Now you are free

At the Ferozepur - Kasur border, December 2018

It may be irrelevant now after seven decades to think about the logic of partitioning people on the basis of religion. One country's trajectory carried with it contradictory identities of what it meant to be a Pakistani. Ask a Hindu or a Sikh whose daughter is kidnapped and converted. Ask an Ahmedi or a Christian how they have fared in this Pak dharti.

Meaning of Pakistan was evident soon after independence when there was wide spread ethnic cleansing of Ahmedis in Punjab. The same Ahmadis or Qadianis who were in the forefront of the Pakistan movement. They were not considered Muslims in a country that was only meant for Muslims. Nobody cared about Jinnah after he passed away or what he had said in his August 11th speech to the constituent assembly in Karachi.

Whatever Jinnah had said in his speech about "You are free to go to your temples..." is analyzed and interpreted with a secular spin by academics but that discussion is restricted within the convenient confines of Literary Festivals of Lahore and is rejected by the masses. They dare not say the same things out in Gawalmandi. How the killer of Salman Taseer was feted by the public and his lawyers is still etched in my mind. This is their identity.

There seems to be an inferiority complex among the Pakistani establishment. They had to explicitly call their country "Islamic Republic" as if the fact that the country is 99% Muslim was not enough. Somehow they needed to really prove that they are an Islamic state. Same way a newly converted deendar has to convince the rest that he is a Muslim too. No Hindu can ever be their Prime Minister or President because their constitution says so.

Who are they? Is this a Sunni country? What about Shias? What about the minorities what's left of them? Are they Turkish? Are they Arab? They are certainly not Indian as they abhor anything related to India. Festivals like Basant are forgotten as it reminds them of their Indian past. Are they baraadars in the larger Muslim umma? Are they considered equals by the rest of the Islamic countries? Answer is clearly no. Just ask a Pakistani working in the Gulf countries if they are considered baraadar by the Arabs. To the rest of the world they are tied to India regardless of whatever claim they make. They may have rejected India but the world sees them as Indians. You can judge from a signboard in front of the Pakistani restaurants in the west, always they will hyphenate with India or as Indo-Pak, as if just calling it exclusively Pakistani is incomplete without India, or more importantly without their Indian patrons.

I believe the reason for "anything but Indian" attitude stems from the fact that they link India with Hindus. To like India is to like Hindus. And this doesn't go well among the Pakistani establishment or among the opinion makers or mullahs. There is a clear mental boundary that exists in their mindset that is impossible to break. A Muslim Rajput in Pakistan forgets that his ancestors were Hindus. Muslim Jatts in Pakistan forget that their ancestors were Sikhs. I don't understand this mindset of hating India or their Indian/Hindu roots.

Their history begins from the arrival of the first Arab invader. Ashoka is forgotten but Mohammad bin Qasim is considered one of their own. Their missiles are named after Abdali, Ghori and Ghazni who were Afghans and Persians and who had plundered Punjab and killed both Muslims and non-Muslims alike. But somehow this too is forgotten. These days they love their Turkish television series about Muslim invaders. It makes them happy. Their identity shifts based on television series. Today they are Turkish, tomorrow something else. It seems according to them white Muslims or fair skinned Muslims are genuine Muslims. A Bengali or a Bihari Muslim is considered more or less an Indian in disguise. You can look at how General Yahya Khan described the Bengalis in private to understand this mindset better.

Was Islam in danger in the 1920s, or in the 30s or in the previous century? But why was Islam in danger in the mid-1940s? If the 1857 war of independence can be fought together by the Muslims and Hindus then what was so different in 1947? Was not a single largest consolidated Muslim population in a united India a better option both politically and demographically rather than to have it split into three separate entities and loose that political power? After the riots in Calcutta in 1946, why were Jinnah and Nehru not able to comprehend the widespread bloodshed that would engulf the country? For the sake of protecting the lives of millions of ordinary people, why did the political elite at the time not think about doing everything possible to not partition the country? Were they too busy in their political one-upmanship that the resulting disaster was considered a mere nuisance?

