Hello! My name is Naveen Bhat, and today I am going to attempt to answer the question-

How did partition affect my views and how were those around me affected by it?

My credentials are- I’m an Indian by birth, and I spent the first 28 years of my life living in India and travelling extensively throughout the country- from Leh in the north to Kanyakumari in the south, from Surat in the west to Shillong in the east. Before I begin, I am not going to delve on the actual event of partition. There are ample sources on the internet that document the event that led to anywhere between 200,000 to 2 million deaths [1], instead I must first ponder over the question- was partition truly necessary?

To answer that, let us roll the clocks back 10 years before partition, to the 1937 Indian provincial elections. History will tell you that there were primarily two nationalist political parties during the British Indian Empire leading up to independence- the secular Indian National Congress (established in 1885), and the All-India Muslim League (established in 1906). While the Congress became the principal leader of the Indian independence movement after 1920 under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, the Muslim League rose to prominence in the 1930s under Sir Muhammad Iqbal’s vision of a separate nation-state and the rationale of the two-nation theory. Coming back to the 1937 elections, the Congress won 707 seats to the League’s 106 across India. The Muslim League failed to form the government in any province.[2] This is where Muhammad Ali Jinnah comes in. To quote Jaswant Singh in his book Jinnah: India – Partition – Independence [3], “the events of 1937 had a tremendous, almost a traumatic effect upon Jinnah”. Despite his beliefs of twenty years that Muslims could protect their rights in a united India through separate electorates, provincial boundaries drawn to preserve Muslim majorities, and by other protections of minority rights, Muslim voters had failed to unite, with the issues Jinnah hoped to bring forward lost amid factional in-fighting. As if to rub it in their faces, the Congress formed a government with almost all non-Muslim members, even in the Muslim-majority provinces. It is around this time that Jinnah as the president of the Muslim League, after the 1937 vote, turned to the idea of partition in sheer desperation [4], coming around to Iqbal’s view that Indian Muslims required a separate homeland. To quote Muhammad Iqbal’s 1938 address,

“There is only one way out. Muslims should strengthen Jinnah’s hands. They should join the Muslim League. Indian question (…) can be countered by our united front against both the Hindus and the English. Without it, our demands are not going to be accepted. People say our demands smack of communalism. This is sheer propaganda. These demands relate to the defense of our national existence…. The united front can be formed under the leadership of the Muslim League. And the Muslim League can succeed only on account of Jinnah. Now none but Jinnah is capable of leading the Muslims.”

Over the next decade, however, the League’s leadership began mobilising the Muslim masses, leading up to, of course, them getting what they wanted- the partition of India. Now, I am no expert on history or politics, but it seems to me like this entire thing was born out of a power struggle between two political parties. It is clear that the Muslim League realised that the only way they could ever be in power was if there was a Muslim state to control.

At this point, I must point out, however, that contrary to popular perception and history taught in schools, at least in Pakistan I’m positive, it was only the Muslim League that put forward the two-nation theory. Despite Jinnah, in the wake of the 1937 elections, demanding that the question of power sharing be settled on an all-India basis, and that he, as president of the League, be accepted as the sole spokesman for the Muslim community, many Muslims in British India “ferociously opposed the Muslim League’s demand for Pakistan” [5]. The All India Azad Muslim Conference, for example, advocated for a united India, opposing the partition. Allah Bakhsh Soomro, in his 1940 Delhi address, stated:

“Whatever our faiths we must live together in our country in an atmosphere of perfect amity and our relations should be the relations of the several brothers of a joint family, various members of which are free to profess their faith as they like without any (…) hindrance and of whom enjoy equal benefits of their joint property. No power on earth can rob anyone of his faith and convictions, and no power on earth shall be permitted to rob Indian Muslims of their just rights as Indian nationals.”

This is in-sync with the collective dream, the dream of a free land and free will, dreamt by our ancestors, irrespective of the God or religion they subscribed to, who fought as one against our common colonial oppressor. It is ironic that when the dream was finally realised, it was marred by blood and tears.

Now, don’t get me wrong. As an advocate for minority rights, I have great respect for Muhammad Ali Jinnah. He fought for the rights of Parsis, Christians, Sikhs and Hindus even after the creation of Pakistan. But it saddens me that the situation got to a point where splitting the country into two was the only way the leaders of Congress and the League could both simultaneously be in power. Also, if the real motivation behind the creation of a new Islamic state was so the minority would have the rights they otherwise would not have had in an undivided free India, then I’m sorry to say, subsequent Pakistani generations made a mockery of Jinnah’s dream by alienating members of minority communities. According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, between 1947 and 2019, religious minorities, including Christians, Hindus and Sikhs, has reduced from 23% to a mere 4% of the total population.

Speaking of the partition in itself, in all, 14 million people were displaced from their homes and up to 2 million died, and along with the fact that we got a British architect Sir Cyril Radcliffe to draw up the boundary lines, it makes me want to believe that the very act of partition was ill-planned and done in complete haste. And I’m not even going to get started on the mess in Kashmir. From the Indian perspective, having done my math, only 66% of Indian Muslims actually made up West and East Pakistan in 1947. Over a third (35.25%) of the total Muslim population chose to stay back in India. But if Jinnah & Co. posited that Muslims would be under-represented in an undivided India, they were surely going to be now. According to British India’s Census of 1941, 24% of the total Indian population (91 million) was Muslim. After partition in 1947, the number dropped to 10% (1951 Census), but has since gone up to 14% in the past 60 years. In the most ideal of worst cases where partition was an inevitability, the least the leaders on both sides could have done is to make sure there was a clean sorting of Muslims on one side and non-Muslims on the other, because one cannot help but admit that whatever beef (pun intended) Hindus and Muslims had with one another prior to 1947, the partition only made it worse in the decades to come, on either side of the border. I can only imagine how deeply frustrating and heartbreaking it must have been for the majority of the people who fought so hard, and knowing their fellow countrymen had laid down their lives in sacrifice so that we could live to be free, to see it get sliced to pieces. Most of us did not want this, and given a choice, would rather live in a free undivided India.

