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  • Ramanjit Singh

Muslim Migration from India to Pakistan after Partition


Author Omar Khalidi's book "FROM TORRENT TO TRICKLE: INDIAN MUSLIM MIGRATION TO PAKISTAN, 1947—97" has several important facts about the migration of Indian Muslims to Pakistan. Although the later migrations fell to a trickle in the 1990s, it still pointed to the kind of conditions prevailing in India that were forcing them to move to Pakistan. Most of these migrations resulted from discrimination and a general anti-Muslim environment prevailing in India.

In one example, the author publishes a letter written by Prime Minister Nehru on December 1, 1953 to the Chief Ministers of northern Indian states:

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"A fair number of Muslims cross over to Pakistan from India, via Rajasthan and Sindh daily. Why do these Muslims cross over to Pakistan at the rate of three to four thousand a month? This is worth inquiring into, because it is not to our credit that this should be so. Mostly they come from Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan or Delhi. It is evident that they do not go there unless there is some fear or pressure on them. Some may go in the hope of employment there. But most of them appear to feel that there is no great future for them in India.

I have already drawn your attention to difficulties in the way of Government service. Another reason, I think, is the fear of the Evacuee Property Laws (EPL). I have always considered these laws both in India and Pakistan as most iniquitous. In trying to punish a few guilty persons, we punish or injure large numbers of perfectly innocent people... the pressure of the EPL applies to almost all Muslims in certain areas of India. They cannot easily dispose of their property or carry on trade for fear that the long arm of this law might hold them down in its grip. Is is this continuing fear that comes in the way of normal functioning and normal business and exercises a powerful pressure on large number of Muslims in India, especially in the North and the West."

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The impact of Evacuee Property Laws and discriminatory lending policies on Muslim businesses after Partition resulted in a second wave of Muslim migration to Pakistan in the 1950s and 1960s and this migration was vividly depicted in Balraj Sahni's film "Garam Hawa".

After Partition, large number of Indian Muslims felt marooned in India, regardless of the secular constitution of India guaranteeing equal rights to all citizens, the loyalty of Muslims was questioned. However, with the passage of time the new Muslim arrivals (called Mohajirs) were also less welcomed in Pakistan. In a letter published in Dawn on 18th January, 1948, a newly arrived Indian Mohajir writes:

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"I feel it is the struggle and sacrifices of people like us that went a long way towards the realization of Pakistan. Or is it that we were cleverly duped and Pakistan was meant for the people of Punjab, Sindh, Baluchistan, Bengal and Frontier, and not for every Musalman of India?"

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After mid 1970s the Muslim migration to Pakistan reduced to a trickle. The relative decline of anti-Muslim violence and firm control of law and order by central and state governments erased much of the toxic environment that Muslims had earlier experienced after Partition. And psychologically the Indian Muslims were less inclined towards Pakistan and were reconciled to sink or swim within India.

One of the evidence that the author provides to highlight the reduction of Muslim migration to Pakistan is a startling statistic published by Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi, that the number of cross-border marriages between Indian and Pakistani Muslims declined from 40,000 a year in 1950s and 1960s to just 300 by 1995.

After reading through what the author has described in the book, it raises more questions about the validity of the two-nation theory and the rational of splitting British India into two countries. According to the 1951 census, India had more Muslims than Pakistan (at the time West Pakistan). In their zeal to carve out Pakistan, why did the Muslim League not address what would happen to millions of Muslims that would remain in India? Did no one realize that Partition would be disastrous and would lead to mass migration and killings? That the remainder of Muslims in India would face discrimination and backlash for being the main culprits behind the division of India. May be the counter argument is that by getting West and East Pakistan, Jinnah was successful in "saving" as many Muslims from the so called Hindu dominated India. Yes there would still be Muslims in India but that is a small price to pay for the larger good. I however completely disagree with this argument.

The mere fact that India in 1951 had more Muslims than West Pakistan negates the whole idea of a two nation theory. The ground reality was that majority of Muslims stayed in India and they chose India as their homeland. The discrimination that they faced after Partition was unjust and it played right into the hands of Pakistan thus justifying its creation.

