The politics behind observing ‘Horrors of Partition Remembrance Day’

Mass migration during partition of subcontinent in 1947 | Picture: The Tribune

To have genuine remembrance of the horrors of partition of the subcontinent, one should take a leaf from Germany where they have included the horrors of the holocaust in the school curriculum, with the solemn purpose to educate its young generation and not allow it to repeat. For this to happen in the sub-continent, and not allow this to be turned into another Hindu-Muslim demonization and alienation exercise, all three countries India, Pakistan and Bangladesh should join hands and choose one date to jointly have the Remembrance of the Horrors of the Partition. 

Mushtaque Rahamat |

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On August 15, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation from the rampart of the Red Fort in New Delhi. In his 90 minutes long address, he touched upon many subjects, including the praise of his tenure. As a departure from the customary contents of the address, he proposed to remember the horrors of the participation on August 14. The idea sounds innocuous and noble as there is no denying the fact that death and destruction during the partition in 1947 was one of the greatest tragedies ever befell on the hapless Indian subcontinent.

The departing British government on 14-15 August 1947 divided the Indian subcontinent into two parts – Hindu majority India and the Muslim dominated Pakistan (East Pakistan was created by dividing Bengal and West Pakistan comprised of Western Punjab, Sindh, NWFP and the parts of Balochistan). Although the exact reason and the persons responsible for this partition has long been a matter of debate among scholars. In India, the blame is generally placed on Mohammad Ali Jinnah who on the other hand is regarded as Quaid-e-Azam in Pakistan. It is interesting to note that Jinnah, a British educated and trained lawyer was once a votary of Hindu-Muslim amity and is known as the brain behind Lucknow Pact. The Lucknow Pact was an agreement reached between the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League (AIMLM) at a joint session of both the parties held in Lucknow in December 1916. Through the pact, the two parties agreed to allow representation to religious minorities in the provincial legislatures.

Hindus and Muslims had lived for millennia together since the first appearance of Muslims in the Sindh region (now part of Pakistan) and the Muslim traders arriving on the ports Malabar (now Kerala). The communities in India before the arrival of Britishers were not recognised and referred by their faith as William Dalrymple put it in his article published in the New Yorker (published in June 2015) “The Great Divide”. He wrote, “The newcomers are identified by linguistic and ethnic affiliation, most typically as Turushka—Turks—which suggests that they were not seen primarily in terms of their religious identity. Similarly, although the conquests themselves were marked by carnage and by the destruction of Hindu and Buddhist sites, India soon embraced and transformed the new arrivals. Within a few centuries, a hybrid Indo-Islamic civilization emerged, along with hybrid languages— notably Deccani and Urdu—which mixed the Sanskrit-derived vernaculars of India with Turkish, Persian, and Arabic words.”

The reference to the conquests by the central Asian tribes of Indian territories and later the establishment of Delhi Sultanat as Muslim is a fairly new phenomenon after the arrival of the East India Company and their penchant to study and look at history from their perspective. They came from a region that has a vast and bloody history of religious strife, power struggle and identity based on faith. Europe, though a homogenous region in terms of culture, was divided by alliances and opposition to the Church. The renaissance itself was preceded by the criticism of the ever-powerful church and its corruption. Therefore, for them, religious identity came first in studying alien societies which were albeit not so homogenous rather a blend of complexities of language, region, caste and religion. The foreign occupying powers failed to appreciate, which had unintended consequences, the Hindu and Muslim rivalry.

More than 14 million, according to one estimate, migrated in both directions and what came to be known as India and Pakistan and in ensuing migration some 200,000 to 2 million never made it. Punjab and Bengal, the two states sharing borders with Pakistan witnessed the worst carnage, lootings, massacre, forced conversion, mass abduction, and sexual violence. According to William Dalrymple, some 75000 women were raped, and many of them were disfigured or dismembered in Punjab and Bengal alone. It won’t be wrong to say that the horror of the partition is the same to the communities of the Indian sub-continent as the horrors of the holocaust is to the Jews of Germany and Europe. As Ayesha Jalal puts it, “A defining moment that is neither beginning nor end, the partition continues to influence how the peoples and states of postcolonial South Asia envisage their past, present and future.”

