The Dawn: Aug 8, 2014

Punjab Notes: Independence: remembering the dead

Mushtaq Soofi 

Description: — File photo

— File photo

While celebrating our independence, we Pakistanis and Indians consign to limbo of the gory history of the extra-ordinary process of the Partition that culminated in the creation of a new state, Pakistan and independent India in 1947, but with ‘unfinished agenda’.

The unfinished agenda of the Partition is not just about the territorial disputes between India and Pakistan that continue to incessantly flash on the political radars. It is at the subterranean level related to the phenomena of unprecedented massacre and massive forced migration that occurred in a span of a few months.

Near one million butchered and more than 11 million others forced to flee across both sides of the border! In Hindu/Sikh majority areas in a matter of weeks, the Muslims became the ‘others’ and in Muslim majority areas the Hindus/Sikhs suffered the same fate. One had no choice except wearing one’s religious identity which was one’s protective shield as well as a grave provocation: it could save you, it could kill you.

The communities of the Northern India were absolutely divided into ‘us’ and ‘them’. The crowds with crazed wits egged on by the zealots turned into what Elias Canetti described as ‘baiting crowds’ which relished savagery. Canetti explains what a baiting crowd is: ‘the baiting crowd forms with reference to a quickly attainable goal.

The proclaiming of the goal, the spreading about of who is it that is to perish, is enough to make the crowd form. This concentration on killing is of a special kind and of unsurpassed intensity. Everyone wants to participate; everyone strikes a blow—‘. So far nobody has thoroughly investigated what the ‘crowds’ did; neither the British colonialists nor the Indian Congress nor the Muslim League.

They blame one another for the fear of being damned. All the principal actors in this ghoulish drama, wearing different masks, were seen doing the opposite of what their roles demanded: they partly played the role of an accomplice and partly that of a spectator.

The utter failure of the colonial edifice headed by First Sea Lord, the gutless Louis Mountbatten, who was in an unnatural haste to pack up, exposed the myth of British administrative skill at a critical moment when faced with the complex task of managing the orderly transfer of people across both sides of the border.

It miserably failed to anticipate the implications of what Partition entailed and consequently with all the forces, civil and military, at its command was rendered impotent by its lack of nerve to act, abdicating its responsibility to protect the very people it ruled.

The colonial claim to uphold the rule of law proved to be a bloody joke. The mighty royal did what a petite Raja would do in the face of anarchy: make his exit. And the royal exit was disgustingly obscene for what it left behind was nothing but the mutilated bodies and the raging fires.

The Congress and the Muslim League acted in an insidious manner as far as all-engulfing communal riots were concerned.

Some of the lower ranks of the Congress and the Akali Dal, along with the criminals and communalists, instigated the lynching mobs to send the hapless Muslims in the Hindu/Sikh majority areas to ‘their Pakistan’ by slaughtering them.

The upper ranks of the leadership absolved themselves of the responsibility, claiming that it was a natural mass reaction to the indiscriminate killing of Hindus and Sikhs in the Muslim majority areas.

The whole of East Punjab consequently became a killing field littered with the slain bodies of Muslims; men, women and children. Innumerable young women, abducted and raped, were written off as collateral damage.

The minions of the Muslim League were no different. They incited the violent mobs led by communalists and criminals to kill the infidel Hindus and Sikhs, who opposed the creation of Pakistan and dispatch them, bereft of their bodies, to where they belonged -- India.

If the East Punjab was a killing field, the West Punjab was, in the words of Amrita Pritam, a river overflowing with blood. Who lost more, ‘they’ or ‘us’, is a matter of lifeless statistics.

What matters is the painful fact that those who lost their lives in the whirlwind of communal hate had committed no crime except that they had different faiths and political views from those of their murderers. Ustad Daman, summed up the tragedy with Shakespearian brevity in the verse he recited at a public gathering in Amritsar in 1950s where Nehru was the chief guest: ‘Ayna akhan di lali pai dusdi ae, roye tusi vi o, roye assi vi aan’ (the bloodshot eyes say it all; you wept and cried. We too wept and cried).

The ghosts of the dead will not cease to haunt us, Pakistanis and Indians, until we, with humility and compassion, come to recognise what our ancestors did in the name of our future that now has the look of the past: blood-stained yesterday endlessly repeating itself as today.

The past ‘sins’, however ghastly they might have been, when understood in a human context with the intention of unearthing why did we commit them, can become a source of lifting the collective guilt and creating conditions which will minimise our chances of repeating them.

The disputes between Pakistan and India will be settled if they come to terms with the collective madness experienced at the time of the Partition that created lasting mutual distrust.

Once that happens, the modes of conflict-resolution advocated by Jinnah (reasoned dialogue) and Gandhi (non-violence) can help us achieve what we need most, peaceful co-existence.

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