Posts Tagged ‘Partition’

Partition, My Father, and His Wife

September 2, 2017

By Harbans Mukhia

I was born in 1937 or 38, in a tiny village in the Gujrat district of what is now Pakistan. No one, even in Pakistan, seems to have heard of the village Allaha, though it is on my passport to this day. Our home was a nondescript one – a one-and-a-half room structure on one side of a dusty street; on the other side was a tall, white mansion-like habitat with a weather cock on top, which fascinated us kids for hours.

We moved to Delhi before the Partition – perhaps sometime around 1941. My father responded to the Quit India call and was put in a Multan prison for six months. My mother passed away perhaps in 1943 or 44, leaving behind five young children. My eldest sister, then 12 or 13, was withdrawn from school to look after her siblings. She never held it against us when grew up and found our spaces in life.

A year or so before Partition, my father married his first cousin, his paternal uncle’s daughter, back in Allaha. The marriage procession consisted of the groom and his only son, me; the bidai procession added my new mother. It couldn’t have been simpler.

On August 2 or 3, 1947, my grandmother landed at our home in Delhi and suggested that she and my mother go back to the village and escort the rest of the extended family to Delhi, and bring with them whatever savings they had. Father was aghast at the suggestion and appealed to grandma to hold on for another 12-13 days. After independence – to which he seriously thought he had a personal claim – had been celebrated, he would go there himself, instead of two women going on such a tough mission. Even at this stage, they did not suspect any great mishap in the offing. Grandma insisted and father had to give in.

The two women left Delhi for Allaha. That was the last we ever heard about them. The members of the family they had gone out to rescue, however, found their way to Delhi. Father was heartbroken. Understandably.

Then an incident brought him some hope. He was lightly educated, but was always a stickler for reason and logic for understanding and explaining any phenomenon; God had no place in his scheme. One day, he was whiling away his time on the broad street in old Delhi then called Faiz Bazaar, now Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Road. A road show was on, where a boy lies on the floor “unconscious” and the master of the show keeps asking him about the problems facing members of the audience. Father was laughing away at the tamasha when suddenly the master asked the boy what his, father’s, problem was. To his great astonishment, the boy spelt out his wife’s name and announced that she was hiding in a building in our village, both of which he identified correctly without father even having to ask him to.

He was dumbstruck and his skepticism gave way to a faint hope – who knows, the boy might even be right. So he decided to take a chance. In around October, he travelled to Lahore and then on to the village. He was just short of six feet tall and, with a kullah (Afghani headgear), could easily pass off as Pathan. In Delhi, most of his friends in Darya Ganj, where we lived, were Muslims and he was familiar with their etiquette, besides knowing Urdu well. He faced no problem in looking up the particular building, but there was no trace of his young wife.

On his return, he wrote a short piece titled My visit to Pakistan, which was never published. But I remember some crucial parts of it. In Lahore he stayed with his Muslim friends from Faiz Bazar who had migrated to Pakistan. In the streets of Lahore, the real Pathans were shooting at street lights and in the air because there were no Hindus left to kill. His Muslim friends, who had given him shelter and support, risked their lives and properties for him. The slightest hint that they were knowingly hiding and supporting a kafir from India would give the Pathans the ‘legitimate’ right to wipe them out and plunder their house. But the truth remained with his hosts.

In the end, father couldn’t find his wife. But he was able to reaffirm the one faith he had: that as often as not, human relations override political, national and even religious dividing lines.

Harbans Mukhia is National Fellow, Indian Council of Historical Research. This memory was part of the Wire’s #PartitionAt70 series and was published there on August 15, 2017. It is reproduced with the author’s permission.

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Muslim Women and the 1946 Elections in India

October 16, 2015

By Anjum Altaf

I am reading Christophe Jafferlot’s new (2015) book The Pakistan Paradox and in Chapter 2 (An Elite in Search of a State – and a Nation (1906-1947)) came across the following table on page 91.

Table 2.6: Main party scores within the Muslim electorate in the 1946 elections

Party Muslim League Congress Muslim nationalists Unionists Other
Total Muslims 74.7 4.6 6.4 4.6 9.7
Urban Muslims 78.7 2.3 5.0 14.0
Rural Muslims 74.3 4.8 6.6 6.1 9.2
Muslim Women 51.7 27.9 20.4

Jafferlot’s reference to the table is the following: “Despite the League’s relative setback in the NWFP, after the 1946 elections the party eventually managed to appear representative of Indian Muslims (see Table 2.6).”

The table has been adapted from The Sole Spokesman by Ayesha Jalal (page 172). I looked up the citation and the table is the same except that Jalal has also mentioned the total number of votes cast and their distribution across the various parties.

Jalal’s reference to the table is as follows: “More importantly, the League secured nearly seventy-five percent of the total Muslim vote cast in the elections to provincial assemblies throughout India – a remarkable improvement on the abysmal 4.4 percent it had registered in the 1936-37 elections.”

