Page 1



understanding the largest involuntary migration of people in history



issue i | may 2012

issue i | may 2012


26 DIVIDED FAMILIES What happened to those who were left behind or left alone? yasmin khan

The Sikh princes and the East Punjab Massacres of 1947 ian copland








REVIEW The Transnational Politics of Deepa Mehta’s Earth










Indo-Pak Cricket Frenzy arindam sen

j herman

MEMORY The story of Murad urvashi butalia

PARALLEL A Cautionary Tale for Israel & Palestine jeffrey weiss

cover photo: Margaret Bourke­-White left: Margaret Bourke­-White

Citizen’s Archive of Pakistan’s Oral History Project hassan jamal

Remembering Partition: Violence, Nationalism, & History in India gyanendra pandey

magazine design: Anum Awan issue i | may 2012


rawalpindi 23

lahore 10, 14, 18, 28

jaranwala 16

karachi 45, 48, 50

multan 51, 52, 54


partition | 1947

Map of pre Partition India


jalandhar 16, 39

chandigarh 28

patiala 24, 34, 43

nabha 24, 34

delhi 18, 28, 32, 50

calcutta 32, 44

lucknow 34, 36, 41

bombay 42, 44

bangalore 39

issue i | may 2012


review The Transnational Politics of Deepa Mehta’s Earth

J. Herman


partition | 1947

Earth, by Deepa Mehta is an intelligent and deeply moving personal account of the partition of India. In August 1947 the departing British colonial rulers announced the division of the subcontinent into a Muslim-controlled Pakistan and a Hindu-Sikh dominated India. The partition was organised by the British Labour government with the support and collaboration of the Muslim League and the Indian Congress Party. At least 11 million people—Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and others—caught on the wrong side of the dividing lines were driven out of their homes. Some reports put the death toll from communalist pogroms and rioting at one million. The greatest numbers were killed in Punjab, which was split in two. Tens of thousands died in weeks of carnage. Many commentators have described this event as one of the worst man-made tragedies of the last half-century. It was a political catastrophe whose reverberations are still being felt, and one that has plunged the sub-continent into three wars and in recent months brought India and Pakistan to the brink of nuclear war. (As a point of information, the first proposal drawn up by the British in 1947 was called “Plan Balkan” and envisaged the fragmentation of India. It was abandoned and partition adopted after concerns were raised about the dangers posed by the disintegration of the Indian military.) Deepa Mehta’s film, which bases itself on Bapsi Sidhwa’s novel Cracking India, portrays this disaster through the eyes of a child—Lenny, an 8-year-old crippled girl—from Lahore, the Punjabi city that saw some of the bloodiest pogroms. The experiences, hopes and fears of this young girl provide an intense portrait of the period. Young Lenny (Maia Sethna) belongs to the Parsee minority, a religious sect that immigrated to India from Persia during the 9th century in order to escape religious persecution following the rise of Islam. The Parsees, because of their willingness to cooperate with the British colonial rulers, carved out a comfortable existence as merchants and industrialists. Lenny’s family is well off and maintains friendly relations with the British authorities and the various religious groupings. The family household has six servants drawn from a number of different religious backgrounds. Lenny has a warm and loving family and a life free of care. Her nanny, Ayah Shanta (Nandita Das), a beautiful young Hindu woman has several young men—Sikh, Hindu and Muslim—wooing her and who also treat Lenny with equal affection. The harmony in Lenny’s life, however, begins to break up as the date approaches for the British to quit India and they prepare to divide the subcontinent.

A dinner party held at the house, attended by the British Inspectorate of Police and Mr Singh, a Sikh friend of the family, erupts over the future of the country. Lenny and her precocious young cousin, hiding under the dinner table, hear Singh denounce the British. Relations between Lenny’s parents and various business associates start to turn sour. Everyday jokes and innocent games between friends of different religious backgrounds are replaced by bickering and harsh remarks over religion and family bloodlines. Leaders of the religious and ethnic groupings begin jockeying for positions within the new order being established by the departing British authorities. Even as the mood becomes charged with rumours and dangerous tensions, Ayah’s love-life blossoms and her affections turn towards Hasan (Rahul Khanna), a Muslim. Hasan urges Ayah’s friends to stand by each other and resist the increasing fanaticism. But rising tensions are inflamed with reports of murder, rape, and rioting mobs wrecking homes, shops and temples and mosques. Ice Candy Man (Aamir Khan), another young man vying for Ayah’s affection, is inexorably drawn in by communalist rhetoric; each rumour and massacre report unhinging the previously stable and affable young man. When Ayah falls in love with Hasan, Ice Candy Man, enraged by jealousy and wound-up by the mob atmosphere, leads a group of Muslim rioters to Lenny’s house to demand the removal of all Hindu servants, including Ayah. The servants attempt to protect Ayah, claiming that she has left the house. Lenny, disoriented by the menacing mob and trusting the Ice Candy Man, admits that Ayah is still in the house. The young nanny is dragged off to her death. Lenny’s innocent mistake will haunt her for the rest of her life. One British film critic has described Earth as a “mawkish look at the impact of partition on a small group of friends of mixed religions ... a Bollywood influenced confection ... that at-

