Thoughts on 1947 Voices of Partition event
After a lot of planning and promoting The Partition Archive event finally came on Saturday, the 4th of April at the UW (thanks to the Jackson School for sponsoring the venue), the 200-chair room was over-full.
The event itself was a little different from what I had expected, but it was powerful nevertheless. There was a panel of three witnesses/survivors and one archivist and their stories were so powerful that at one time, I had to walk to the back of the room because the tears had started to flow. Many others were also openly crying, as was one of the presenters. Each one of them had a completely different experience but they all had terrible and frightening experiences ranging from relatively easy ones, to tragic one with a loss of many family members.
(Note: I recommend “Freedom at Midnight“, “Train to Pakistan” and “Humanity Amidst Insanity” for further reading)
Their presentation was followed up by a Q&A session in which people talked about their own memories and family stories, one young man was so frustrated and angry about the experiences of his own family that he wanted to know more; he wanted to know WHO started the violence, WHO allowed it to happen, he wanted to know “Who should be held to blame”! Obviously, the answer is never easy or, even available.
Who was to blame?
We could blame the local leaders who fired up the populations into a frenzy of killing (hundreds of thousands of people were slaughtered during the Independence period). We could blame the leaders of Muslim League and Congress who did not come to agreement in such a way that India could have stayed together as one country and there would not have been any bloodshed.
It would be easy to blame Indian Congress Party which held a 95% support in India and who decided they did not want to negotiate anything with Muslim League that held less than 3% support and so they denied Muslims any protective parliamentary positions. Congress Party did not understand that their 95%+ representation was because of their anti-BRITISH position, not because of their Hindu-Muslim relationship, which was pretty much at zero. They did not grasp that once the common enemy (the British) disappeared, Muslims would not support a solidly-Hindu party. Congress’ rejection of proposals by Muslim League, demanding reserved seats in Parliament for Muslims and a percentage of Cabinet seats, caused Muslims to decide that the only way to survive, was to have a separate country in which Muslim rights would be preserved.
Here it would be important to note that the creation of Pakistan was to preserve rights for Muslims, with non-Muslims living as EQUAL citizens. Pakistan failed in its birth promise and has given way to rule of fanatical bullies who have no concern for God, Islam or Humanity, only for their own greed and power.
The blame, if one can hold someone to blame, rests entirely upon the British.
India was partitioned into Pakistan (East & West), based on the 1931 Census and as shown in the map in the Imperial Gazetteer of India 1931. According to that, Kashmir, a Muslim-majority state, was to go to Pakistan, but the Viceroy of India supported Kashmir’s transfer to Indian and worked mightily to make the change so it would go to India, as Nehru, the leader of Congress Party, had wanted (Mountbatten hated the Muslim leaders). This injustice became a festering point between the two states and has led to many battles and wars and increased hostility.
However, the main blame for the bloodshed during the Partition period, was because e the British allowed it to happen. The British commanded all the Police and Military forces in both, India and Pakistan and they deliberately held their forces confined to barracks instead of massive deployment across both countries in order to forestall any violence; the British controlled ALL peace and violence in India, surely they could have held control of the two nations until the transition was completed and an orderly transfer of power and control, could have been managed?
The archivist on the panel made a comment that stuck with me; she said she felt as if she had no roots. Later the next day, when I was talking about the event with my (White American) wife, I told her about the comment and I said, “I too, feel as if I have no roots”. At this, she started to cry and asked me how I could feel that way since I have a family here and have spent more than half my life here.
I told her that I like this place and will certainly die here because I have no intention of leaving, but I do not feel as if my roots have found a place to go down here. Back in Pakistan, people like me (born of immigrants from India) were derided, attacked and relegated to a second-class position and I hated it. In this, my new country, people like me…MUSLIMS…are derided and subject to hate-mongering from all levels of Government and agencies, as well as fellow-Americans and only because I am Muslim. I want to feel like I belong here, but that is tough to do when not a day passes without someone promoting more hate and fear against Muslims and I am fighting against those positions as hard as I can because I want to feel as if this IS my country and it IS where I am looked upon as an equal citizen.
After the event, I met and spoke with a number of people. It seemed to me that there is a great need to discuss the events of Partition more and to have people relate their stories. Partition remains a deep wound which has not been allowed to heal because there is no discussion. I would like to explore the desire to have more talks and then, see if we can start a discussion group that will expand in numbers and allow for deeper discussion.
In the final analysis, I believe the partition of India and creation of Pakistan, could have and should have been prevented, if only reason had been permitted to prevail, instead of a battle of Egos with Mountbatten and Nehru leading. Over 15 MILLION people would not have been rendered homeless refugees, over half a million people would not have lost their lives. That alone, would have been worth the price of staying as one nation.
How many wars could have been avoided? How many TRILLIONS of dollars would not have been spent on war preparation (“Defense”) and could have been channeled into improvements of human lives? It is a crime against God and Humanity, that the two nations have enough weapons too wipe out all life on both countries, but no city has drinkable water. There are no medical facilities worth talking about, nor are there any schools worth the mention, except for a few that cater to the military and the elite…and we can forget about jobs or housing, most of the people in all three nations (including Bangladesh), live below the poverty levels even as defined by those countries.
It is my considered and sad opinion, that the experiment failed miserably. Pakistan failed in protecting its minorities, Pakistan failed to even protect its majority Muslims. On the other hand, India too, failed to protect its minorities and to different degrees, BOTH countries failed to provide a democratic state to their peoples.
Now, the best thing that can happen to the sub-continent, is for all three countries (as a beginning) to come together along the lines of the European Community. Why not start with one country unilaterally stating a policy that anyone from the other country, may visit without a visa? A lot of broken families can have an opportunity to cross into the other country and meet their friends and relatives, whom they may not have seen in decades.
The path to peace and brotherhood is not complicated.
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