Direct Action’, called by Jinnah in late 1946. Hence, Pakistan was literally fought for on the streets of Calcutta, Lahore, Rawalpindi, etc. This ‘violence’, which was largely planned, then became so integral to the imagination of the country that since then, both the state and the people have utilised it repeatedly. This is not to say that other countries are not born in violence and bloodshed; they are, but the degree to which this violence has seeped into the mindset of official and public in Pakistan, is destabilising. more

Why Pakistan is not a nation

Pervez Hoodbhoy at Himal Southasian:

Illustration by Saira Wasim

The lack of nationhood can be traced to the genesis of Pakistan and the single factor that drove it – religious identity. Carved out of Hindu-majority India, Pakistan was the culmination of the competition and conflict between natives who had converted to Islam and those who had not. Converts often identified with Arab invaders of the last millennium. Shah Waliullah (1703-62), a ‘purifier’ of Islam on the Subcontinent who despised local traditions, famously declared ‘We [Hindustanis] are an Arab people whose fathers have fallen in exile in the country of Hindustan, and Arabic genealogy and the Arabic language are our pride.’

The founder of Pakistan, Mohamed Ali Jinnah, also echoed the separateness of Muslims and Hindus, basing the struggle for Pakistan on the premise that the two peoples could never live together peacefully within one nation state. But Jinnah was unrecognisably different from Waliullah, a bearded religious scholar. An impeccably dressed Westernised man with Victorian manners, a secular outlook and an appreciation of fine foods and wines, Jinnah nevertheless eloquently articulated the fears and aspirations of an influential section of his co-religionists. Interestingly, he was opposed by a large section of the conservative ulema, such as Maulana Maudoodi of the Jamaat-e-Islami, who said that Islam must not be confined to national borders. But Jinnah and his Muslim League won the day by insisting that Muslims constituted a distinct nation that would be overwhelmed in post-British India by a larger and better-educated Hindu majority.

Thus Pakistan, in essence, was created as the negative of India: it was not India. But what was it, then, beyond being a homeland for Muslims? Decades after the horrific bloodbath of Partition, the idea of Pakistan remains hotly debated. It did not help that Jinnah died in 1948, just a year after Pakistan was born, with his plans still ambiguously stated. He authored no books and wrote no policy paper. He did make many speeches, of which several were driven by political expediency and are frankly contradictory. These are freely cherry-picked today, with some finding in them a liberal and secular voice; others, an embodiment of Islamic values. The confusion is irresolvable. More:

Enid Blyton and the post-colonial world

Amy Rosenberg in The National:

Ram Advani Booksellers sits in the heart of Hazratganj, an upscale shopping district in Lucknow, India. The store opened in 1947, just a few months before Partition, when Ram Advani fled Lahore, in the newly forming Pakistan, and set up shop in his new (old) country. In a city known at the time for its devotion to highbrow culture, aristocratic pleasures, and courtly manners, the place quickly became a destination and meeting point for the intellectual crowd, and Advani, now 88 and still running the business, acquired a reputation as an erudite host, known particularly for hand-picking recommendations for his customers based on long discussions with them.

Advani’s son, Rukun, who spent much of his childhood in the store, remembers the refinement and polish of the place, the neat rows of books, and the near-constant flow of learned patrons seeking to converse with his father. What he recalls most, however, is the single shelf in the children’s section that prominently displayed the work of the British children’s author Enid Blyton.

“I was all of eight and a half years old in 1964, when I took The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage off the shelf,” says Rukun, who now runs Permanent Black, a well-known publishing house in Delhi. “I hadn’t read anything as good as that book before, ever, so I was hooked and read everything else by Blyton that I could lay my hands on for the next three or so years.”

At the time, Blyton’s books were just starting to become widely available in India, though Ram Advani recalls having seen stray copies in the 1940s and 1950s. (“I stocked these books,” Advani says, “because there was a demand, and it was taken for granted that a store like mine, which kept only books in the English language, would have the whole lot of the Enid Blyton series on hand. I confess I never read them.”) More:

Don’t fix history, look at the future

Chetan Bhagat, author of the bestseller, One Night @ the Call Centre, in the Times of India:

The BJP is screaming that Mr Jinnah was not indeed as secular as claimed by Jaswant Singh. Experts on TV are citing events in 1932 which prove that Jinnah was a good person; countered by an equal number of experts citing historical events which prove that Jinnah did terrible things.