In the book "Freedom at Midnight", it is mentioned that Jinnah asked for land corridors to East Pakistan and may be other parts of India where there was a Muslim majority. It seems like for Jinnah, Pakistan existed wherever Muslims existed. Not only this notion was unrealistic but it also points to the sheer irrationality that was prevailing at the time. Had India remained united in the form of a loose federation espoused by Cabinet Mission Plan, the socio-economic conditions of Muslims would have been much better, not to mention that it would have prevented forced evacuations and the killings of hundreds of thousands of innocent people.

Another thing I have learned about the Partition is that when anyone talks about a separate homeland, one has to realize the impact or repercussion it will have on the people who live on the fray or on the edges of one's presumed homeland, who do not belong to that majority or support their cause. Think about the Muslims in India's interior, or the Hindus living in the Frontier, or the Sikhs in the outskirts of Multan or Rawalpindi. Because these are the people whose survival depends on the good will of those who are demanding a separate homeland. I say this because they are the canaries in a coal mine. They are the ones who would suffer the most, they are the ones who would be the first victims of someone else's political aim. In one's zeal to call for a Direct Action, one should think twice as to what would happen to these people who are out numbered and find themselves in the wrong side of the country. But none of this thinking was in the minds of those who were jostling for power in the summer days of 1947.

In 1947, there was no counter argument being made within the Muslim political class that the physical boundaries of Pakistan only consisted of those provinces in the western part of India and East Bengal and it did not take into account the millions of Muslims who were living outside of that geographical area. What about the millions of Muslims who live in India? Where will they go? Moreover, will the Sindhis and the Punjabis welcome the Urdu speaking Muslims from India's interior? India's Muslims are not tied to a specific ethnicity or geography as West and East Pakistan came to be. In my view, a Punjabi Muslim's Pakistan did not have a place for a Muslim from Agra, Lucknow or Bhopal. But sadly, the All India Muslim League was full of politicians from these very cities who were clamoring for a new country but didn't realize at the time that they will feel out of place in Pakistan. Some of the elites from UP such as Liaqat Ali Khan moved out but millions of Muslims remained in India and chose not to leave.

The core of the Muslim cultural heritage is in India. The Mughal capitals of Delhi and Agra are in India. The Muslim cultural capitals of Lucknow, Mysore and Hyderabad are in India. How does one leave all of this and go to areas that are exclusively Sindhi, Punjabi, Bengali or Pashtun? Why would anyone want to do that? Nobody talked about the fallacy of creating a country in the name of Islam where majority of Muslims would still end up in India.

In one sense, pre-Partition India was already Pakistan, all but in a name. Jinnah muddied it up by breaking the Muslim community into different parts. Muslims with its combined population could have dominated the cultural, social and economic aspects of post-Partition India. The notion that Islam needed to be saved from the Hindus belies the fact that Muslims always had dominated India since centuries and there was no one stopping them in excelling again in a secular and free India. One can argue that the better approach of "saving Islam" was to keep the Muslim population intact and to further consolidate its political power rather than splitting it into different parts.

Here's the speech given by Mohammad Ali Jinnah in Lahore 1940, putting forth his demand for a separate homeland for Muslims. Other than providing a philosophical justification of a complete separation from the Hindus, he does not propose what would be the geographical scope of this new nation. Whether it will consist of the Muslim provinces in western India or will it include the Muslims in central India. No one at that time believed that the separate homeland would result in one of the biggest genocide in human history. Had it been known back then of the impending disaster resulting in the loss of so many lives and uprooting of millions of people, I don't think Jinnah's demand for Pakistan would have had any takers other than the established feudal lords of Punjab or the political elites from the cities who had nothing to lose from Partition.

