• Ramanjit Singh

Partition and Reconciliation

Growing up in India during the 70s and 80s, I was always fascinated with history. I remember visiting places like Ferozepur or Faridkot in Punjab from Delhi. I could see mosques along the way in paces like Rohtak, Hissar, Sirsa or Ambala. Back then these all looked dilapidated and seemed misplaced among the looming encroachments of shops and houses. As if the grandeur of a once established culture was being torn apart by people who had no intention of preserving it. From the train I could make out the old mughalserais jotting the landscape of the Punjab plains. I remember the old marker on a road in Ferozepur that had kilometers to Lahore written on it.

When we reached these places, the thought of West Punjab was always there in the back of our minds. Shops would carry the names of Lyallpur or Lahore or Rawalpindi. There were relatives who came from West Punjab or had ancestral connections to the lehnda Punjab.

I often didn't pay too much attention to what these names really meant, however they have always lingered throughout my life. The violent genesis of Partition is baked into our national psyche and its consequences has manifested in so many ways and in so many different forms, both politically and socially, since post-independence.

Somewhere along the way our people lost their way and got riled up in the schemes of the political elites. Centuries of family linkages got destroyed. Everyone wanted to become pure by ridding themselves of the unwanted. How wrong we collectively were back then and the innocent people who paid the ultimate price for that hatred.

I often wondered about the futility of India's partition. The displacement of so many people. Reading stories about a Maulvi in Kular near Kotla Heran killing his entire family to save their honor as the jathas came to attack them. I read stories about Sikh and Hindu women jumping into the wells at Chak 47. And these acts were repeated in so many towns and villages in Punjab. These were all Punjabis. They all died because they were Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs. People who killed them were Punjabis. People who assisted the killers were Punjabis. Children who died were Punjabis. Mothers who went mad looking for their lost children were Punjabis.

I read about little children sitting next to their dead parents and crying as the rest of the kafila moved on.

For the two nations to move forward we must have accountability of the past. Events of Partition are too often swept aside by statements like "let's not relive the past" or "why rekindle the hatred" and so on. I believe that for India and Pakistan to live peacefully we must have a process of reconciliation and there must be some level of accountability of the holocaust that was committed during the Partition. This will not be an easy task. Most will balk at the mere idea of accountability but the more difficult task would be to record the evidence of individuals who witnessed those events. Not many from that generation are left. And time is running out.

May be the idea of reconciliation should start from the text books that are taught in Indian and Pakistani schools. There is an obvious tendency in the text books to blame the "other" side for all the violence and label the "other" as the oppressor.

One would suggest that for the reconciliation to occur, people on both sides have to first come to terms that some level of reconciliation is indeed needed. May be we simultaneously start from villages such as Thamali or Thoha Khalsa in West Punjab or Talwandi Arain or Khanaur in East Punjab which witnessed whole scale massacre of innocent people.

May be have reconciliation teams on both sides of the border who can setup joint internet conferences between people who can share their stories and relate their experiences. Let them simply talk to each other. Problem with this approach is that so much time has passed, memories have blurred, stories may not be accurate or there will be a tendency to exaggerate or hide the violence committed by one side.

I'm thinking of reconciliation not as a tool to showcase oppression or blame one group over the other and certainly not as a scoring exercise but to accept the reality that our daily life in India or Pakistan is still being affected by the holocaust that took place 70 years ago. There is a soft bigotry of "normalcy" that exists in our countries. The majority is immune to how the minority suffers and how the minority community has to "adjust" to the whims and moods of the majority.

The "blasphemy" laws in Pakistan, the "cow protection" laws in India are now tools for the Majority to oppress the Minorities. People in India would often reject a Muslim family into their housing societies. People in Pakistan would kill anyone at the mere pretense that the person offended Islam. Yes the level of discrimination is obviously less in India than in Pakistan but the current saffron trends in India are going opposite of the secular ideals that the country was founded upon. Recently in UP, the right-wing BJP led state government ordered all the Muslim religious institutions to record videos of their Independence Day celebrations. The main reason for this order is to check how enthusiastically they are "proving" their patriotism towards India.

Partition destroyed sizable populations of the "other" on both sides of the border. Had a sizable portion of Hindus and Sikhs remained in West Punjab, the political track of the country could have taken a different course. However looking at the status of minorities in today's Pakistan I'm not sure what would have been the condition of Hindus and Sikhs had they stayed after Partition. Tenets of the Muslim League was Pakistan for Muslims and therefore the notion that Hindus and Sikhs could have stayed on in Pakistan was not at all feasible.

In India, I'm seeing similar trends of moving the country away from its secular tenets to a more saffron one. There is a strategy of instigating violence that at first looks random but when you connect the dots these events are deliberately planned to create fear among the Muslims.

What will be the result of all this? Should we now think that the so called independence was merely a mechanism for the Majority to construct the narrative of the post-independent India and Pakistan based on its own constructed reality? Does a Muslim Pakistan and Hindu Bharat have no place for a person that doesn't fit into their religious narrative? Is the rise of the BJP and the RSS preordained and is the legacy of Nehru's secular India destined to fail?

Why are the Muslims in Pakistan not on the streets protesting against the killings of Christians and Ahmediyas? Why are the Hindus in India not on the streets protesting against the killings of Muslims? Just like during the Partition, the vigilantes attack and the police are mere spectators. People remain quiet. Rising intolerance manifests into localized massacres. Insaniyat is murdered.

It is not only the religious divide but there is also an economic divide. Lack of jobs is pushing the youth into drug addiction. The social fabric is fragmenting in both the Punjabs.

Partition of 1947 has destroyed all semblance of morality and civility that existed during Undivided India. It has brought out forces that were kept under control by the British. The civil administration during the pre-partition India was more strict on controlling these religious groups and their political sponsors. However during the 1930s and 1940s the political and religious elements co-mingled. Separate electorates that were deliberatly introduced by the British at the turn of the century eventually created a sense of "us versus them". We are still living through the consequences to this day of the blunders that were committed during those years.

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