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Tryst with Destiny

Tryst with Destiny Long years ago, we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity.

~ JawaharLal Nehru

Happy Independence Day to all.

It has been 63 years of freedom for both India and Pakistan. Independence from the 350 year old British presence in the Indian subcontinent. Independence that everyone had fought for and cherished for a long time. But with independence came division. The Indian Union was divided on the basis of religion, into a secular India(with a Hindu majority) and Pakistan which was formed keeping in mind the Indian Muslims. The moment of glory and joy was soon overtaken by moments of pain and horror. Independence however desirable and fought for, was tainted with blood of millions of innocent people. The price of it was enormous and losses too huge to recover, even after decades. Memories remain…

The partition of India (Indian Union) beyond doubt is one of the greatest tragedies in the recent history of the world. India’s independence was inevitable and certain but not the partition. The unity could have been preserved if it had not been for political motives and miscalculations, personal aspirations and British policies.

Even though Muhammed Ali Jinnah and the Muslim League are chiefly blamed for the partition, the Congress (and Hindu leaders) cannot escape blame either. For instance political leaders like Savarkar (of Sangh Parivar) spoke of the two nation theory in 1923, much before Jinnah came up with it. In fact even Lala Lajpath Rai thought of a scheme under which Muslims would have the four main states of North-west frontier, Western Punjab, Sindh and Eastern Bengal. He was clear in the theory of a Muslim and a non-Muslim India. This happened in 1924, much before the Pakistan Resolution in Lahore. Jinnah initially didn’t want a separate state, as is often described and believed. He wanted a form of federation which would be equipoise. By that he meant a territorial adjustment of votes which would give a Hindu-Muslim balance and this was to be attained by a weightage of votes or seats. But when the Viceroy suspended the idea of a federation, Jinnah for the first time started talking about a two nation independence theory but that was more of a tactical move which he thought would help him  later on. According to him a common coordinating agency(1) would be required for providing adequate safeguards for minorities whereby an organic relationship was to be achieved by sharing control at the centre in terms of perfect equality between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Now, this is where opinions start forming and interpretations differ. While India blames Jinnah for the partition (by coming up with the idea and showing little flexibility) and hence the riots and massacre, Pakistan looks at him as the Father of their nation who has helped them provide security. The truth is both Jinnah and Nehru used popular sentiments to achieve political gains. They both had strong political aspirations. A share in central power might have threatened Nehru’s position considerably. Hence he rejected Jinnah’s proposal.

And so the dividing line between Pakistan and India was drawn with no Mountain, river, canal to define it but a vague sense of possible security due to the religion they belonged to. It is ironical that this sense of security was completely shattered when about 10 million people were left homeless migrants and a million died in these riots! Large sections of the Hindu, Muslim, Sikh population found themselves on the other side of the divide and crossing over turned out to be too expensive! This partition devastated both nations equally. Amongst all, women suffered the most. ..“ Women, especially, were used as instruments of power by the Hindus and the Muslims; “ghost trains” full of severed breasts of women would arrive in each of the newly-born countries from across the borders.”

A complete bloodbath occurred in village after village2. The country went into an anarchy.  In fact it isn’t just the bloodbath or massacre but the independence shattered the economy too. For instance jute was grown in East Bengal and mills were in West Bengal, which shipped them abroad.People were out of jobs, homeless and hungry. And to add to that a riot. A sense of helplessness. The Calcutta -Noakhali and Lahore-Amritsar riots totally shook the newly formed nations. Had it not been for Gandhi, lord knows when the riots would have stopped. Gandhi was the only one who opposed the division vehemently and left active politics due to that. He probably envisaged this disaster, something Jinnah or Nehru couldn’t have imagined.

In fact on the western front, in a Sikh camp it is documented that the male members killed the female members (beginning with younger women) of their family themselves by stifling them or putting kerosene on them after being surrounded by Muslims and realising that there was no way out. A child recalls that in the camp everywhere around him, he saw people dying or dead people and his mother saved his life by hiding him beneath his father’s dead body.  Communal riots seemed to take away the very sense of happiness and glory that the independence sought to achieve. Before this India had not seen such a mass participation in mass murders.

One reason for the chaos is the hurried withdrawal of the British state (after the Labour party came into power) which could not afford an extended empire, especially one which was getting too rebellious.  Interestingly although Pakistan celebrated its independence on 14 August and India on 15 August 1947, the border between the two new states was not announced until 17 August. Cyril Radcliffe who had little knowledge of the Indian terrain and conditions drew it in a hurry using out-of-date maps and census material. Hence despite the fact that riots took place, British do not take the blame for it since they demarcated the boundaries much later.  After the boundaries were announced , people moved out of their homes and crossed over believing that they could no longer live in peace with each other. This meant thousands of people leaving their homes and travelling barefoot, carrying almost nothing and reaching camps which were already over-filled. And it meant “ghost trains “.

The wounds of 1947 ( and the riots before and later) have still not healed and the two nations are still trying to cope with the history.

However some of the Muslim political leaders in Pakistan did accept and realize that the partition proved to be harmful and costly to the Muslims in India but after the Ram Janmabhooti – Babri Masjid act, the very notion of secularity in India has taken a beating.