tempts to shock with a catalogue of atrocities”. These condescending remarks are without foundation and leave one wondering what sort of film would satisfy this critic. Perhaps a cold impersonal account, in which real people are translated into silent, abstract numbers, figures to be examined like microbes in a laboratory test-tube? In opposition to the climate of cynicism and callous indifference to the fate of ordinary people, Earth is a courageous and humane film. Mehta is clearly animated by a determination to end the long silence by western filmmakers and artists about this terrible chapter in the 20th century. The film is rich with comments from its characters denouncing partition and doubletalking local politicians. One particularly notable moment sees the film’s protagonists listening to a radio broadcast by Congress Party leader Jawaharial Nehru, India’s first prime minister. Nehru declares: “At the stroke of the midnight hour [August 15, 1947], when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.” These comments are greeted with cynicism and dis- Many commentators have described gust, with one of this event as one of the worst man the characters later declaring that “in- made tragedies of the last half-century dependence from the British will be soaked in our brothers’ blood”. Excellent performances by its cast, in particular Maia Sethna as Lenny and the alluring Nandita Das as Ayah; and an hypnotic musical score by A. R. Rahman, with lyrics by Javed Akhtar, one of India’s leading poets, combine to make Earth a powerful work. In a world where nationalism prevails in popular culture, Mehta’s film is a breath of fresh air, a salutary warning of the consequences of chauvinism and religious bigotry and a testimony to this director’s principled approach to filmmaking.

issue i | may 2012



Urvashi Butalia



muslim refugees delhi 1947 Margaret Bourke足-White

Murad, a tonga puller in Lahore, was a child at the time of Partition and lived in India. Like many children, he too did not

issue i | may 2012



sheikh memon street, bombay 1947 Margaret Bourke­-White




I have never met Murad: I reproduce his interview here with the permission of the interviewers, Peter Chappell and Satti Khanna, for whose film it was done. I have chose to include Murad’s interview here after much thought and for very specific reasons. It seems to me that Murad’s recollection of his childhood experience of dislocation exemplifies many things I have spoken of above. The rather sophisticated, somewhat terse and distant telling of his story is clearly the telling of an adult and Murad was in his fifties when Peter and Satti met him. Yet, according to them, it was the first time he was telling his story in a self–conscious way: if this was so, it made me wonder whether the process of such self–conscious recovery works to lend a coherence and linearity to narratives, such as Murad’s seems to have. Another question that this narrative raised for me is whether the ‘downplaying’ that is so evident in what Murad says — ‘we lay there and passed the time’ is how he describes an experience that must surely have been full of fear — almost as if the whole thing was a game, is one way of making sense of an experience that may otherwise have been incomprehensible to the child who lived it. It is perhaps because of this that I have been drawn to this interview again and again, for it brings home to me, repeatedly, the question of how a child makes sense of such a traumatic experience and indeed how the adult that child inevitably turns into, remembers and recounts that experience. When Peter Chappell and Satti Khanna 10

partition | 1947

spoke to Murad, there was no ambivalence in how he felt about the differences between Hindus and Muslims. Yet in his recollection of his childhood there is an element of nostalgia—and of realism in the last story he tells—for the happy mixing that took place between the two communities. Did Lahore—which became symbolic of the uprooting—and Partition to do this to him? Or would a Muslim or a Hindu child—would Murad in other words—have become increasingly Muslim anyway, aware of his identity as someone different from his Hindu neighbor, or was this a result of Partition? And had such an awareness come in the normal course, would it have drawn such deep lines through Murad’s life as the move to ‘Lahore’ seemed to have done? These are questions that need to be posed in every instance where one can see a crystallizing of identities around religion after Partition. It is not a question that can be easily answered. Murad’s interview is also important because it is one of the few that provides a perspective from the ‘other side’—and it is not surprising to see how similar experiences are. Minus the geographical location and the name, Murad’s narrative could be that of a poor child on either side of the border. More important than the question of location and religion then, are the telling insights Murad offers. To give just one example: ‘Landlords go to landlords and the poor go to the poor,’ he says, describing how and where he sought support and solidarity. Class is not so easily dismissed after all.

