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Between the line
 

Distortion of history
August 26, 2009

 

I HAVE returned from the Wagha-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 just blank boards.

The scenes carved out are offensive in expression and deprave in purport. They have been installed in the last two months, probably because the voice of peace with India is gaining strength in Pakistan and because nearly 50 people came to the border, the zero point, for the first time last year to light the candles since independence six decades ago.

I cannot make out why Islamabad—there must be some agency in the government—has to devise ever-new ways to stoke fires of hatred. True, there are mindset bureaucrats and vested interests to promote hostility lest the candles of peace should ever dispel the darkness of discord. But should the history be distorted? Already, the official textbooks in Pakistan begin history from the advent of Islam in India. Mohenjadaro or Taxila has no relevance. Some effort has been initiated by a few intellectuals to correct the history but they have met with little success.

Again, 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 he same sordid spectacle in the newly-born countries, neither less in brutality nor more in compassion. Women and children were the main targets.

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. They were raising slogans of Har Har Mahadav or Ya Ali while piercing sword or spear into one another. Some incidents were captured in the books which were published at that time. Aur Insan mar gaya is the famous book by Ramanand Sagar and Peshawar Express by the eminent Urdu writer, Krishen Chand, to narrate events of how man dies when the Satan in him awakes. Then there are Sadaat Hassan Minto’s short stories in Urdu that tell how the two communities touched the depth of crime and callousness. Even the best of friends killed each other.

I myself travelled from my home town, Sialkot, to Delhi. I saw murder and worse. There was no difference in cruelty or brutality. During the journey, I saw the same pain etched faces—men and women with their meagre belongings bundled on their heads and the fear-stricken children following them. They had left behind their hearth, homes, friends and hopes.

The tragedy is too deep for words. But to convert it into a Hindu and Muslim question is something pathetic. It was a heinous crime that took the toll of 10 lakh people and uprooted two crore Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. For some biased members at Islamabad to plan and depict in reliefs the tragedy of Muslims is meant to whip up hatred against Hindus who were as much at the receiving end in Pakistan as were Muslims in India.

I wish the reliefs had shown the examples of bravery and courage, how Muslims in Pakistan saved thousands of Hindus as the Hindus did in the case of Muslims in India. A study has been made under the guidance of Ashish Nandy, a leading intellectual in India, and it shows that 50 per cent of targeted victims were saved by the two communities on either side.

Nothing could be more futile than an argument about 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 distraction. But it is clear that the differences between Hindus and Muslims had become so acute by the beginning of the forties that something like the partition had become inevitable. That Hindus and Muslims were two separate nations made them increasingly distant to 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 the people of 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 zones with provincial autonomy. The Muslim League could have stopped relations from snapping if it had not resorted to Direct Action in Calcutta on August 16, 1946. That led to what is known as Great Killing when 5,000 people died.

But the history’s ifs are at best hypothetical and at worst subjective. Partition was like the Greek tragedy. All saw what was happening. Still they could do nothing to check it. The climate in the country had become too polluted to escape the carnage and the migration that came in the wake of independence on the night of August 14-15. The speech on August 11, 1947, by Qauide Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, a title given by Mahatma Gandhi, 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 mood of fanatics in that country can be judged from the fact that they suppressed the speech.

Has partition served the purpose of the Muslims? I do not know. During my trips to that country, I have heard people say that they are happy that at least they have “some place” where they feel secure, free of “Hindu domination” or “Hindu aggressiveness.” 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—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 only widen the gulf between the two countries. Instead of apportioning the blame of partition, it would be far better to deal with the enmity and hatred that has been the fallout, keeping the two countries on tenterhooks.


 
 
 
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