Now what is really the possible reason between this perennial Hindu – Muslim conflict (and not just the India-Pakistan divide!). The reason which proved to be the basis of a partition … maybe a sense of alienation due to the notions each community harbored. Maybe each felt threatened, insecure and out-of -place in the majority of another religion.

The Hindus in India believe that the partition was completely unnecessary since the Muslims here are in much better condition than the ones residing in Pakistan. They enjoy the same rights as everyone else and are equal citizens. But are they? There is this sense of alienation that they face from the mainstream population, i.e, Hindus. There are some very popular incorrect notions about them – for instance, they hate Hinduism, they look at every non-Muslim as Kafir and want to kill them, they want to increase in numbers and become a majority by having more children, they do not maintain general hygiene, and most importantly they are very violent in nature. Violence seems inherent in the religion.

But is it Islam or the history of Muslim population which is tainted with violence. While Hinduism by and large is quite flexible and it has shown great tolerance for other religions, it has reacted very differently with Islam. Indian (not exactly the “Hindu”, though chiefly comprising of people who we refer to as Hindus today) population accepted Buddhism very well and let it spread everywhere. Jains are almost part of a broader sense of the Hindu religion. Hindus have no problems with Sikhs at all. They are fine with Christians too (well, mostly…as long as conversions are limited). Then what is the problem with Muslims. Why does Islam not have the general form of acceptance that other religions have despite the fact that their cuisine, architecture, dance, music have left a deep impact on Indian society. I mean we all love Biryani…right? Taj Mahal is India’s pride…right? Why is there a lack of harmony between people practicing the two religions, especially when they are put in certain situations.

This isn’t just because of the 1947 divide, it has deeper roots. A lot of it has to do with Islamic fundamentalism and the perception of Hindus about the Islamic world which makes a complete acceptance difficult. While Hinduism was influenced by different forms of sects (For instance, emergence of vaishnavs in a Brahmin rigid and fundamental society) and newly formed religions (Buddhism, Jainism) which transformed the religion and gave it a broader status, Christianity underwent transformation during Renaissance, Islam did not experience any such movement or period of upheaval. It remains as rigid as it was in the seventh century. At the time Islam came into being, Arabia was a battlefield between different groups of people. Since battle meant aggression and discipline, the texts were written keeping that in mind. In Islam, the political and social rules, regulations and norms seem to be intertwined with religion, something which is unique to it. There is no clear demarcation and the average cleric enjoys a sort of power that a priest in a church or temple would never have, today!

When Islam came to India it got with itself Arabic forms of lifestyle, some of which were alien and unacceptable to the greater Hindu population. The problem at that time was that the invaders could not completely imbibe the prevalent Indian(mostly Hindu, Buddhist) culture. Their rigidity made them unpopular. But things have changed since then. For instance, the Hindus and Muslims of Hyderabad are quite happy, mostly because there is a complete understanding between people and society which leaves religion as a separate and personal issue. For instance my aunt’s maid and her friends in Hyderabad do not have beef since she knows that its not thought appropriate in Hindu religion. And the Dahi-Handi customin Mumbai which was stopped for a while for the afternoon namaz. Just a token maybe, but there is a nice feel to it. It is the little things that matter most and we as members of society need to take care of it. And that would require a change in attitude (including mine).

We need a change. Hindu population needs to be more understanding and show greater acceptance. While Muslims need a dynamic change which differentiates societal norms and political issues with personal issues like religion. They need something which fuels a revolution to modernize Islam or in other words remove the rigidity.

To me, my ideal nation would be ~

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;

Where knowledge is free;

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;

Where the words come out from the depth of truth;

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;

Where the mind is led forward by Thee into ever-widening thought and action–

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.   ~Rabindranath Tagore

A hope that that day would be very near! My country would awaken to that heaven of freedom and not only one which is arrived at, on paper at the stroke of midnight. One which goes beyond it.

Lastly (nevertheless, not the least), it is also Sri Aurobindo’s Birthday today. And he had predicted that this unnatural divide between India and Pakistan would disappear one day. It cannot be sustained for a long time because of the inherent instability that such a thing contains…

#1 A subtle creation of alienation by mistrusting welfare of one population on the other. In some pockets Muslims felt a bit alienated due to the many notions and opinions the other religions had about them. This feeling was fueled by Jinnah, which ideally should have been taken care of then but no action was taken to that regard. Nothing done to reassure the common man that Muslims were an integral part of India and this was as much their country. However this was not the only instance. The first creation of this feeling of difference on basis of religion was created in 1905 when Bengal was divided into West and East – the famous “Divide and Rule” policy.

#2 A lot of historians claim that the riots were actually started by Muslims in Dec 1946 and Sikhs and Hindus in Bengal retaliated after sustaining a fair amount of casualties, when protecting their own became difficult. So the only way out was to retaliate in the same fashion. So just as lots of Hindu Bengalis were butchered in Noakhali riots, lots of Muslims were murdered in Calcutta riots.


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Tags: communal riots, Congress, History, Independence, India, Jinnah, Nehru, Pakistan, Partition, Politics, Religion

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