interview I was a small child. My uncle lived in India. Someone would take me to any of the persons around, but they would refuse to take responsibility for me. People would say that I would bring bad luck. A schoolmaster accepted me and I started living with him. He cared for me. He was more sympathetic to me than my close relatives and looked after my needs. I would take his cattle to the grazing ground. Then the controversy over Pakistan and Hindustan came up. I would always be out playing… My maternal uncles took me to their homes. They thought I would be killed while I was playing out on the streets. One day, we were inside the house. My uncle came in and sat down. Sikhs came! Daughter fuckers! First they knocked my uncle down… I thought I would also be killed and tried to get out. Sug-

arcane chaff was piled at the back. I jumped into it and wrapped myself with the scruff. There was another uncle of mine. He came after some time, shook me and said what now? We should run away, I said. They would not spare us even if they killed my uncle. My uncle who had been killed had given a few coins… Then we came to a camp nearby. It was miserable there. A man was bringing the sugarcane and another was cutting this into pieces. If they saw a Muslim they would kill him. Somehow, hiding, we reached the camp. Near the camp there was a sugarcane field, no food to be had, we lay on the ground and passed the time. Both my parents died when I was a child. Where I was taken, people refused to take me in saying I would bring ill luck… Nobody was ready to keep me. Unwillingly the older uncle took me in. A few Sikhs lived around our village on the

main road. People said ‘he plays outside all the time… There are bullets flying around, he will get killed.’ So they took me back to our village, then some mirasis took care of me. I would graze their horses and eat with them. I got up on the roof, saw the Sikhs come and kill three or four of them. I thought, if they have killed these men, why should they spare me? They will kill me as well. So I jumped into a pile of sugarcane chaff and lay down. I thought they’ll think it’s sugarcane and go away, they’ll get lose. Then we will figure out a way to escape. My uncle came and said, ‘they’ve killed your grandfather as well, let’s go away from here.’ We headed towards the camp, the Sikhs were in strength all around. A military train came, they said, all those who do not have families to protect them should get into the train. ‘We are ready to leave for Pakistan.’ We issue i | may 2012



got in. There was a qila near River Beas. The train stopped and we got down. We were three or four boys. They said let us drink lassi. I said no, I will not drink lassi, they must have poisoned it. We entered the bazaar. All three of them had lassi but I did not. I said, better to drink the river water, the soldiers have checked it. It’s free of poison. We came back. All three collapsed and were dead. Then there were lorries ready to leave for Pakistan. A man said, the Sikhs will slaughter us on the way. I am not going, I said. I will only leave when our solids come. I am already lost. Why invite death this way? The lorries owned by Muslims came. We got in. We got out at Wagah border. Now find your way, they said. Nowhere to go, I thought. I did not know the way. I started following someone from Jalandhar. I would not spend the few coins I had. They would be needed if things got worse. As I reached Sahedra night was falling. There were date trees and shrubs all around. People were miserable and sick with cholera. I left the place and moved towards a village called Attari. I saw an old woman. I said mother, I want to stay here. ‘You can stay here,’ she said. ‘Where have you come from?’ she asked. ‘From a well to an abyss,’ I replied, ‘I have no relatives.’ She was kind, she gave me root to eat. ‘If you want to stay we can provide you with a house,’ she said. ‘What for, dear mother?’ I said, ‘What can I do with a house? I have no family.’ I came out on the road. A truck came. It stopped. Buses were rare in those times. People used to travel in trucks. A man shouted: ‘To Jaranwala.’ ‘Do you dig roots out there?’ I said, ‘I am already 12

partition | 1947

uprooted. Why bother me?’ ‘Friend, you seem to have suffered a lot,’ the driver said, ‘come, get in.’ I got down at Jaranwala. I roamed about a bit and said, this is the place where they dig the roots out. I knew no one. A tonga man came shouting, ‘Saran di Khoo.’ ‘What is that?’ I asked. ‘It’s a stop,’ he replied. I was a boy, so he said ‘you won’t be a burden. You are just a child.’ But anyhow, I would lose a bit of money. ‘Never mind, I will give you a free ride.’ ‘You are kind,’ I said. He took me to that stop. There was a village nearby. I came into the village. Landlords go to landlords and poor go to the poor. There were some porters. I went to them, told them my story. ‘We are already in a bad shape,’ they said. ‘It seems you have suffered even more than we did but we can’t make both ends meet.’ If this is the state, I thought, why not go to the mandi and try my luck there. Can one find work there? ‘Yes, you can,’ they said. They showed me a hut. Then I came to Lahore. There was a ‘Shawan da Dera’ here. I would come to this place regularly. There were cartdrivers who plied tongas. I started looking after the horses. I would get two annals per house for scrubbing them. The time passed. I said to the chaudhry, ‘Can’t I ply a tonga?’ ‘You don’t know the roads in Lahore.’ ‘I will find out. I can ask those who know.’ There was a cartdriver who left his job. His horse was there. No experienced cartdriver was available. So Chaudhry asked me to drive the tonga. I would ask the passengers when to turn, where do you want to get to, which road leads to your place. I tried to hide the fact that I knew nothing. But what a misfortune! My hands



sikh convoy from lyllapur to east punjab, india 1947 Margaret Bourke足-White issue i | may 2012



an indian man, india 1947 Margaret Bourke­-White

people suffering from cholera, sahedra 1947 Photographer not known





partition | 1947

and feet started swelling. They became so big. I was out on the street again. I came across an old woman. She offered me a bit of money. I refused and asked her to pray for me. With God’s grace I recovered. There is a ‘khanagh’ of naugaza (nine yards). I started visiting it. There a man asked me, ‘Do you have a family?’ A passenger came and asked whether I could take him to Meeran di Khahi. ‘How much will you charge?’ he asked. ‘What is the normal fare in your opinion?’ He mentioned an amount. I said, all right. I did not know the way. ‘Which way,’ I asked him, ‘Tell me the short cut.’ ‘Straight to Delhi Gate.’ When we reached Delhi Gate, I asked him, ‘Which way, sir? Should I turn?’ ‘No, bugger, go straight.’ In my way I tried to be clever so that he could not find out I was not a Lahori. We reached the ‘khooli’. I stopped. I got down on the pretense of getting a pack of cigarettes. I went to a shop and asked where this place was. ‘It is this very place,’ they said. ‘How much are tonga chargers per passenger from Bhaali to this place?’ ‘One rupee for a full tongaload.’ He would give twelve annals, I thought. But he gave me a rupee and a half. There is not much to think about Partition. In our clan marriages used to be arranged as is by ‘vat’, a weighing stone. If you have a woman, give us one in return. If you had no woman, you were lost. I was very disturbed. Oh God, I had nothing to fall back upon. Where can you go, if you have nowhere to go? When I’d came I felt very sad and I had disturbed nights. You know what happened in India - the riots. First there were elections. Muslim League and Congress appeared on the scene. Lorries came and they asked people to vote. We hear Qaid-E-Azam was our leader. Rumours started priding. Someone would say you are going over there. Where? I would ask him. Where the hell can we go? I have been

living here for centuries. They would say, to your Pakistan. Where will Pakistan be? I would ask. ‘Somewhere near Lahore.’ But I hadn’t seen Lahore. People would ask, is Lahore a city? I didn’t know. I had never been there. No, they would insist you too will go to Lahore. But how? Where I have been born is Lahore for me, but anyhow we were dragged to Lahore. The root cause of the trouble is this. The English never allowed the men, particularly the Muslim ones, to come up. They never allowed anyone to become strong. The English did not let the Muslims become strong. This is my observation I have seen this myself. I was a young man when a Hindu Khatri, asked an Englishman a question. ‘Sir, Muslims can’t even find two meals a day. Something should be done to solve this problem.’ He said, let them be as they are. They will start killing people the very day their bellies have food… now… you can smell murder all around. Everywhere you encounter police. In our village there were two tells, oilpressers, very strong young men. There used to be a very big mela, predominantly a Sikh mela. People would come from far-flung areas to attend it. There would be mahouts who managed the gurudwara affairs. Sikhs would carry them on a charpoy. They would sprinkle flour all around and chant hare ram, hare ram. In the past Hindus and Muslims lived like brothers, and after each other. Even a big landlord would offer all kinds of help when a poor menial worker was getting married. He would entertain even a very big marriage party. When the party came, they would gather together all the pots and cots. There was a lot of fellow feeling. But when Partition took place, everything got turned upside down. They pierced even infants with their spears. They would carry dead bodies on their spears and

issue i | may 2012




& Maharajas the


partition | 1947

the sikh princes and the east punjab massacres of


by Ian Copland

issue i | may 2012


lord mountbatten, india 1943

No one expected that between 12 & 13 million people would take it upon themselves to migrate

Or that they would act so precipitously, in

during the spring, summer and autumn of 1947 India’s richest province, the Punjab, played host to a massive human catastrophe. The trigger for the catastrophe was Britain’s parting gift to its Indian subjects of partition. Confronted by a seemingly intractable demand by the AllIndia Muslim League for a separate Muslim homeland- Pakistan-a campaign which since 1946 had turned increasingly violent, the British government early in 1947 accepted viceroy Lord Mountbatten’s advice that partition was necessary to arrest the country’s descent into civil war. ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi notably excepted, the leadership of the Congress party came gradually and reluctantly to the same conclusion. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru’s deputy, likened it to the cutting off of a diseased limb. But in accepting the ‘logic’ of the League’s ‘two-nation’ theory, the British applied it remorselessly. They insisted that partition would have to follow the lines of religious affiliation, not the boundaries of provinces. In 1947, the League president Muhammad Ali Jinnah was forced to accept what he had contemptuously dismissed in 1944 as a ‘moth-eaten’ Pakistan, a Pakistan bereft of something like half of Bengal and the Punjab and most of Assam. At the time, Mountbatten was much praised for his ingenuity in finding a workable solution to the ‘Indian problem’; in the years since, praise has largely been replaced by blame. The viceroy 18