Contrary to Jalal and Jafferlot, what jumped out to me from the table and literally knocked me out was something completely different. Just look at the huge difference between the pattern of the votes cast by Muslim men and Muslim women. One can calculate from the absolute numbers provided by Jalal that while three-fourths of the men voted for the Muslim League only half the women did so. And while only one in sixteen of the men voted for Muslim nationalists, over one in four of the women did so.

This comes across as a very significant difference and I would have thought someone would have ventured to offer an explanation. There could be some very rich hypotheses for a sociologist to explore.

The data on the absolute number of votes provided by Jalal do alert us to the fact that the 1946 elections were contested on a limited suffrage – the total number of female Muslim votes cast were 15,501. It is historical fact that the suffrage was restricted to 3 percent of the voting age population in the 1934 elections which were the first in which Indian women were allowed to vote in any but local elections. By 1937 the franchise had expanded to 14 percent of the voting age population. (I have not been able to find a credible percentage for the 1946 elections and would appreciate readers filling in the missing number.)

Even so, the questions remain. Who were these Muslim women who voted and why were their votes so different from those of the men?

The one myth, persistent to the day, this data seems to put to rest is that women are subservient to men and do as they are told especially in something as critical as voting which involves issues outside the domestic sphere.

Further, the hypothesis suggests itself that Muslim women were much less enamored of the prospect of the creation of Pakistan compared to the men. The League by 1946 was clearly associated with the Two-Nation theory and the demand for partition. The Muslim nationalists, by contrast, were candidates who contested on the platform of keeping India united. The vote for the nationalists suggests that their platform appealed disproportionately to Muslim women.

Of course, it is tempting to associate the vote of Muslim women with the reluctance to leave home since for many partition would have implied a migration. This is a stereotypical premise that may or may not be true but the data warrants a more extended investigation which would also include looking at the pattern of votes by non-Muslim women.

One can also see from the table that the rural Muslim vote was less in favor of the Muslim League platform than the urban Muslim vote. This does support the contention of many, including Jafferlot, that the driving force behind separation were urban Muslims initially predominantly from the Muslim minority provinces of British India. It took the “Islam in danger” hyperbole that made sufficient number of people in the Muslim majority provinces to fall in line between 1937 and 1946 to make partition possible.

The partition narrative has many stories of women who continued to carry the keys of their old homes in India for years after 1947 to convey how traumatic it must have been for them to move. All the more if the move was contrary to their desires. And surely these feelings must have been reciprocated by the Hindu and Sikh women on the other side of the border who ultimately did not even have the luxury to make a choice.

One wonders what the outcome of the elections would have been if the franchise had been unlimited and all the eligible women had voted – in 1946 women cast only 0.25 percent of the total Muslim vote.

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The Remove

July 4, 2015

By Zulfikar Ghose

The Sikh from Ambala in East Punjab,
India, formerly in the British Empire,
the Muslim from Sialkot in West Punjab,
Pakistan, formerly British India,
the Sikh boy and the Muslim boy are two
of twenty such Sikhs and Muslims
from East Punjab and West Punjab, which
formerly were the Punjab,
standing together in assembly, fearfully
miming the words of a Christian hymn.

Later, their firework voices explode
in Punjabi until Mr Iqbal –
which can be a Sikh name or a Muslim name,
Mohammed Iqbal or Iqbal Singh
who comes from Jullundur in East Punjab
but near enough to the border to be almost
West Punjab, who is an expert in
the archaic intonations of the Raj,
until the three-piece suited Mr Iqbal
gives a stiff-collared voice to his
Punjabi command to shut their thick wet
lips on the scattering sparks of their
white Secondary Modern teeth.

Mr Iqbal has come to London to teach
English to Punjabi Sikhs and Muslims
and has pinned up in his class pictures
of Gandhi and Jinnah, Nehru and Ayub
in case the parents come to ask in Punjabi
how the kids are doing in English.

And so: twenty years after
the Union Jack came down on Delhi
and the Punjab became East Punjab and
West Punjab and the Sikhs did not like it
and the Muslims did not like the Sikhs
not liking it and they killed each other
not by the hundred nor by the thousand
but by the hundred thousand, here then
is Mr Iqbal with his remove class of
twenty Punjabis, some Sikh and some Muslim,
in a Secondary Modern School in London,
all of them trying to learn English.

Back home the fastidious guardians of freedom,
the Sikh army and the Muslim army, convinced
that East is East and West is West etcetera,
periodically accuse each other of aggression.

First published in The Violent West (Macmillan, London, 1972) and reproduced here with the generous permission of the author.

I find this among the most poignant commentaries on the partition of India after reading which nothing is left to be said.