So, going back to the original question, in the generations following the partition, strictly from an Indian perspective, because of the long history of Persian invasions in India, Muslims were always seen as “outsiders”. The Mughal Empire managed to bring it down to an extent, by accepting this land as their own, but xenophobia and negative stereotypes against people of Islamic faith had always been around for centuries, but partition only made it worse. For a brief period in the early 20th century, the people of India had got a taste of how real unity and oneness feels like, when the entire nation irrespective of race, religion or gender, collectively fought against British oppression as one being, especially after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre that shook the nation out of its slumber. But when the Muslim League demanded a separate nation and got their way, the rest of us naturally felt betrayed. That resentment was wrongfully directed by some in the form of mistrust and hatred toward the few Muslims who chose to remain loyal to their original motherland. People wanted someone to blame and the ones who remained were easy targets. Islam got the reputation of a faith that does not compromise neither will fit into society, but instead try to create their own society. The rise of radical Islamic militancy and terrorism (particularly in Kashmir) has not helped their case at all. I’m not proud of this part of my country’s history and current reality, but it is what it is. Even today, most Muslims in India live in ghettos, and in poverty. If they try to raise a voice against injustice, they are mocked and asked “so why didn’t they go to Pakistan”. If Jinnah or Iqbal were alive today, they would probably say “I told you so”. Cow vigilantes in interior India, harassing and lynching those who consume beef, is an occurrence that happens more often than can be ignored. In the crudest of examples, every time there is a cricket match between India and Pakistan, the Indian Muslim feels the pressure to prove his/her loyalty to the Indian cricket team, which is sad, to be honest. Nobody deserves to live a life in constant fear and insecurity in their own country. But then, minority discrimination has marred civilisation throughout history and continues to do so all over the world. That does not make it okay, however.

But, having said that, these incidents and occurrences are few and far in-between, compared to the size of India’s population and landmass. India has made a conscious effort to remain a secular country we promised ourselves we would be in our constitution. Every major holiday of every religion is observed. Eid and Christmas may not be as big as Holi and Diwali but it is still celebrated by everybody. For a country that only has 14.2%, 2.3% and 1.7% of its population following the faith of Islam, Christianity and Sikhism respectively, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs sure have found representation in all walks and professions, be it in academics, armed forces, public services, sport, art, music, movies or politics. 3 of the 14 Presidents (4, if you count Chief Justice Mohammad Hidayatullah as Acting President for 35 days in 1969) and 4 of 13 vice Presidents were Muslim, including the most beloved of them all and someone I consider my role model, Dr. Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam. My other favourite icons are Shah Rukh Khan, A R Rahman, Farhan Akhtar and Zaheer Khan all happen to be Muslim, now that I realise. But I digress. India, as a nation, still has a long way to go. Communal tension is merely one of the many problems it faces right now, and the struggle to overcome is very much on. To answer the second part of the question, as to how those around me were affected by the partition… Honestly, we weren’t. It is important to realise that India had a population of 430 million in 1947, of which only 3% of the people were actually affected by the partition, most of them concentrated in Punjab and Bengal. I come from the south-west coast of India. My family and ancestors were more affected by the Portuguese oppression in Goa than the British and the entire Hindu-Muslim partition saga that followed, but that is a topic for another day, right?

In conclusion, did partition serve its purpose? No. If 1937 was a Congress vs Muslim League power grab with Britain being the third party benefactor, present day it is India vs Pakistan with the third parties being China, USA and the like. Nothing much has changed post the original Brexit of 1947. Could we have avoided the four wars that were needlessly fought over the past six decades? Maybe. Does it mean the lives, time and resources used up in war and arms deals only meant at intimidating one another could have been instead used to provide food, infrastructure and education to all on either side of the border? Hell yeah! Sure, I realise there is no going back, and we must learn to accept that. But if the whole point of history is to remind us of our mistakes, learn from them and never repeat them again, I think we are going wrong somewhere, and we need to look at how we should fix that. I shall continue to remain hopeful. Also, contrary to media perception and internet trolls, the fact is the common man in India and Pakistan alike does not hate one another. All said and done, we still are essentially the same people divided by an imaginary line drawn by a white dude, and that, my friend, is the story of partition summed up in a sentence.

[1] Talbot, Ian; Singh, Gurharpal (2009), The Partition of India, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-85661-4
[2] Wikipedia, 1937 Indian Provincial Elections
[3] Singh, Jaswant (2009). Jinnah: India—Partition—Independence. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-547927-0.
[4] Puri, Balraj (1–7 March 2008). “Clues to understanding Jinnah”. Economic and Political Weekly. Bombay: Sameeksha Trust. 43 (9): 33–35. JSTOR 40277204
[5] Ashraf, Ajaz (17 August 2017). “India’s Muslims and the Price of Partition”. The New York Times.

Also read: The Pakistanianish Penguin

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