To answer the Jinnah question from the point of view of the young generation – Who cares?

Really, whether Mr Jinnah did wonderful things or he did horrible things and whatever point of view your party likes to take – who gives a damn? How is this relevant to the India we have to build today? Are we electing leaders for the future or selecting a history teacher?

The strange thing is the media buys into this pointless debate – about Mr Jinnah being good or bad and spends hours discussing it. By doing so, it gives legitimacy to the whole exercise.

Meanwhile, the young generation fails to understand why do our politicians become so passionate defending these relics of the past? Why don’t they have a fanatical debate about how fast we will make roads, colleges, bridges and power plants? Why don’t people get expelled over current non-performance rather than historical opinions? Why don’t we ban useless government paperwork rather than banning books about dead people? More:

Nehru, Jinnah responsible for partition of India: Jaswant Singh

Karan Thapar interviews Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Jaswant Singh on his book ‘Jinnah – India, Partition, Independence‘ on CNN-IBN. Jaswant Singh has been expelled from the Hindu nationalist BJP for praising Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah, considered in India the architect of the partition. Authorities in the BJP-ruled western Indian state of Gujarat have banned the book for its “defamatory references” to Vallabhbhai Patel, India’s first home minister.

Karan Thapar: Mr Jaswant Singh, let’s start by establishing how you as the author view Mohammed Ali Jinnah? After reading your book, I get the feeling that you don’t subscribe to the popular demonisation of the man.

Jaswant Singh: Of course, I don’t. To that I don’t subscribe. I was attracted by the personality which has resulted in a book. If I wasn’t drawn to the personality, I wouldn’t have written the book. It’s an intricate, complex personality of great character, determination.

Karan Thapar: And it’s a personality that you found quite attractive?

Jaswant Singh: Naturally, otherwise, I wouldn’t have ventured down the book. I found the personality sufficiently attractive to go and research it for five years. And I was drawn to it, yes. More:



[The other parts of the interview are on YouTube.]

And below, Jawed Naqvi in Dawn:

But Jaswant Singh is not quitting politics, much less the country. In fact an endorsement of his quest will be palpable as early as this weekend when Ramazan, the month of fasting for Muslims, begins. In Lutyens’ Delhi, the hub of India’s power dynamic, the circus of feasts will see robed clerics from diverse Islamic clusters getting invited to the prime minister’s house to break bread. Government ministers, party leaders, MPs, power peddlers, middlemen, in a nutshell everyone who lives by the 13 per cent Muslim vote in India or those who need to flaunt their secularism will take turns to rustle up an appetising Ramazan menu. Of course, only a minority of India’s 150 million Muslims are mullahs and so a few of the less pious variety would also be given a slot in the meandering queue to rub shoulders with the high and mighty.

Had Jinnah had his way, there would be no need for the pathetic lottery of Ramazan invitations. There would be no need for the Justice Sachchar Committee, set up to investigate why Indian Muslims continue to be economically and socially backward six decades after independence from colonialism. More:

The idea of India versus the idea of Pakistan

Mukul Kesavan in The Telegraph:

During the Jaipur Literary Festival in 2009, Pakistani writers experienced a special kind of Indian incivility. Both in casual conversation and in formal question-and-answer sessions, they were asked if they thought that Pakistan was a good idea, the implication being that it wasn’t. Mohammed Hanif, the author of a wonderful satirical novel about Zia’s Pakistan, A Case of Exploding Mangoes, responded to a variation on this question by saying, patiently, that debating the virtue of Pakistan’s founding idea was less important than coming to terms with the fact that Pakistan was a real country that had to be reckoned with.

The interesting thing is that this question is often asked by people who can be reasonably described as liberals. They don’t want the reality of Pakistan undone and they would be appalled to be clubbed with sangh parivar rhetoricians who attack Pakistan as a Muslim abomination. And yet, despite themselves, the question rises unbidden to their lips. It isn’t normal in polite society to ask someone to repudiate his national identity as a preliminary to conversation and yet, well-intentioned Indians do precisely that.


