Lessons Not Learned From Partition of India

Every year, we cherish the iconic Nehru speech on the Independence day; but who wants to recall the disastrous times of Partition with it? We live in an era where a major part of the population is inebriated on the forever happening social media and its trends’ one would find this story rather depressing and gloomy. Perhaps that’s why, today when we are constantly nudged about the shortcomings of the 70-year long regime of Congress party- we still miss to explore the 70-year long legacy of Partition and the teachings it left for us.

We might have not even considered India without Partition, except in even more communal debates of “Akhand Bharat”; because believe it or not, we have all capitalized on this tragedy. Be it ICCI who gets its most business over India-Pakistan Cricket match’s ticket, or TV news channels who owe their TRP to debates on Indo-Pak relations or us whose patriotism gets enlightened only against Pakistan. Well, it doesn’t matter to bother about India without Partition because it wasn’t any impulsive decision at the time of independence but a well planned and well thought outcome of a bigger strategy by the Brits that has its roots in their ‘Divide and Rule’ policy.

It took us 100 years to finally free our country from colonial rule and yet the 100 years ended with a year long of blood-bath and war on the name of religion. That one year has led to four wars, persistent gun-firing at the border, and never ending tension between India and Pakistan. Partition is considered as the greatest mass migration in modern human history, but of course the migrant crisis of 2020 gave a tough competition. Over 14 million people were relocated during partition in 1947. Around 1 million people lost their lives. These are still the conservative estimated figures, the actual number is still unknown. The lives and destinies of all those who suffered during partition are forgotten by the government, just like ‘Acche Din’!

We will be celebrating 73 years of democracy this week, but let’s not forget to remember and mourn the atrocities of Partition. Certainly, 15th August marks the biggest celebration of our lives i.e. the celebration of our freedom, but it is also important for us to ponder whether we are really free today. By this freedom, I am not referring to freedom from governmental control, corruption(we all know the answer to that!). I am talking about freedom from ourselves, our own conservative ideologies, freedom from religious and caste biases; and most importantly, are we free from political manipulation?

Today, we are being subjected to the same ‘Divide and Rule’ strategy that the Brits used on us for their political gains. This is why we need to recall the nightmares of partition to realize that this partition among various communities in the society does no good to anyone, except the politicians.

The seeds of partition had been sown in 1905. In the essence of it all, lies the famous Divide and Rule policy by the British. In 1905, Lord Curzon applied the same rule in Bengal and divided it into three parts: East bengal and Assam with a Muslim majority, and West Bengal with a Hindu majority. This was the beginning of a long lasting division in the Indian society on the basis of religion. This led to many protests in Bengal but we didn’t call them anti-nationals then. Finally in 1911, the authorities revoked the partition and Bengal was reunited, only to be divided again on linguistic grounds.

People then were also shown the sweet dreams of better days. The Muslims of East Pakistan thought that they would ultimately be provided independent status and hence, they supported the move. So when Bengal was reunited in 1911, their hopes were shattered. This was only the first spark that led to the huge pyre of hatred that burns our nation even today. After this incident, the demand for separate states for Hindus and Muslims resonated all over the country. The two most important political parties at that time, the Indian National Congress and All India Muslim league also began to grow apart. In 1916, the two parties came together to fight for self-rule and signed the Lucknow pact. This was no less than the reunion of “Karan-Arjun” of that era but alas, it didn’t last long. The Lucknow pact brought the two groups together against independence but they both still had their own agendas that ultimately lead to partition.

Meanwhile, World War I began in 1919 and England asked for help from Indian subcontinent. In return, Indians demanded independence. To silence the uprisal, England offered a “lollipop” of the Government of India Act 1919. This act proposed provincial autonomy but not complete independence. This act was again brought up in 1935 and that led to the commencement of elections in India.

What happened next will come as a huge shock to you- victory of Congress in elections. The Indian National Congress had won 707 seats while the Muslim league won only 106 seats. This made Jinnah insecure about his position in independent India. This insecurity kept on escalating after that, we’ll come to it later.

The thought of partition at that time wasn’t even a distant reality for anybody at that time, but the term ‘Pak-stan’ was being coined already in 1930 by Chaudhary Rehmat Ali, founder of the Pakistan National Movement. The turning of this story is considered to be the increasing demand of communal award in 1932. Under this, it was requested to keep special electorates for the minorities. Gandhi rejected any such award that added on to the insecurity minorities had been experiencing then. They felt that their needs and demands are being ignored and Mohammad Ali Jinnaf used this opportunity to highlight minority persecution in the country.

Then came World War II in 1939 and England again needed forces from India. We again demanded freedom in return. British brought another “lollipop”; this time, it was Cripps Mission 1942. This mission will jog your memory of Article 370 that has been forgotten today. It proposed dominion status for the Indian Union but the post of governor-general was to remain intact. The princely states were allowed to have separate constitutions and form a separate Union. Moreover, the power assigned for the defence sector was limited and there was no mention of complete transfer of power back to India anywhere. This was considered a temporary or provisional solution, or so they said!

This mission was unanimously rejected by all, the Indian National Congress, All India Muslim League, and even by Britain’s then Prime Minister Winston Churchill. So it won’t be wrong to say that the Cripps mission was crippled as miserably as RTI today.

The most important implication of this incident was that this mission was together rejected by both Hindus and Muslims as this mission proposed semi-independence only. This means that until then also, Hindus and Muslims were together in fight against the British. So what led to partition?

As mentioned earlier, the rejection of Communal Award created differences among various minority and majority groups in India. The major issue behind this was that Hindus at that time were the most developed community. They were highly educated and held most government jobs. Along with this, there were many religious biases prevalent in the society, plus the divide and rule game continued on the sidelines.

In 1946, British introduced another “lollipop” called the Cabinet Mission Plan. It proposed a three-tiered federation, with British India’s provinces split into three groups which correspond roughly to present day India, Pakistan and a combination of Bengal and Assam. So basically, they brought up an official “tukde-tukde” plan.

The plan proposed three groups:
Group A consisted of Madras, Central Provinces, Orissa, UP, Bihar, and Bombay;
Group B consisted of Punjab, Sindh, and North-East frontier provinces;
Group C consisted of Bengal and Assam;

These groups were allowed to maintain their own constitution and legislature to enact their own laws. Which essentially meant that there would have been no Pakistan but the story of Partition was to remain the same; or in simpler terms- Heads, Brits win and Tails, we lose!

Muslim league whole heartedly supported this bill but apparently it didn’t work out. Why? The reason is what we get for the failure of everything today- Jawahar Lal Nehru.

Being a socialist, Nehru didn’t support the bill at all and so didn’t Congress. The problem was that the bill proposed to keep India united but the power to be vested to the Union of India was diluted. This meant that the country was to be divided in several groups with each of them having their own constitution and legislature. So there could have been not just one but several Kashmirs if the bill was passed.

When the bill was denied, Jinnah launched Direct Action Day on August 16th. He called out to all the Muslims across India to suspend their businesses and leave their jobs to demand for a separate nation, Pakistan. He announced that there would either be ‘divided India’ or ‘destroyed India’. This led to communal riots and killings in Bengal at such a massive scale that Indians had not seen till then. The language of the rioters used then was quite similar to what we see today. That day is now known as the ‘Great Calcutta Killings’ but honestly there was nothing great about this day, only ‘REGRET’.

This had made it clear that Partition was inevitable. On February 20th, British Prime Minister Clement Attlee declared that the British rule in India would end before June 1948. India and Pakistan got at least a year to negotiate and make arrangements for the two newly independent countries. The twists and turns of this story had no end though.

In June 1947, Lord Mountbatten decided that the power was to be transferred 10 months prior to what was expected. In this rush, Cyril Radcliffe was called from England to draw the borders for India and Pakistan. Cyril Radcliffe was a complete stranger to Indian civilization. He had never been to India, nor was he aware of the linguistic, cultural and regional diversity of India. Seems like the British was only focussed in drawing some irregular borders and leaving in haste, but then why did they waste time in calling a lawyer from England?

Radcliffe had less than five weeks to draw the borders. It wasn’t until two days after the Partition that the Pakistan borders were completely drawn and established. The lives of millions of people was not more than a joke for politicians (looks like not much has changed in this regard at least!).

This obviously had initiated a lot of chaos and like all times, common men had to bear the consequences. Radcliffe had as much understanding of India’s cultural diversity as that of Rakhi Sawant’s understanding of politics (though I highly doubt that the latter has any). So he basically divided the country on the basis of Hindu-Muslim population. The other factors considered were economic resources, railway lines, and irrigation facilities. In all this partition circus, Punjab and Bengal were considered like some birthday cake and were cut irregularly and illogically. Punjab was recklessly divided into two halves with no one having a clue about the villages, cities, towns becoming a part of Pakistan. There was no planning(like usual), no governance(was there any, ever?) but only hatred(duh!). This hatred led to riots, massacres following the partition.

The atmosphere was so terrifying that the Muslims inhabitants in India started believing that it would be better to go to Pakistan and those who did not were told to. There, in Pakistan, the Hindus were frightened by all the persecution and were forced to leave their houses in haste. Partition had resulted in horrendous massacres, forced conversions, mass abductions and hideous crimes against women(well, how else they would have satisfied their male egos?!)

According to official figures, some 75,000 women were raped during partition. Millions of families were affected by this mass migration; some lost their money, some had to give up their houses and property, some got separated from friends and families while some lost their lives. Journalists, who covered concentration camps during partition found the atrocities of partition more disturbing. The government, not at all surprisingly, did nothing to prevent or control destruction at such a massive scale. It was reported by many historians that when India and Pakistan were burning in the hatred the Brits ignited, Lord Mountbatten was watching a movie called “My Favorite Brunette” in Viceroy House. For three days, there was no sign of authorities on the streets and anybody could murder anybody.

For us, August 15th marks the dawn of freedom and prosperity, but for many- it still brings back the harsh memories of partition. We often rejoice in the golden days of our history; it is also our responsibility to keep the black days of the same history alive. Not to cry and regret but to make sure that we don’t fall for the same ploys again. We must also not forget that independence is not a gift but an achievement that took hundreds of people to sacrifice their lives for us. It was a struggle that took a hundred years, and finally when the day came- it wasn’t without a cost. People then were hoodwinked to believe that their religion is in danger, communities are in danger (sounds familiar?).

HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF. If we do not want the history of partition to be repeated, we will have to constantly acknowledge the first time it happened. We will have to realize that if we are divided on the basis of religion or caste, we do not get free but slaves of our politicians. For true freedom, we will have to break free of all those beliefs and thoughts that make us hate other human beings, that provoke hatred and violence in us; any idea that separates us from humanity has to be given up. Then only, we will be able to truly call ourselves an independent state.

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