partition | 1947

has been accused of self-advertisement, and of needlessly speeding up the British withdrawal to preserve the fading reputation of the Raj. In particular, he has been berated for not forseeing the human consequences that would flow from the partition decision. Yet much of this historical wisdom derives from hindsight. There is no evidence in the records that the viceroy, or his close advisers, or for that matter any of the Congress politicians in his cabinet, had even the faintest apprehension of the scale of the calamity that was about to occur. People were prepared for administrative dislocation, especially in Pakistan; there was even some talk of government-sponsored ‘population transfers’. But no one expected that between 12 and 13 million people would take it upon themselves to migrate, or that they would act so precipitously, in reckless flight, abandoning homes, businesses, jobs, friends, familiar places and most of their movable possessions. Despite what seem in retrospect very clear warnings from the leaders of the Sikhs, almost no one predicted the scale of the violence that partition would unleash-the attacks on the refugee columns, the abductions, the rapes, the murders. Above all, no one envisaged that so many would perish–at least a quarter of a million and perhaps as many as two million, if the claims of some nationalist commentators are to be believed.’ For a long time the historiography of the partition was dominated by accounts of high–level

policy–making focusing on its ‘causes’. This was essentially an historiography underwritten by the meta–narrative of the making of the nation-state, and ‘partition’ was defined accordingly–essentially as an administrative carve-up of territory and ‘assets’. The big issues in this interpretation were: could partition have been avoided? and, was the division of the spoils equitable? In recent years, however, a new historiography of 1947 has begun to emerge, one squarely focused on the results of the partition and its impact on society. The big questions posed by this historiography are: how, why and by whom was violence done? and, what effect did it have on the survivors? Notably, this new research has thrown considerable light on the traumatic experiences of those often described as the ‘chief sufferers’ of the partition – the abducted women. It has also cast doubt on the comfortable supposition that the killing was erratic and spontaneous-merely a collective knee-jerk reaction fuelled by fear and rumour.

Nevertheless large gaps remain to be filled and several important questions about the grim aftermath of the partition have still to be answered satisfactorily. Firstly, while recent work by Suranjan Das and Swarna Aiyer makes it clear that in many cases the aggressors operated in organized groups under ‘military style’ leadership, apparently to a plan, researchers have yet to determine where and by whom these shadowy schemes were devised or how they were implemented; nor has

reckless flight, abandoning homes, businesses, jobs, friends, familiar places and most of their movable possessions.

issue i | may 2012


tara singh, india 1947

Even historians sympathetic to the Sikhs concede that the violence of partition helped

consolidate the

community, thereby strengthening it politically


partition | 1947

sikh family, punjab 1947 Margaret Bourke-White anyone succeeded in unravelling the links that must surely have existed – between the actual perpetrators and the fire-brand Bengali, Bihari and Punjabi politicians. Secondly, we still do not know a lot about the motives of the killers. At the time it was generally conceded that in east Punjab most of the killing during the summer of 1947 was done by the Sikhs. With what purpose? One theory is that they sought revenge for the massacres earlier in the year of their co–religionists in Rawalpindi and Hazara districts. ‘What the Hindus and Sikhs did in East Punjab was of course a reaction to the events in West Punjab’, wrote provincial governor Sir Francis Mudie. However, while this thesis might account for some of the ferocity with which the Sikh bands went about their grisly business, it does not explain the systemic nature of the violence. Muslims were not only butchered in east Punjab, but systematically expelled. We would now term this process ‘ethnic cleansing’. This points to a political/territorial design. As David Gilmartin observes: ‘If we assume that the organized bands ... that perpetrated a major part of the slaughter operated with some sense of legitimacy, then their weilding of violence (itself, after all, a sign of state authority) can perhaps be read as an

attempt, through violence, to lay moral claim to the new territories carved out by partition’. From this angle ‘cleansing’ (read purification) is an apt metaphor. But what territorial project were the Sikhs embarked upon? Even historians sympathetic to the Sikhs concede that the violence of partition helped consolidate the community, thereby strengthening it politically. However, it remains unclear whether this favourable result was achieved by design or, as most Sikh historians aver, by accident. Thirdly, virtually all the work that has been done so far on the Punjab massacres has focused on the erstwhile British province of Punjab. Almost nothing has been said, at least directly, about the princely–ruled areas of Punjab, namely the states of Patiala, Nabha, Jind, Faridkot, Kapurthala, Kalsia, Maler Kotla, Loharu and Bahawalpur. This is a fairly serious lacuna, not simply because it ignores a significant proportion of the Punjab’s land and people (about a quarter and a fifth respectively if one leaves out what became after partition Pakistani Punjab) but because of the inherent importance of the states and their rulers within the Punjabi scene. The Punjab states formed an almost unbroken north–south corridor across east Punjab from Rajputana to the hills, bisecting all

the main rail and road routes between the United Provinces and Delhi and the cities of west Punjab. They occupied, quite literally, the strategic heart of the province. In addition, for reasons which will be explained presently, the darbars (governments) of the Punjab states exercised considerable political and cultural clout in the larger provincial arena, especially in regard to the Sikh community. The discussion that follows tries to fill some of these gaps by exam-ining the involvement of the six so-called ‘Sikh’ states – Faridkot, Kapurthala, Kalsia and the ‘Phulkian’ states of Patiala, Nabha and Jind – in the east Punjab massacres. I begin by tracing the emergence in the early twentieth century of a militant faction within the Sikh communal leadership, namely the Shiromani Akali Dal or ‘Akali party’. I then show why, against the odds, the Akalis tried to augment their power by drawing the Sikh rulers into their orbit and why, also against the odds, the latter gradually fell in with the Dal’s grand designs. Next, I try to piece together what ensued, as a result of this alliance, in the summer and autumn of 1947. Finally I assess the success of this ‘joint venture’ in terms of the political goals of the two parties.