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“A Tryst with Destiny”: Reflections on the Partition of India

May 5, 2012

By Kabir Altaf

As the lights come up at the beginning of “A Tryst with Destiny”, a screen projects news footage of communal riots in India. We see clips from the 2002 carnage in Gujarat, protests in Indian-administered Kashmir, and an interview with Jaswant Singh in which he lays the major responsibility for the Partition of British India on Nehru and the Indian National Congress.  As these news clips fade out, Gandhi and Nehru step on stage and begin discussing their roles in Partition.  From the outset, the play asks the audience to reflect on the question: Was the Partition of India worth the bloodshed that accompanied it? What price did India have to pay for Independence?

“A Tryst with Destiny”, performed at the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre in Washington DC, was written by Amita Deepak Jha, a locally-based psychiatrist and medical researcher. (more…)

M J Akbar’s Tinderbox: The Book in Images

August 9, 2011

By Anjum Altaf

I was asked to review M J Akbar’s new book Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan and have done so; the review appeared in the May 2011 issue of Himal Southasian magazine. Here I wish to attempt something different – to convey to the reader a sense of the book through the images that came to mind as I read it.

Tinderbox

Tinderbox is a particularly apt metaphor for present-day Pakistan. I reached for the book with a sense of excitement and anticipation at the prospect of learning whether the tinderbox would explode or somehow be defused. The issue had been on many minds and the focus of many talks for some time. A member of the family had put it thus after attending one the talks: (more…)

Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan – A Review

April 30, 2011

In Himal Southasian Magazine, May 2011

By Anjum Altaf

It is an irony that the most significant enemy of history books is history itself, books being frozen at a moment in time while history continues its relentless march – eventually mocking, more often than not, the certainties of an earlier age. Historical accounts that rely on cultural or psychological constructs for explanations are particularly exposed to this danger, as any number of outdated verdicts can illustrate – the opium-eating Chinese, the Hindu rate of growth, the fatalistic Arabs, to name just a few.

The senior journalist M J Akbar thus takes on a large challenge when he sets up his chase to identify the villain of the piece in this new book, billed as ‘historical whodunit to trace the journey of an idea … that divided India.’ (more…)

The Lahore Effect

April 1, 2011

By Ishtiaq Ahmed

I am a long-time resident in Sweden where I have been living since September 1973. When the initial euphoria of living in a new place subsided and life assumed some sort of normality, it began to dawn upon me that I shared the distinction of longing for a very special place on earth which has a global following: Lahore, the city of my birth. It does not matter if the decision to leave was economic or political, voluntary or under duress and threat. For most old residents of this city, sooner or later, Lahore comes back in their lives as the centrepiece of a personal pride. The mystique of Lahore is special and grows on one with every passing year.

In Stockholm, a core Lahore connection has served as the basis of a continuous monthly rotating all-evening social get-together since 1991. It began on every Friday at six o’clock in the evening, but has now changed to Sunday afternoons. (more…)

Analysis: The Idea of Pakistan?

December 2, 2010

We argued in the preceding post (Analysis: Vision and Management) that a country cannot prosper without a national vision and concluded with the following questions: What is the national vision in Pakistan? And, are our problems getting worse precisely because of the absence of a national vision?

It is a coincidence to find an entry that enables us to continue this discussion – a column by Shahid Javed Burki who is among the leading commentators on economic issues in Pakistan. I will quote the introduction to the column before picking up on the issues of interest to us: (more…)

Culture Bypass: A New Paradigm – 4

September 15, 2010

From A’daabKhuda HafizAllah Hafiz – How cultural expressions are transformed?

By Ahmed Kamran

 

In the previous three parts (here, here and here) we examined the long journey of Indian Muslims from the inception of a great common Indo-Persian culture in the 13th century to its political isolation especially by the end of 1930’s. By the time British rulers were fully engaged in World War 2, Muslims, with an acute sense of their separate identity that developed particularly in the backdrop of political events during 1920’s and 1930’s, were about to embark on a collision course with rest of the Indian people. Let’s discuss the key drivers of this great sea change in Indian politics as the British prepared to leave an independent India in the hands of indigenous people. (more…)

The Indo-Persian Synthesis

September 1, 2010

By Vijay Vikram

It’s been a while since I wrote on this blog. And a very good piece by a chap called Ahmed Kamran on The South Asian Idea has pushed me into rectifying that.

One of the themes that I love ruminating on is the synthesis of Indic and Persian cultures that emerged after India’s encounter with Islam. What is equally fascinating is how this culture has fractured and is in a state of war after the Partition of India – probably one of the most under-rated and under-appreciated of world-historical events. Intellectuals, both Subcontinental and Western tend to treat Partition as a localised event. A horrific event, worthy of intellectual analysis and monograph upon dry academic monograph but in essence, a tragedy restricted to and contained by the Indian Subcontinent. In actuality, the Partition of India is a world-historical event whose consequences shall be felt on the continuum of civilisations for generations. (more…)