By Mohammed Jehan Khan –
Today the development of the modern nation states (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) throughout the Indian subcontinent is a fascinating and heartbreaking process. 67 years ago, subcontinent Muslims were a part of the British Raj, a large multi-ethnic state which came under the British Empire. This period of the subcontinent, is what most scholars refer as the golden age of South Asian Muslims. Undoubtedly this generation has produced some great Muslim scholars, poets and scientists.
Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs lived in peace, there were no Talibans, no RSS Hindutva extremists, no Lakshar-E-Taiba, there were no Baluchistan freedom fighters, no Kashmiri separatist movements, there was no military oppression in Kashmir – what they had was a peaceful life. However a complex and intricate course of events in the 1940s and 70s brought about the end of the domination of Muslims in the region and the rise of these new nations with borders running across, diving Muslims from each other, creating rifts and inciting them to take arms and blast innocents, all in the name of a religion that forbids killing or harming any innocents.
It is an undeniable fact that the creation of Pakistan and Bangladesh has brought a great misfortune to the subcontinent Muslims. Apparently the partition of India weakened the subcontinent Muslims, and devolved their power into four different and opposite extremes. It is the root cause of the ongoing Kashmir crisis, Bangladeshi liberation war that took four million lives and created an Indian dominated vassal state in greater Bengal region ruled by two corrupted families, the Kargil war and the Operation Polo that annexed the Hyderabad State to Indian union and ended the monopoly of Muslims in the Deccan.
After the annexation of the Muslim-ruled state of Hyderabad by India in 1948, about 7,000 Muslims were due to emigrate to Pakistan at their own will from India. Most Muslims, however chose to stay in India. There was widespread violence against the Muslims as an aftermath of the ‘Police Action’ and Nehru had a committee investigate the pogrom against Muslims, but the resulting Sundarlal Report was never made public. An estimated 50–200,000 Muslims are believed to have been killed, and 120,000 Muslim women were abducted and raped during the riots. Many of the Muslim women refused to go back to Pakistan fearing that they would never be accepted by their family.
The first generation of Pakistan’s leaders did not share Ali Jinnah’s idea of creating a separate Muslim state by tearing up the greater Indian subcontinent. For example, Sir Allama Muhammad Iqbal, the most respected Indo-Pak poet had not demanded the establishment of Pakistan in his famous Allahabad address in 1930. He had in fact demanded the creation of Muslim states in the Muslim majority regions. Moreover, he was proud to proclaim himself as a part of Hindustan.
In 1910 Sir Iqbal openly quoted the following at Government College, Lahore, now in Pakistan:
Madh’hab nehin sikhata Apas meṉ bair rakhna
Hindi hain ham, watan hai
Hindustaṉ hamara hamara…
Religion does not teach us to bear ill-will among ourselves
We are of Hind, our homeland is Hindustan.
Today this song of Iqbal is known as ‘Saare Jahan Se Achcha’ and has remained popular in India after independence.
Certainly the younger generations of Pakistan and Bangladesh may not have a proper sense of the losses and gains that were suffered by both sides and so any doubts may evaporate with time. It is natural that they feel closer nationalistic ties to modern day Pakistan and Bangladesh and not to a greater subcontinent that was bitterly divided over half a century ago. The older generation that witnessed the bloodshed and migration, meanwhile, has good reason to second guess partition given the current political instability.
Even today there is increasing ghetto-isation and isolation of Muslims in certain areas in India. We mustn’t forget that in much of India prior to 1947, Muslims and Hindus for the most part lived harmoniously. Since Partition, with the riots and killings between the two religious communities, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have struggled to maintain normal relations. One of the biggest debates occurs around the disputed region of Kashmir, over which there have been three wars, and the reasons for the wars have related only to the confusion over partition.
There is no right or wrong answer as to whether the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent was a mistake. Were mistakes made? Sure. Are mistakes still being made? Absolutely. The fact remains that for Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, it is far too dangerous to acknowledge such a question publicly because to question partition is to question the legitimacy of those newly formed states. Now is no time to think of what mistakes were made. Think instead of what should be done to ensure the unity of Muslims and Hindus in this region.