Conservative estimates are about 2 million people died in Punjab and Bengal alone. For what? In Pakistan they are called Shaheed? If you had told them in January 1947 that the price of Pakistan is to see their daughters being kidnapped or they will be killed or they will be forcefully removed from their ancestral land, they would have said that you are out of your mind. Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs were living together for centuries.

Political elites knew from the events in Bengal in 1946 and Rawalpindi in March of 1947 that partition will lead to wide spread bloodshed. After all they had the pulse of their people. But they deliberately ignored it. Muslim League and Khaksars were storing kerosene in Jhelum in the spring of 1947. The Sikh riyasats of Patiala and Kapurthala in conjunction with the Akalis and RSS were adopting similar tactics in east Punjab. They all knew what was coming. When things got out of control in the months of June and July, still nothing was done to delay or pause the process. Mountabatten had a countdown calendar in his office and the natives had to follow it through.

May be things were too complicated for a person like me to understand, but may be not.

Pockets of predominantly Hindu districts like Tharparkar in Sindh were given to Pakistan. Large Muslim dominated areas in east Punjab were given to India. Hindu and Sikh developed areas of Sargodha, Lyallpur and Montgomery went to Pakistan. Lahore which was predominantly Hindu owned in terms of commerce and real estate went to Pakistan. Partition was botched by the ruling elites. British never cared about us and the new masters were too busy hosting tea parties with foreign dignitaries in the lush gardens of Delhi and Karachi to be bothered by what was going on in Ghunghrali Rajputan or Chakwal. Partition had no winners, everyone lost in this final act of the Greek tragedy.

After independence, India too is forgetting that what made India great is its secular ethos that has been part of its DNA since the dawn of history. We as people of India are tolerant of others, consider diversity as our strength. Those who invaded us eventually became part of us. Religion is a personal matter and economic development is the primary goal of the government. And the fact that Indian constitution gives equal rights to all lndians regardless of their religion or caste is what makes the country stand out from the rest of the failed states around us. This tolerance stems from the teachings of Hinduism and Islam which I think are benevolent, tolerant and these teachings form the basic nature of the people in a country like India. No religion teaches hatred and how people live in a country depends on two important things.

Firstly, the majority needs to be tolerant and that is primarily based on the faith it follows. Secondly, whether the constitution and the secular institutions provide ample protections to everyone. That is why Indians love to move to Western countries because they feel safe and can live peacefully without being bracketed into different vote banks. In India, to a large extent, this has been true but this framework is being slowly degraded in the last few years.

The slow burn of anti-Muslim politics and the biased print and electronic media showcasing a more extremist viewpoint as "normal" is destroying the institutions that protect human rights. Vigilantism, questioning one's citizenship, lynch mobs who kill on a mere pretext that a person is carrying beef is against the very idea of India. Obviously the situation of the minorities in India is hundred times better than in the neighboring countries but the very fact that we are seeing similar communal politics masquerading as patriotism being played out in front of us is very alarming and needs to be stopped. We are acting against our own self interest as a nation and as a people. Fear and hatred cannot sustain a country, we don't want our children to consume that hatred. We don't want a theocratic state, nor do we want to end up like our neighbor.

To make a better future for our children, there's only one thing that would make their lives better and that is building a country that accepts diversity and tolerates religious differences. That the majority of the population is secular, educated, and bans those politicians who play one community against the other. Those who stay silent are complicit in empowering hatred which is then ultimately used against each other. We don't want people who are silent and complicit, we need more protectors than attackers. Only those countries that use these tenets as a foundation for their social and political discourse will succeed in the 21st century. The rest will crumble from their own ignorance and failures.

Reference links:

"They set them all on fire"

"Ghungrali Rajputan" Interview by Mr. Khaliq Gujjar

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