And this issue of what Pakistan would look like was never really settled until the summer of 1947. Some excerpts from Jinnah's speech in 1940:

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"It is extremely difficult to appreciate why our Hindu friends fail to understand the real nature of Islam and Hinduism. They are not religions in the strict sense of the word, but are, in fact, different and distinct social orders; and it is a dream that the Hindus and Muslims can ever evolve a common nationality; and this misconception of one Indian nation has gone far beyond the limits and is the cause of more of our troubles and will lead India to destruction if we fail to revise our notions in time. The Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs, and literature[s]. They neither intermarry nor interdine together, and indeed they belong to two different civilisations which are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions. Their aspects [=perspectives?] on life, and of life, are different. It is quite clear that Hindus and Mussalmans derive their inspiration from different sources of history. They have different epics, their heroes are different, and different episode[s]. Very often the hero of one is a foe of the other, and likewise their victories and defeats overlap. To yoke together two such nations under a single state, one as a numerical minority and the other as a majority, must lead to growing discontent, and final. destruction of any fabric that may be so built up for the government of such a state.

History has presented to us many examples, such as the Union of Great Britain and Ireland, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. History has also shown to us many geographical tracts, much smaller than the sub-continent of India, which otherwise might have been called one country, but which have been divided into as many states as there are nations inhabiting them. [The] Balkan Peninsula comprises as many as seven or eight sovereign states. Likewise, the Portuguese and the Spanish stand divided in the Iberian Peninsula. Whereas under the plea of unity of India and one nation which does not exist, it is sought to pursue here the line of one central government, when we know that the history of the last twelve hundred years has failed to achieve unity and has witnessed, during these ages, India always divided into Hindu India and Muslim India. The present artificial unity of India dates back only to the British conquest and is maintained by the British bayonet, but the termination of the British regime, which is implicit in the recent declaration of His Majesty's Government, will be the herald of the entire break-up, with worse disaster than has ever taken place during the last one thousand years under the Muslims. Surely that is not the legacy which Britain would bequeath to India after one hundred fifty years of her rule, nor would Hindu and Muslim India risk such a sure catastrophe.

Muslim India cannot accept any constitution which must necessarily result in a Hindu majority government. Hindus and Muslims brought together under a democratic system forced upon the minorities can only mean Hindu Raj. Democracy of the kind with which the Congress High Command is enamoured would mean the complete destruction of what is most precious in Islam. We have had ample experience of the working of the provincial constitutions during the last two and a half years, and any repetItion of such a government must lead to civil war and [the] raising of private armies, as recommended by Mr. Gandhi to [the] Hindus of Sukkur when he said that they must defend themselves violently or non-violently, blow for blow, and if they could not they must emigrate.

Mussalmans are not a minority as it is commonly known and understood. One has only got to look round. Even today, according to the British map of India, out of eleven provinces, four provinces where the Muslims dominate more or less, are functioning notwithstanding the decision of the Hindu Congress High Command to non-cooperate and prepare for civil disobedience. Mussalmans are a nation according to any definition of a nation, and they must have their homelands, their territory, and their state. We wish to live in peace and harmony with our neighbours as a free and independent people. We wish our people to develop to the fullest our spiritual, cultural, economic, social, and political life, in a way that we think best and in consonance with our own ideals and according to the genius of our people. Honesty demands [that we find], and [the] vital interest[s] of millions of our people impose a sacred duty upon us to find, an honourable and peaceful solution, which would be just and fair to all. But at the same time we cannot be moved or diverted from our purpose and objective by threats or intimidations. We must be prepared to face all difficulties and consequences, make all the sacrifices that may be required of us, to achieve the goal we have set in front of us."

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To be fair, Jinnah's mistrust of the Congress was not without merit. It was Nehru who had rejected the Cabinet Mission Plan. In a free India with a Hindu majority, it would have been a difficult task to campaign for an equitable Muslim political representation in the central government. However, I think that the means to that end was not to split the Muslims but instead to consolidate and leverage the fairly large Muslim population in order to demand an equal share in the government. There were several provinces that were already run by the Muslim League and it would have been better to take advantage of that reality and use it as a leverage to further extend its power in other parts of India.


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