issue i | may 2012


context Sheltered by the umbrella of British imperial military power, the Indian princes for a long time had no need to plan for their future; not only was the British Raj all-powerful and benevolently inclined towards those it thought of as its most loyal allies, but it looked set to rule India for an indefinite period. In so far as there was a princely strategy during this period, it centred on endeavours to secure their borders against intrusions from the provinces, which they saw as a nursery of dangerous ideologies. Towards the end of the First World War, however, the myth of imperial permanence in South Asia was shattered by London’s intimation, in the Montagu declaration, that it intended eventually to confer ‘responsible government’ on India, a phrase later interpreted as meaning dominion status. In retrospect this announcement can be seen as committing the British to a pro-cess of decolonization. How would the princes and their states fare once the British administrative umbrella was withdrawn? At first the threat of abandonment implicit in the Montagu declaration was mitigated for the princes by governmental reassur-ances and by the knowledge that dominion status did not preclude a continuing connection with the Crown. Nevertheless, it set some of the more sagacious princes and ministers thinking about survival strategies. Out of these reflections and deliberations emerged what I have dubbed, after one of its main sponsors, Baroda minister Manubhai Mehta, the ‘Mehta programme’. Adopted as a recom-mendation to its members by the Chamber of Princes in 1927, the programme called upon the rulers to (1) consolidate their domestic support-base by enacting administrative and constitutional reforms, and (2) forge constructive relationships with friendly elements in British India. As the prospect of independence drew nearer, more and more of the princes accepted the prudence of this dual strategy and began to hedge their bets by striking deals with local and provincial political leaders. In the vanguard were the Sikh princes of the Punjab. Among the 6oo-strong princely fraternity, the Sikh rulers were better placed than most to market themselves as regional politicians. All the princes commanded deference by virtue of their office, which automatically placed them near the top of the social pecking order, and which was considered by many to put them in


partition | 1947

touch with the divine; and most of them also possessed in liberal measure another valuable currency of politics: patronage. Within their states, the rulers controlled appointments to religious offices and, through their governments, the disbursement of grants for the maintenance of reli-gious institutions. This gave them considerable leverage over the local priestly class, which was one of the most powerful shapers of public opinion. However the princes’ generosity did not stop at their own borders. Princely purses enriched dozens of British Indian charities. Hundreds of provincial schools, temples and shrines benefitted from royal endowments. The Sikh rulers, for instance, gave lavishly to Sikh educational institutions, bankrolled urgent conservation work at Sikh sacred sites and subsidized several regional newspaper ven-tures. This patronage, too, bought influence, in the case of the Sikh princes quite substantial influence over the management and educa-tional philosophy of the Khalsa College at Amritsar, the principal purveyor of higher education to the sons of the Punjabi Sikh elite.”’ However, the Sikh rulers also possessed two additional sources of political influence not available to the rest of the princely order. First, they controlled, as sovereigns, about a fifth of the Sikh panth (community) resident in Punjab. Sikhs comprised in 1941 36 percent of Nabha’s population, 46 percent of Patiala’s and over 57 percent of Faridkot’s. In only one district of British Punjab, Ludhiana, were Sikhs as thick on the ground.” This made them, defacto, significant communal players. Second, the Sikh states and their ruling families were important carriers of Sikh tradition. Survivals from the mid-eighteenth century, the states were a direct link with the golden age of the Khalsa’s military power when its misls (warbands) dominated the Punjab. They served, as the Amritsar newspaper Khalsa put it, as a ‘symbol of our glorious past’. More specifically, the Nabha and Patiala houses between them owned most of the authenticated relics of the tenth Sikh Guru and founder of the Khalsa Panth, Guru Gobind Singh, including a kirpan (dagger) and a saropa (cloak) that had once belonged to Gobind Singh, a hukum namd (decree) signed by the Guru, and Gobind Singh’s kangha (comb) with some strands of his hair still attached to it.’ These associations and artifacts

Sheltered by the umbrella of British imperial military power , the Indian princes for a long time had no need to plan their future

migration in punjab, india 1947 Margaret Bourke足-White issue i | may 2012



partition | 1947

DIVIDED FAMILIES ya s m i n k h a n

The north–western corner of the Indian subcontinent suffered the bloodiest violence and the most severe dislocation in 1947–8 but just after a few years visitors were surprised by the speed of change and the ways in which these events had faded from view. The energies and expenditure of governments, the imperative quickly to begin farming again in the Punjabi breadbasket states that supplied vital food to the rest of India issue i | may 2012


