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Point Of No Return

- Ramanjit Singh

Imagining a United Punjab in 2017 is not only a mirage but it implies that we have not understood the deep schisms that have festered in the past 70 years since the Partition. Sometimes I get too hopeful listening to progressive viewpoints emanating from both sides of the border and think that may be an open border or a more unified Punjabi entity can be formed but then I look at the current hostilities and think that this is never going to happen.

Barring those born in Undivided India and who still remember the days when Hindus and Muslims were living in harmony, we are now three generations apart from that pre-partition generation. With such a gap, the new generation of Punjabis on both sides of the border harbor suspicion and hatred that is difficult to overcome. Lack of trust, bundling everything that other side does through the prism of Kashmir or Terrorism is not helping the two sides to come to terms with each other or to create some sort of amicable or peaceful coexistence as neighbors. The right-wing and the media on both sides keeps to it that any proximity between the two sides is only brief and inconsequential. In the long term we have created an unending sequence of blame and counter-blame politics that keeps us from coming together. This has been going on since the partition of India in 1947.

Looking at the screaming and clownish TV anchors blaming India for all the problems that Pakistan faces, and conversely blaming Pakistan for all the problems India is facing in Kashmir is not helping anyone. There must be an alternative narrative of why South Asia is still mired in brutal poverty and why the Human Development Index is below sub-saharan Africa and why both countries are spending billions in defense and spending all their energy on non-productive policies. Doesn't a child born in Lahore or Delhi have a right to live and grow in an environment that gives him or her every right to food, health, and education?

When are we going to come out of the medieval mentality that identifies every human in terms of his or her religious or caste affiliation and how that person should live or behave in the society?

If you are born as a minority in Pakistan then you live in perpetual fear of anti-blasphemy zealots. If people like the late Governor of West Punjab Salman Taseer is not spared by these zealots or the Christian couple that was burned alive in a brick kiln or when Ahmediyas or Shias are slaughtered in their own mosques then what can be said about the rest of the minorities. In Pakistan, an extremist interpretation of Sunni Islam is paramount and everything else is secondary and expendable.

If you are born as a Muslim or any other minority in India then you live in a perpetual fear of being harassed or being killed for any behavior that is perceived as anti Hindu. If a teenager like Junaid Khan can be killed in a train by a mob on a mere pretense that he's carrying beef then what can be said about the rest. Yes India's foundation was based on secular ideals and provides an inclusive constitutional rights to everyone but in all practical terms these rights are being destroyed by extremists. The very idea of a new India died two years ago when Ikhelaq was killed by a mob in his house on a suspicion that he had beef in his refrigerator. These zealots didn't care that his son was in the Indian Air Force, they looked at Ikhelaq as the "other", a hold-out of Partition that didn't belong in India.

Mahatama Gandhi did not celebrate the independence, and in July 1947 he said the following

"I cannot rejoice on August 15. I do not want to deceive you. But at the same time I shall not ask you not to rejoice. Unfortunately the kind of freedom we have got today contains also the seeds of future conflict between India and Pakistan. How can we therefore light the lamps?"

The seeds of future conflict were there for everyone to see in July of 1947. The mere thought that in summer of 1947 no one knew what the future would hold for the two countries are sticking their heads in the sand. Everyone knew that the killing fields of Punjab and Bengal were laying a permanent foundation of how these two countries will treat each other in the future.

I have seen the photographs of Mountbatten, Nehru and Jinnah working in Delhi with the calendar on the wall that said "Countdown to Aug 15", and according to Mountbatten the idea was to speed up the partition process, thus in that haste no thought was given to the law and order situation, no plan was in place to deploy military personnel in the sensitive areas where the chances of violence were very high. British soldiers didn't want to put their lives on the line for what the natives were doing to each other.

No one thought about the morning after.

What will happen after August 15? What will happen to those living in Lahore or Delhi who became the "other" overnight? The initiative was lost to the ground game that both sides had engineered to ethnically cleanse the "other" from their midst. Horrendous violence in Sheikhupura, Lahore, Amritsar and in Delhi was not a sudden manifestation of mob violence, the hatred had festered over the year and exploded in August and there was no one to stop it.

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