Iftikar Malik writes:
The Land Alienation Act of 1901 had not only allowed an uninterrupted official bias in support of rural Punjab, it also widened the gulf between the Muslim peasants and Hindu/Khatri sahukar. The induction of modern civic institutions such as the railways and schools only enlarged the cultural divisions among the Punjabis on the basis of their creed and caste which, in line with the popular dictum of Hindu Pani, Muslim Pani, further regimented the erstwhile processes of segregation. By default, modernisation only exacerbated divisions instead of playing the role of a leveller and in the process these classifications only turned more acute.
The architects of modern South Asia, who largely caused the dissolution of the empire by replacing it with a Westphalian state system, were humanists par excellence and had never imagined the relationship among the post-colonial states to be based on hatred and violence. Gandhi’s last fast was to help Muslims in India, besides putting pressure on the Nehru government to release funds and assets due to Pakistan. Jinnah not only wished India well even amidst the communal mayhem but also left most of his personal assets for educational institutions in India, not to mention the fact that a few months earlier he had purchased a new accommodation therein as well. From amongst several queries, there may be three questions that one can debate in the context of the history of Punjab, and to which one may attempt some partial answers that remain major intellectual challenges for an inquisitive mind. First, beginning with the articulation of parallel or even competing identities since the Rebellion of 1857, why is it that Punjabi consciousness took separate ways, branching into politicised or even communalised Hindu, Muslim and Sikh collectivities instead of building up a combined platform overriding such parallel delineations?
- Iftikar H. Malik