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Now You Are Free

Ramanjit Singh

At the Ferozepur - Kasur border, December 2018

After independence, India 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 countries around us. This tolerance stems from the teachings of Hinduism and Islam which 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. In India, to a large extent, this has been true but this framework is slowly being degraded in the last few years. The slow burn of anti-Muslim politics and the biased media showcasing a more extremist viewpoint as "normal" is destroying the very institutions that protect our civil liberties, human rights and democracy. Questioning one's citizenship, lynch mobs who kill Muslims with impunity is turning India into an intolerant and a fascist state. Although the situation of the minorities in India is better than what we see in the neighboring countries, however, the very fact that we are seeing a gradual rise of communal politics masquerading as patriotism being played out in front of us is alarming and needs to be stopped.

Any protest is labeled anti-national, anyone questioning the government policies is called a terrorist by the media.

We are acting against our own self interest as a nation and as a people when we go down the path of vilifying an entire community to achieve one's political goals. Fear and hatred cannot sustain a country, we don't want our children to consume that hatred. We don't want to convert India into a theocratic state. We don't want to end up like our neighbor where one's religion becomes the sole determinant of who is a true patriot. 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.

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 under strict blasphemy laws. 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 deservingly 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 open or in a seminary. How the killer of Salman Taseer was feted by the public and his lawyers is still etched in my mind. 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 genuine 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 any more 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. 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 the 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 roots. I do not think the ordinary Pakistanis carry this hatred, it's the establishment on both sides that want to maintain a steady state of friction, division and hate. Their history begins from the arrival of the first Arab invader. Ashoka is forgotten but Mohammad bin Qasim is considered as 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. 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 lose all 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. Maybe things were too complicated for a person like me to understand, but maybe 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. Reference links: "They set them all on fire" "Ghungrali Rajputan" Interview by Mr. Khaliq Gujjar

1 Comment

Shamsul Islam
Shamsul Islam
Aug 19, 2020

Thanks for penning and sharing this important piece on the rising tide of religious bigotry both in Pakistan and India. The worrying issue is that Pakistan with the Islamist seeds was/is destined to the fate known to all of us. But India which was proud to be a democratic-secular polity is taking the path to destruction which Pakistan took 73 years back under the present RSS-BJP rulers who were never committed to the principles of democracy and secularism.

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