The invoking of this horror of the partition by the Indian Prime Minister is good to an extent only as we must not forget this horror is shared by Pakistan and now Bangladesh as well. Our experiences of such remembrance and declaration haven’t borne good faith, harmony and social cohesion. The cow protection movement and legislation turned into a raison d’etre of lynching, primarily and majorly of Muslims and Dalits. According to the one report carried by The Hindustan Times, “As many as 124 people were injured in the cow-related attacks and more than half (52%) of these attacks were based on rumours. Muslims were the target of 51% of violence centred on bovine issues over nearly eight years (2010 to 2017) and comprised 86% of 28 Indians killed in 63 incidents, according to an IndiaSpend content analysis of the English media. As many of 97% of these attacks were reported after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government came to power in May 2014, and about half the cow-related violence – 32 of 63 cases – were from states governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) when the attacks were reported, revealed our analysis of violence recorded until June 25, 2017.

Of the 28 Indians who died over the seven years, 24 were Muslim or 86%. As many as 124 people were also injured in these attacks. More than half (52%) of these attacks were based on rumours, our analysis found.”

Tiranga Yatra, a procession of carrying out Indian flags as a mark of patriotism stoked anti-Muslim riots by the right-wing activists who are mostly supporters of the current ruling dispensation. It has become a norm for Hindu Right-wing activists and supporters to shout anti- Pakistan slogans while passing through Muslim localities. One such incident, as noted by Maya Mirchandani in her research titled “Digital Hatred, Real Violence: Majoritarian Radicalisation and Social Media in India” happened in late January in Kasganj, Uttar Pradesh, where a group of young Hindu men from the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), rode through the predominantly Muslim town on a self-declared “Tiranga Yatra” (“journey with the Tricolor”), shouting slogans. The local Muslim villagers were in the midst of a flag hoisting ceremony to mark India’s Republic Day as the provocative procession rode through. Clashes ensued, in which a Hindu boy died, leading to a social-media outburst of hate against Kasganj’s Muslims.

The constitution of India includes the right to practice the religion of choice as a fundamental right. Despite this, many Indian states promulgated laws prohibiting religious conversion on the pretext that Muslims and Christians deliberately target Hindus and tribals to leave their religion and convert to Islam or Christianity. They say that missionaries and Muslim organizations have incentivised religious conversion, a charge denied vehemently by Christian Missionaries and Muslims. A pernicious campaign led to the enactment of laws, in several Indian states, makes it harder for the people to choose and practice their faith. Another sinister campaign wilfully targeting Muslims was Love-Jihad; according to which Muslim men are targeting Hindu women to marry and convert to Islam. This flies in the face of numerous court judgements which allows consenting individuals to choose their life partner irrespective of religion, caste, creed and language. The civil administrations, Hindu extremist organisations like VHP, Bajrang Dal and many of its faceless organisations with the help of pliant & biased media and in some cases the lower judiciary have harassed inter-faith couples. A tirade has been launched against Muslims and these Hindu extremist organizations do not leave any opportunity to harass Indian Muslims in the name of so-called ‘Love Jihad.’

Even as innocuous as Dharna on August 10 this year at Jantar Mantar, in the Indian capital Delhi and a few hundred meters from the Indian parliament, was on to repeal colonial-era laws and to enact laws suited to Indian society, it, however, turned into hate speech and anti-Muslim sloganeering and baying for Indian Muslims blood.

