by Vaneet Kundra
THE Partition of India ranks, beyond a doubt, as one of the 10 greatest tragedies in human history. It was not inevitable. India’s independence was inevitable; but preservation of its unity was a prize that, in our plural society, required high statesmanship. That was in short supply. A mix of other reasons deprived us of that prize – personal hubris, miscalculation, and narrowness of outlook.
The bare details of 1947 and its legacy are stark. The territorial partition that created modern India and Pakistan involved the internal division of Punjab and Bengal provinces, which – in unimaginable conditions of collapse of authority, flight, and massacre – resulted in the forced movement of 20 million people (Hindus and Sikhs to India and Muslims to Pakistan) and approximately 1.5 million deaths.
My grandfather used to tell me stories of partition and the emotions attached to it. I was quite interested to know, why the same sons of soil were detached by our founding fathers. He read a small article, which he had preserved.
“This feeling of disbelief is best summarised in the words of an officer in charge of refugee rehabilitation in Punjab, who said: “we in India were only vaguely familiar with the word ‘refugee’ and used to wonder why people should be compelled to leave homes. Even our refugees expressed surprise at the strange phenomenon of exchange of population and were heard saying, we used to hear about the change of rulers but for the first time the ruled are also changing places”.
The partition of 1947 was far more than an abstract line across administrative maps; it sought to create separate enclaves for different religious communities. In August 1947, when the “Radcliffe award ” partitioning Punjab and Bengal was announced, millions of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs now found that they no longer “belonged” to the place they were born in and had lived in forever.
But some questions remain unanswered, even if dwell deep into history to know the real reasons. It was a master stroke developed by British rulers on the policy of ‘ Divide and rule ‘. But the fact remains, that we are two different countries in territory, but not different in our culture, history, values, emotions, ancestors, language, food and jokes, specially the people of undivided pre-partition Punjab.
The imperialists never forgot to play their game of ‘ Divide and rule’, inspite leaving our land in 1947. They kept on pumping arms and ammunition to both us with a double benefit. Their economy thrives on this particular industry. We both pay them for arms to fight one another. They have a win-win situation all the time. Then we give them all the importance to mediate between us all the time. They have become our Super- Rulers again without any cost.
There was a photo published in several Delhi newspapers during the nuclear stand-off of 1998, when popular media discourse was spiced with comment about how the Indian nuclear-tipped warheads could reach all the way to Lahore and Islamabad.
The photo showed a crowd of Hindus and Sikhs dancing in patriotic celebration of India’s momentary advantage over Pakistan in the race for regional military supremacy. What intrigued me was that the revellers were the descendants of Hindu and Sikh refugees from Pakistan; in hard logic, they were cheering the capacity to annihilate the land of their parents and grandparents. Such nationalist intoxication too is the fruit of partition.
After doing my B.A. ( Hons. ) from St. Stephens College, Delhi University, I came down to Amritsar to assist my brother in business as we had a business in Delhi and Amritsar both. For many years, I did not get the chance to visit Wagah border. Our business friends from Rajasthan had come to Amritsar with their family. They were quite eager to go there and see the retreat, as they had heard a lot about it in Rajasthan So me and my wife drove them upto Wagah, one fine Sunday in winters. This was during the time when Gen. Mushraff’ was the President of Pakistan.
While driving past Amritsar upto Wagah, we had thought, specially our Rajasthani friends, we would experience all that should be different. People, food, dwellings, crops, etc. Also, we’d thought everything should look, as between worst enemies, torn and divided: Culture, Community, Ancestry, History and Religion. But that was not to be. It was as if it were an extension of India into Pakistan, with nothing noticeable that tells one from the other.
We had heard about the Drill at Wagah and the sentiments attached to the event. A colleague in my office had once told me, “One is very enthused and enough prepared to die for the country at that moment, Sir”. The Indian side shouts “Vande-Matram, Bharat Mata ki Jai and Hindustan Zindabad”. The other side says, “Pakistan Zindabad, Paaindabad.” Lowering of the flags on both sides is followed by a common drill in which the Border Security Force Men and Pakistani Rangers ‘out step’ each other with overt and aggressive, macho display of strength.
Well we reached the Wagah Border with barbed fencing leading from both sides. The strong iron-gates were painted in tricolor scheme on ‘our’ side and green & white on ‘theirs’. Crowds of people having patriotic blood flowing through their veins had gathered on both sides. Each half was charitable but only to itself in shouting slogans. It was here that I felt there existed two countries, two people, two communities, two entities.
But still carried away by my fondness and respect for our mutual bonhomie with Pakistan, the tales of which I had heard from my father and grandfather, I began cheering even the ‘other side’ when they sought response to their sloganory exhortations. Suddenly then, I felt a tapping on my shoulder by ‘someone’. I turned back and looked someone with whom an argument ensued reflexively.
“Why are you cheering them?”
“There is nothing wrong in that”
“Are you one of those?”
“And are you someone different?”
“Don’t know they’re separate now?”
“Do Rivers stop entering this side?”
“Political rhetoric is long dead”
“So will be peace-willing generations!”
“Khushwants, Nayyars, Asma Jahangirs?”
“Yes. Precisely. So let’s cheer each other.”
“Don’t hear they swear by Allah?”
“Large number among us also does that.”
“They’re under seize and are tensed.”
“That’s why they deserve our cheers!”
“Emotional fool! Go your way”
Having been thus ticked off, I realized that ‘Someone’ was none else than my own flawed self. But what I had been looking in that crowd, even after the event of retreat drill, was the face of a child called Noor. Remember she had a successful heart surgery in Hindustan some years back. I am sure the likes of her would be the new generation of peace-willers in Pakistan. The retreat left me more hopeful. Emotional fool. Did you say that? No. Now it is ‘someone’ again at it. Damn him and hail peace!