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No Turning Back

- Ramanjit Singh

Sikh and Hindu refugees from the Western Punjab, cook their meals on a railway platform at Lahore awaiting trains to take them across the border to India. They are protected by wire put up by police. 1947. Time on the clock shows 5:25 pm.

If we hypothesize a scenario where the Partition of India had not taken place, then what would have been a possible outcome for a united India, especially in the northwestern part of the country that is now in Pakistan? I think a preview of one potential outcome was already evident in 1946 and early 1947. Even during British rule, there was almost a constant state of one-sided religious violence against the Hindus and Sikhs. The situation in the NWFP and western Punjab in late 1946 was precarious at best. The situation in Mianwali, Bannu, and Campbellpur (now Attock) in 1946 is well documented in the Partition literature. Cases of murders and kidnappings were already being reported from this part of the country during that year.

The ethnic cleansing in March 1947 in the district of Rawalpindi is probably the best evidence of what was in store for the non-Muslims had there been no Partition. The religious divide boiled over to an inflection point where there was no turning back. Even if Partition had been delayed for a couple of years (as urged by some in Congress), it would not have stopped the inevitable apocalypse that was staring us in the face.

It was not only the constant fear of violence, but, more importantly, it was also the constant rise of communal tensions that was making the lives of the non-Muslims untenable in these areas. Think about the constant fear of forced conversions and kidnappings of women; the same reality that the Hindus, Sikhs, and others face today in Pakistan would have occurred on a greater scale had the Partition not taken place. The idea that somehow the Indian army or the police would have gone into these areas to stem the violence is preposterous. If the Indian Army was not able to control the situation in Punjab in 1946–47, how would it have fared in post-independent India with a weak central government?

I think by the early 1950s, we would have seen a situation similar to that of Yugoslavia with the creation of ethnic enclaves in every corner of the country, where Hindus would have treated the Muslims the same way in the Hindu majority states based on how the Muslims were treating the Hindus in the Muslim majority states. Each community would have become a hostage to the other, and that could have led to mass migration of communities to those parts of the country where they were in the majority.

By 1947, even without a physical partition, the partition of minds had already taken place. The inevitable division was a natural next step to formalize this divide. Remember that it was the Muslim League that forced Partition on us; the Congress simply agreed to it for the sake of saving the rest of the country from that disaster. On several occasions, Nehru and others identified Pakistan as a cancerous growth that had to be cut off from the rest of the country. The reason they considered it a cancer was because they knew that this mutation, if not dealt with, would have consumed the rest of the country. It would have also put the lives of the Indian Muslims in the majority Hindu provinces in a dangerous situation. The idea was to save the essence of India, the secular state, from a cancer that was going to destroy its very soul. Sadly, these days we are seeing the same fanatical mentality in India, giving credence to Jinnah’s two-nation theory. We are becoming our own worst enemies.

In Pakistan today, for many people, it is considered a kind of "victory" to kidnap, convert a Hindu girl and marry her off to a Muslim. The public speeches by groups like Labbaik and others against Hindus, Sikhs, and other minorities are for everyone to see (just like how Bajrang Dal and the RSS spew hate against the Indian Muslims in India). These very groups would have made our lives a living hell. The constant battle to proselytize others into Islam is engrained in the minds of a large section of Pakistan's rural society. The very first thing they will think of you is that "if you are not a Muslim, you must become one," and then every other calculation starts from there. In the minds of these religious fanatics, there is no higher act in the name of Islam for a "true" Pakistani than to kidnap and convert a Hindu or Sikh girl. This is already happening now; what do you think would have happened if a large number of Hindus and Sikhs had remained there?

Today, there are clerics who boast of kidnapping and converting hundreds of Hindu girls. The conversion of a Hindu boy was broadcast live on a TV channel recently. We would have ended up dealing with these fanatics in every district of Punjab. Not to say we would not have fought back, but as in the case of Rawalpindi, Multan, and other places with significantly fewer numbers, the results would not have gone our way. I recently learned of an aftermath of a mob killing a non-Muslim over alleged blasphemy charges. As the mob was attacking their homes, a child ran out of the house screaming “Run, run, the clerics are coming! They will kill us". This would have been our fate.

You see, we will always find stories of peaceful and mutual coexistence between communities. But the hatred towards non-Muslims in the 1940s that eventually boiled over was too strong to ignore. For many Muslims in Punjab, opposition to the idea of Pakistan was an act of blasphemy that required a violent response. In this charged atmosphere, a pause in the Partition was just delaying the inevitable. There was very little to no chance for anyone to protect the minorities in these areas for too long.

The direct-action campaign of the Muslim League to create Pakistan only for Muslims had no place for the rest of us. Their slogan of Pakistan only for Muslims was juxtaposed by our slogan of India that belongs to all. There was no willingness to acquiesce to our demands for everyone to live peacefully in a united India. We were already separated from their minds; the physical separation was pending. You cannot rationalize with someone with a bloodlust who is willing to destroy anything and everything that comes in the way of an objective that cannot be denied or questioned. The situation on the ground was one of a religious crusade, a relentless war to create a separate homeland for one community alone. In this context, there was no other logical outcome other than to partition India.

India could have remained united, but the single line of Partition that divides the two countries today would have instead resulted in multiple lines running throughout the country, dividing it further into separate "states within a state", and in that situation even a semblance of governance would have been next to impossible. I can also imagine enclaves within northwestern India as "no-go" areas where police would not have dared to enter to protect their non-Muslim citizens.

We were simply being crowded out by the growing Muslim population in the northwest. The 1941 census of India was a clear example of how the trends in population growth were not in our favor. We didn’t stand a chance to forge any type of defense against this onslaught. Had there been a delay of another few years for Partition to take place, then I am certain that the border of Pakistan would have been near Delhi and not Lahore.

To say that India was majority Hindu betrays the fact that the areas that really mattered the most to India were the western and northwestern parts, the pre-partition Punjab, and in these areas the demographics were working against us. Having a Hindu majority in states in the South (Deccan), Central (MP), or Northern (UP) was inconsequential because numbers there didn’t matter, and it did not provide any counterbalance against a place where it was really needed the most, in a place where we were looking for ways to safeguard our own lives, in a place where their population density was overwhelmingly greater than the rest of us combined.

You must be thinking that this looks like a very pessimistic outcome and that diversity is not a strength but a weakness. This cannot be farther from the truth. India's strength lies in its diversity, where Muslims, Hindus, and other communities are all equal citizens. We must make India a success story. Those who wanted to leave did so 77 years ago. Now it is left to us to prove them wrong by making India a safer and more prosperous nation for all.


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