Besides Prime Minister Modi has not been consistent in extolling his followers and foot soldiers in respecting and maintaining the social fabric of India. In the last election of Uttar Pradesh, during a rally, he invoked the issue of Qabristan (Muslim Graveyard) and Shamshan (Hindu pyre yard) an obvious reference to Muslims and Hindus. Earlier in the Bihar election of 2015, his home minister Amit Shah said in one rally that the defeat of BJP will be celebrated by Pakistan. The reference of Pakistan is a veiled and indirect reference to Muslims a bete noire of BJP.

The RSS, BJP and their numerous offshoots branded anti-national those who protested against CAA-NRC. The law, which grants citizenship for refugees of every major South Asian religion except Muslims, was widely condemned as discriminatory. India’s home minister Amit Shah in one of the rallies in Bengal explained the ‘chronology” and purpose of the enactment of CAA and NRC. He, reportedly, hinted in his speech that Hindus need not worry as they will be saved through the combined implementation of NRC and CAA and he implied Muslims won’t. The process of NRC was, initially, planned for Assam, which has a high concentration of illegal migrants, to identify and repatriate illegal migrants, from neighbouring countries especially from Bangladesh soon morphed into a design to target Muslims in the rest of India.

One may ask the question of what purpose this remembrance is going to serve. To have genuine remembrance of the horrors of partition one should take a leaf from Germany where they have included the horrors of the holocaust in the school curriculum, with the solemn purpose to educate its young generation and how not to let this happen again.

The choice of August 14 doesn’t augur well as on this day our neighbour Pakistan celebrates its Independence Day. One must remember it was a joint fight to get Britain out of India by those who wanted a separate homeland for Muslims and for those who had dreamt of plural India – a place for all religious communities. By having the same day of remembrance as that of Pakistan Independence Day, we will be turning the sacrifice, deaths, and destruction of millions of people who perished on the way to their promised homeland into another jingoistic and hate-filled event against Pakistan and by that corollary against Muslims. I don’t want to draw an equivalence of Muslims and Pakistan but can’t do it otherwise as the current ruling dispensation of India and its numerous cohorts and foot soldiers will no doubt make this one. The RSS and BJP have always fed partition in their Hindutva messaging as Hindu victimhood and have been feeding into the minds of their followers the victimisation of the Hindu majority by the Muslim minority for around 800 years. This fits perfectly in their binary world view and yields rich electoral dividends too.

Besides, RSS and BJP have little to celebrate in the Indian Freedom struggle. They did not participate in the struggle. They were on the other side of the extreme i.e. aiming for Hindu Rashtra by collaborating with the Britishers. On the one hand, Jinnah was leading a campaign for Pakistan; a homeland for Muslims and the Indian National Congress who was leading the freedom struggle wanted India for people of all faiths and on the other hand, RSS and Hindu Maha Sabha were colliding & allying with Britishers for a Hindu Rashtra, a land for Hindus only.

RSS and BJP, therefore, are looking for ways and trying to find some date or day to celebrate and remember their contribution. By declaring August 14 as the Horror of the Partition Remembrance Day, the RSS, BJP and et al would like, if not eclipse, at least, rival the August 15, as our Independence Day.

Uttar Pradesh, which is one of the largest states in India, is going into elections in a few months. One can’t help but associate this sudden Remembrance Day with the election of Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP government has done little to show off. They would be looking to bank on their time-tested formula of fomenting communal tension for electoral gain. Polarisation is something that BJP knows best.

However, it is solemn to remember those who fell during the partition. We must mourn for that life. But for this to happen seriously, and not let this be turned into another Hindu-Muslim demonization and alienation exercise, all three countries India, Pakistan and Bangladesh should join hands and choose one date to jointly have the Remembrance of the Horrors of the Partition. We must as a society rise above religious, linguistics, regional and caste biases & divide and celebrate humanity. The horrors of the partition should be included in our school curriculum to take a lesson from it, heal wounds and create an environment for a unified existence. If West and East Germany can be reunited, and Europe can have a single entity as EU, why can’t we have some form of union in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh?