The other partition
Partition was bloody. It was about lives being lost, women being raped. It was about displacement and misery. It was about twelve million souls leaving their homes. It was as one poet put it, ‘ Then began those months of disgrace by the end of which Muslims had won, Hindus had won but humanity had lost.’
Partition was about loss. Loss of homes, families, dignity, life and yes humanity. The horrific stories of partition haunt us to date. Even us, those Indians and Pakistanis who were not even born when the last war between India and Pakistan was fought in 1971. We might not be able to feel the pain but we can see and hear it. Our environment has ensured that we carry it within us. Our environment made up of our textbooks, of our movies even our games. I remember playing dodge the ball in the grounds of Lahore’s Convent of Jesus and Mary and rooting for my team as , `Pakistan jeet gaya, India haar gaya.’ We are traumatized by our real past but more so because of our imagined or misconstrued past. Thus it has followed us. That is it has followed us up till now.
For now, perhaps we can also read and know about those individuals who even during the partition riots helped each other, regardless of religion. These people were ordinary folks. Most of them don’t even have names but they sure have a presence in history. A presence that has been documented from people’s oral histories by Messer Ahmed Salim,Leonard De Souza and Ms.Nosheen De’Souza in their book “Violence, memories & peace building: A citizen’s report on minorities in India and Pakistan. “printed by the South Asian Resource and Research Center. This report is about the other side of partition. The human, untold side of partition. It is about Kirpan Singh of Gujarat who got his own house torched by a Hindu mob while protecting the Muslim houses. When asked as to why he stood in the way of the mob, he told the report authors, “ How would I have faced my Creator if I had not stopped the mob?’
This report is about a Muslim constable, Fateh Mohammad. In many cases that have been well documented now, the policemen of West Punjab committed excesses but Fateh Mohammad stood out. A Muslim constable who found a 16 year old Sikh girl during the riots. The girl’s parents had been murdered in the communal riots. He brought her to his house and swore over a Holy Quran in the presence of his family to treat the girl as his own daughter .He kept his vow while making efforts to locate any relative of hers. Years later, he was able to track down her brother who took her away.
This report is also about S.Narain Singh of Bathinda who gave shelter to a young Muslim girl who lost her parents in the riots too. He got her admitted in school along with his daughter and when she was old enough he married her to that of her own faith.
This report is about activist Tahira Mazhar Ali‘s recollection of the day Gandhi was killed. Talking to the authors, she declares, “ In Jan 1948, when the news of Gandhi Ji’s assassination came, shops closed down spontaneously & people openly wept. The borders of hatred which some had attempted to erect could not be kept up amidst the tide of emotions. ‘
Moreover, this report is about Fatima Bibi’s recollection of her Hindu neighbor with whom she was very friendly. This woman had two daughters. Once an uncle of hers died in another village and she had to go there. In her absence, her husband stayed at home with the daughters. “On the first day I went to their house and said to the husband that since you will not eat the food prepared by us so I will give you the recipe of panjiri and you can prepare it.’ Panjiri is a sweet dish. The husband cooked it. When the friend came back & found out she was angry & vowed to her husband,’ You cooked panjiri when my relative died. I’ll make halwa when your mother dies.’ Fatima Bibi roars with laughter as she recalls the episode.
It is encouraging to see that efforts are being made to try to understand the Indian-Pakistan relationship at the human level on both sides of the border. In Pakistan we have the SARRC report. In India a young Indian researcher, Dr. Navita Mahajan is presently working on examining interjects that shape how young Indian and Pakistanis see each other. This research examines text books, films, plays of both countries and also asks young college students of both countries their views about each other. Talking to the vista, Dr. Mahajan stated, “ Doubtless, India and Pakistan are separate geographical entities. Our shared past is bruised & fragmented. Indian histories are being written, often untidily by Indian historians. Pakistani historians are, at the same time busy writing the history of Pakistan with little or no sense of the unities in their past. But then is it fair to deny to their school & college students their shared past & collective memories? “
The report published by the South Asian Resource and Research Center is about rediscovering our collective past. The past that consisted of the trauma of partition but also reaffirms the humanism of some. The past that consisted of creating the ‘other’ but also recognizing that the ‘other’ looks oddly familiar. This past is important to know. For it is only when we are at peace with our past can we even begin to consider peace for our future. The two hundred and sixty four pages of the SARRC report shout out one and only one thing: For peace to have a chance, our past must be made peace with first. Confidence building measures, talk etc cannot take place when we are haunted by the memories of ‘47. Those memories cannot be wished away. All of us have read and heard them. But what we have not read and heard are the Kirpan Singhs of partition, the mourning Lahore at the time of Gandhi’s death and we have certainly not read and heard about our collective unities. This report is certainly an attempt to re-humanize and to do away with the ‘other’ concept.
We are children of South Asia. We’ve forgotten that. When Gandhi died Lahore the city of lights mourned. Shops closed down. There is no ‘other’. Its being created & our interjects such as films, text books, traumatic oral histories are reinforcing this concept of “us” and the “other” on both sides of the border. So much so that even the fourth generation after partition subconsciously carries within themselves the “other “concept. They recall the trauma of partition. The SARRC report is about showing the human kindness of a number of people during partition too. It is an attempt, after fifty nine years to switch on the lights and show that the `other” was the imagination of the dark.
As one individual recalls in the SARRC report, on the night of partition, “the whole night the radio screamed,’ Freedom! Freedom!’ Today we are free of white imperialism. At one minute past midnight, we were free & there was firing the whole night. However what has not been freed are Allah-o-Akbar; Har Har Mahadev & Sar Sirf Akaf.’”
Ahmed Salim and his co-authors of the report, “ Violence, memories & peace building: A citizen’s report on minorities in India and Pakistan.” have tried to show us that it is time to free them too.