FOR WOMEN THE TRAUMA OF RAPE, MOLESTATION AND ABDUCTION WAS SO GRAVE, AND MADE EVEN WORSE IN MANY CASES BECAUSE OF THE CULTURAL TABOOS SURROUNDING IT, THAT IT IS UNCLEAR HOW RECOVERY WAS POSSIBLE AT ALL and Pakistan, and the rapid, total exchange of Punjab’s population meant that, publicly at least, a line was drawn under events by the time of the first Indian general elections in 1950. Chiselled Victorian luminaries on plinths were removed and the names of streets and parks changed overnight. The landscape became increasingly alien to old inhabitants as shop names were removed and freshly painted signs hoisted up in their place. Marketplaces and segments of the old walled parts of citifies were reinvented. As the new order began, and the old order fizzled out, cultural, linguistic and economic changes followed in the slipstream of Partition. Refugees made up almost half of the population of Lahore, almost a third of the population of Delhi. Communities of refugee squatters could still be seen, camped on the outskirts of towns, and rubble still marked the sites of riots. New cities rose from the ashes, though, such as Le Corbusier’s angular, uncompromisingly modernist Chandigarh, the new capital of East Punjab. The resourceful Punjabi refugee became a national stereotype and an actor on the nationbuilding stage. Inevitably, many of the residents who had stayed in the same place during Partition and witnessed these transformations felt nostalgic for the old cities where there had been less traffic, business had been done face to face, prices were at least remembered as cheaper, and it was possible to cross cities such as Delhi in minutes rather than hours; and they mourned the emergence of the ‘vast sprawling multicolored soulless monster of today which we continue to call by the same name’. The public memory of Parition in the north–west of South Asia was gradually put to rest. Grave and invisible legacies lived on in less tangible ways, in emotional scarring and sporadic political friction, but observers were happy enough to buy into the story of regenerative enterprise told by both national governments.

Beneath the glossy factories and the meteoric rise and endless expansion of new cities, through, Partition left deep and ragged fault lines. These ran through individual lives, families and whole regions, pitching Indians and Pakistanis into new conflicts and paving the way for the troubled bilateral relationship which blights South Asia to the present day. In the 1940s and 1950s people were not well equipped with the language of psychiatry and psychoanalysis; it was too much to hope for any systematic understanding of the collective trauma which a generation had experienced. This afflicted not only refugees but also eyewitnesses, perpetrators of violence, aid workers, politicians and policemen; arguably hundreds of thousands of people living in the northern and eastern parts of South Asia. The immediate trauma of the refugees was well testified in their frozen and fixed faces, uncontrollable tears and shocked inertia. More invasive mental health problems may have plagued some people for the rest of their lives. People who had managed to get away or who had been strong enough to secure themselves in a place in a train compartment, or who had remained hidden while other members of their community were killed, felt guilt. Others experienced culturally specific shame and humiliation related to violations of religious or community rights that inverted the normal social order. ‘One woman wept hysterically,’ recounted Margaret Bourke–White, ‘as she told me how her home was polluted by Muslim goondas who placed raw meat on the window sills.’ For others, fear of starvation had left a deep mark — ‘they started stealing food,’ remembered Krishna Thapar who worked at an ashram in Punjab with rescued women: ‘we would find chapatis under their pillows, under their quilts, and their beds… Some of them had become psychological cases.’ Some people went, quite literally, mad.

starving woman, india 1946 Margaret Bourke­-White


partition | 1947

issue i | may 2012


left: nehru right: jinnah and gandhi

For women the trauma of rape, molestation and abduction was so grave, and made even worse in many cases because of the cultural taboos surrounding it, that it is unclear how recovery was possible at all. Relief workers were under enormous strain. ‘None of us had the ability to understand the psychology of these women and nor did we try,’ admitted the social worker Anis Kidwai. ‘The few sentences that are sprouted at such occasions proved totally ineffective, and often we ended up saying very unpleasant things to them. Social workers often tried to steer the conversation from memories of trauma, encouraged their charges to look to the future, and had a limited grasp of their psychological needs. They can only be judged against the standards and practices of the time. For those who saw scenes of devastation or lost loved ones, life was punctured by panic attacks and ugly nightmares for years. Some twenty years later, Begum Ikramullah wrote, ‘I somehow have never been able to get over the shocked impact the Calcutta riots had on me’ and Manzoor Quraishi’s otherwise prosaic



