HARKING BACK: Does the ‘greatest exodus in human history’ interest us?

By Majid Sheikh

Dawn March 19, 2017

As the 70th anniversary of the Partition of the Indian sub-continent approaches just 21 weeks from today -- a day when Pakistan came into being – one cannot help but to notice that virtually nothing special has been planned in Pakistan to observe the ‘greatest exodus in human history’.

Lahore and Partition are intrinsically bound. The bloodbath in the streets and lanes of the city makes gruesome reading. Sadly, our elders were shocked into silence. That was our loss. Stories of children being decapitated, or women kidnapped and raped were commonplace. In Punjab, as in Lahore, women escaped the social disgrace by killing themselves. A lot simply jumped into wells. In some case fathers themselves decapitated their daughters. Even today if you research you will find Sikh and Hindu women living in the walled city after being forced to convert and marry the men who knew of their fate.

If you read official accounts (File LVII/12/166-G of DLO West Punjab is just one example) you can read about MLAs (members of legislative assembly) owning up to 200 girls each to sell. Most Pirs and tribal and feudal leaders were no better. The rich profited immensely from the tragedy, as they always during tragedies. Nothing today has changed. The same was true on the other side of the line -- that tragic masterpiece of ‘divide and rule’ which we have started to believe in. Communal reality invariably has bloodied hands.

To learn what must be done, surely it makes sense to study what is being planned on the other side of the divide. I write these lines to instigate ideas to spring forth. In no way do I intend to belittle what our Indian friends are doing. It is critical that we also tell our story with flair. For starters the Indians have launched a massive well-planned series of events that will last a full six months. Starting from the 15th of March, exactly six months before the time Partition took place, in the nearby city of Amritsar they inaugurated at the old town hall, just near Jallianwala Bagh, their first ‘Partition Museum’. This splendid effort of concerned Indians is headed by Lord Desai of Britain’s House of Lords, who himself once lived in Lahore.


From what one can make out on the internet, it is an impressive effort that will conserve stories of how people on the ‘other side’ fared. But two very interesting events, probably unrelated, are running parallel to this effort. Firstly, a British film named ‘Viceroy’s House’ has been launched the world over exactly six months before the Aug 14-15 deadline. Many people, including Fatima Bhutto, interpret it as a subtle attempt to blame Jinnah, and the Muslims, for the tragedy. Secondly, they have set into motion an exceptionally eloquent London-born Indian politician, Shashi Tharoor, a Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy graduate and a Tufts PhD at the age of 22 years and head of India’s Select Committee of External Affairs, to launch a campaign to expose ‘colonial’ Britain. This will buy India a moral high-horse as they set about to, very subtly, promote India as the new superpower. Both are excellent ‘soft power’ efforts have caught the attention of the world. We must learn from them.

Lastly, Indian embassies the world over have launched fortnightly events to dwell on different aspects of the history of India. Each embassy is to hold 10 functions. On the media front Indian writers with inroads in major foreign newspapers, have started propagating that everything great in human history, like the creation of the mathematical concept of ‘zero’, was an Indian ‘First’. Similar stories will probably be planted in the days to come.

One cannot deny that within six months they will surely have hammered home their message. Does this also mean ‘isolating Pakistan’ in the minds of the world? This I cannot pontificate on. The question is should Pakistan also observe this ‘greatest exodus in human history’ that led to the very creation of our country? My view is that Pakistan should not compete with India on what was surely a collective tragedy. Pakistan just needs to present its point of view in simple, yet subtle ways, correcting a lot of disinformation (call it fake facts). The effort calls for investing heavily to raise our image as a country. This is our real defence that has no budget. To make a dent Pakistan needs sharp educated thinking minds, not semi-literate megalomaniacs wanting to make money out of tragedies.

Let me put forth a few well-researched facts. The concept of ‘zero’ came forth in the land that is today Pakistan. It has nothing to do with present-day India. Also the very first linguistic masterpiece, Panini’s ‘Astadhyayi’, or the rules of Sanskrit grammar, was written in the land that is today Pakistan. It too has nothing to do with present-day India. For that matter research is now bringing forth the proposition that Vedic Sanskrit emerged from Old Punjabi, and that Classical Sanskrit (the word Sanskrit means ‘refined’) was a refined version of Punjabi. Luckily, it are Indian scholar themselves, relying on computerised analysis, who have come up with this assertion.

We must realise, and be proud of the fact, that our Indus Valley Civilisation is the world’s oldest. We know full well that the Ganges Civilisation came several thousand years’ later. Have we ever owned this verifiable fact of life? The real cause of the eastward movement of people 2,500 years ago was that the tolerant view of religion by those living in present-day Pakistan did not fit the profiteering Brahmin point of view. Just read the Vedas and the Gita and you will find ‘believers’ not being allowed to cross to the west of Sutlej lest they get polluted.

It is about time that just as British children are not taught ‘colonial history’, or American children know nothing of the massacre of Native Americans by the million, or for that matter Indian children textbooks avoid mentioning the land from where their sacred book came, we also must stop teaching children that our history started when a foreign invader “saved us”. The truth is otherwise, and very gruesome. We also know that all the Hindu sacred books, the five Vedas, the Mahabharata and others were all written in the land of Pakistan. Does the world know, or even realise this? For that matter do we ourselves know this?

But we can certainly take an impressive first step by allocating the former Bradlaugh Hall, former headquarters of the Indian National Congress and where on 26th of January 1926 was adopted a resolution which is today India’s Republic Day, to convert it into Lahore’s Partition Museum. Lahore and Amritsar can have two similar museums. If our rulers support this effort, it will be the first massive step towards telling the world our part of the story, a story our children do not know.

This effort should certainly not be to disrespect what happened to non-Muslim victims in their ancestral homes in any way, but to put forward the proposition that both sides of the divide were devastated. This can be a major step towards fighting back collectively, for it has resulted in the emergence of extremist ideologies on both sides of the divide.

But how do we pass on this message to the academic world? We have before us the undeniable fact that India has 205 ‘academic chairs’ in various leading foreign universities. Pakistan has only 12. All the Indian chairs have scholars working within them without a break. They are busy spreading the message crafted by their State. All the 12 Pakistani chairs lie empty, some for years now. Ideas never interest our legislators, for there is no money to be made. Readers surely are better judge what interests them!


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