Sweet home Karachi

Raj Thackeray’s latest diktat, that all Mumbai sweet shops with the distinctive name of Karachi Sweets drop the K-word from their names, robs Sindhis of their history writes Jyoti Punwani in The Indian Express

karachi-sweetsFor those who had nothing to do with Partition, Karachi is just another city. For those whose patriotism begins and ends with the geographical boundaries of the state they were born in — and they are many — Karachi is the name of an enemy city, just like Lahore. But ask a Sindhi what Karachi means to her or to him.  

Sindhis have always complained that they got the rawest deal among all those affected by Partition. They had to leave their homeland where Hindu-Muslim conflict was barely known, and take refuge wherever they could in India. Here, they had no state they could call their own, unlike the Punjabis and Bengalis who came over. But they managed not just to survive and indeed prosper, but also to contribute.


And, if you’re looking for a recipe for Karachi Halwa click here on the Indian Sweets Recipe website.

A house, Partitioned?

A fascinating tale by Ahmad Rafay Alam at Pak Tea House:

It was when I was in Willie G that I met and became friends with Martand. Martand was from India, and for a Pakistani like me he was a great way to get to know about India, the country next door that figured so prominently in defining what my country was. At the time, I had never been to India. I had no notion of what India was like or what Indians were like other than the opinions I’d picked up in school text books, novels, television, the press, movies. You get the picture. Like anyone else, I suppose, I was coloured by the prejudice of history. In the case of India and Pakistan, nothing attracts more prejudice than the fractural events of Partition.

Martand was studying to become an architect. Despite our academic pursuits, we hit it off immediately. Of course, as inevitably happens, we made some social connections. Martand and I had been paying guests, although at different times, in the same apartment in Queensway. Then we found some more interesting ones. His maternal grandfather, Bisham Sahni, the great Hindi writer, was a contemporary of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, the legendary Pakistani poet. I learnt that both his grandparents and my father shared the same alma matter, Lahore’s famous Government College. I learnt that part of Martand’s family were from Lahore, and had been forced to flee to India during Partition. I’ve always been a proud Lahori, a vekhiya tay jamiya nahin (if you ain’t seen it, you ain’t seen nothin’) sort, and his connections with the city of my birth, along with his wit and intelligence and the fact that my girlfriend got along with him, made my relationship with Martand stronger.


Protecting Pakistan’s Hindus

The cultural and institutional marginalisation of Hindus in Pakistan is a travesty of human dignity and freedom. Ali Eteraz in The Guardian, UK:

Hindus in Pakistan have suffered grievously since the founding of the nation in 1947. Recently, in the southern province of Sindh, a Hindu man was accused of blasphemy and beaten to death by his co-workers. This comes at the heels of the abduction and dismemberment of a Hindu engineer.

A little while earlier, the military removed 70 Hindu families from lands where they had been living since the 19th century. To this day the temples that Pakistanis destroyed in 1992 in response to the destruction of the Babri mosque in India have not been restored.

Pakistan, according to many accounts, was founded as a way to protect the rights and existence of the minority Muslim population of Colonial India in the face of the larger Hindu majority. Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, is reported to have said in 1947: “In due course of time Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims will cease to be Muslims – not in a religious sense for that is the personal faith of an individual- but in a political sense as citizens of one state.” It is therefore a travesty of Pakistan’s own founding principles that its Hindus – and not to exclude Christians and Ahmadis – have suffered so grossly.


[via 3quarksdaily]

Ali Eteraz’s personal blog is here:


Partition’s survivors break long silence

In the Washington PostRama Lakshmi on an ambitious 10-year project that seeks to chronicle the 1947 Partition of India and Pakistan 

Every year in March, Bir Bahadur Singh goes to the local Sikh shrine and narrates the grim events of the long night six decades ago when 26 women in his family offered their necks to the sword for the sake of honor.

At the time, sectarian riots were raging over the partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan, and the men of Singh’s family decided it was better to kill the women than have them fall into the hands of Muslim mobs.

“None of the women protested, nobody wept,” Singh, 78, recalled as he stroked his long, flowing white beard, his voice slipping into a whisper. “All I could hear was the sound of prayer and the swing of the sword going down on their necks. My story can fill a book.”