partition | 1947

account of life in the Indian Civil Service is suddenly interrupted by the memory of a brother who lost his life on a train to Pakistan: ‘I loved my younger brother and could not get over the brutal and tragic end of a brilliant career at the young age of 24 years. For months I could not sleep properly and insomnia that I got from this horrible and traumatic experience has haunted me now and then throughout my life thereafter. My mother whose youngest child [had died] was completely heartbroken and cursed “Paksitan” till she died in 1978… Urvashi Butalia has pointed to the ongoing trauma of those who had been children in 1947, ‘his wife told us that he still had nightmares, that he woke in the night feeling an intense heat rising up around him, the flames which surrounded him as he lay by his father’s body in 1947’, while in one instance a perpetrator of violence is also haunted by the events of the time: ‘Another Sikh living in Bhogal in Delhi who had actually been part of a killing spree as a child, would often wake in the night screaming. His wife said he could not forget the screams of the Muslims he had helped to kill.’ These could have been exceptional cases but it seems more likely that Partition continued to echo, unrecorded, in anonymous stories of breakdowns, alcoholism and suicide.

a prolonged partition There were other invisible trails left by Partition. By late 1948, politicians were relieved that violence had subsided, and Nehru in particular was delighted that the annexation of the troublesome state of Hyderabad passed without trouble elsewhere in India. He saw this as a sign that the corner had been turned and was elated that ‘not a single communal incident occurred in the whole length and breadth of this great country.’ Sadly though, questions of citizenship and belonging still hung in the balance and there were numerous people and communities who had grey, uncertain allegiances to India or Pakistan and had slipped between the cracks formed by these neat parameters of nationhood. In Bengal, in contrast to the norht-west, the physical reality of the refugee crisis was only just beginning to take shape in the 1950s. By 1951, there were at least three million refugees squeezed into every nook and cranny of Calcutta. They slept on pavements and in Nissen huts, made their homes on railway platforms and along riverbanks. The consequences could not be easily ignored and the unceasing flow of refugees brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war in the early 1950s. As Nehru wrote to the British Prime Minister, Attlee, in 1950 the treatment of minorities in both countries was ‘far more important for the maintenance of peace than the settlment of the Kashmir dispute.’ A proclamation of emergency was kept ready to be used at a moment’s notice in West Bengal and the Governor suggested declaring a state of martial law. The

prolonged, tortuous Partition of Bengal would prove a whole chapter in the Partition story. It was a political and social drama which stretched well into the twentieth century. The war of 1971, and the secession of Bangladesh from Pakistan, exacerbated the human crisis in the region and by 1973, West Bengal was coping with a refugee population of around six million.

Jinnah took seven months to make his first brief visit to Dacca and although Liaquat Ali Khan announced that he would aim at two visits a year, he never managed to reach his own target. The fissures which would eventuall result in civil war, the bloody cracking apart of the country and the creation of Bangladesh in 1970-1 were already visible in 1947.

After 1947 East Pakistan’s ability to survive hung in the balance and the province’s continued viability as a part of Pakistan was already in doubt. The desperately poor, waterlogged province, economically dependent on the unreliable jute crop and physically distanced from the Pakistani capital one thousand miles away, had to struggle with two dominant issues from the moment of its independence: on its borders it faced a refugee crisis of epic proportions and a brewing conflict with India, while East Bengalis also began a long battle with their compatriots in Karachi, who began trying to stamp their cultural national language in 1948, deaf to the passion of Bengali linguistic patriotism and the complaints of the majority of Pakistanis who could not speak the language. After Independence, East Pakistan suffered from inflation and shortages of basic goods as it was cut off from Calcutta, but the Chittagong port, which was critical for East Pakistan’s industrial development and imports, was developed too slowly. All this was underlined by bigotry shown towards the rural Bengali peasantry and a barely concealed implication that the province was a poor cousin to the ‘real’ Pakistan:

Meanwhile, massive communities of Hindus who remained in East Bengal found little to commend in their poorly administered new country, and clung tenaciously to their older political affiliations. Many had ties to Calcutta and remained unreconciled to Partition, which was seen as an arbitrary imposition from outside. ‘Their temple bells can be heard in the evening and in their shops in the bazaar are exhibited portraits of Nehru, Patel and other Indian leaders,’ noted one foreign visitor to Dacca. Hindus had overwhelmingly been the zamindars or landlords, in undivided Bengal while Muslims had been the tenants, and Hindus remained the wealthy gatekeepers of Bengali bhadralok culture; even in 1950 they still dominated the Dacca bar and held one third of the university’s places. Simultaenously, the promises of Pakistani nationalism had fired the imagination of Muslim tenants who hoped to improve their lot at the expense of their erstwhile masters. In this light, well-meaning Pakistani guarantees of a plural state decreed from the capital, and the promise of a 30 percent reservation for the minority, looked hollow and capricious from the perspective of the issue i | may 2012


visas and passports Ahmad Hussain worked as a mechanic in a tin-printing plant in Lahore. He had a wife and young children to support and he performed well at his job, rising to the position of chief mechanic. During Partition, in 1947, the factory where he had been employed for over a decade was looted and his employer, the mill owner Amar Nath Bindra, fled to India. We do not know what Ahmad Hussain made of this, or whether he was able to find alternative employment, as his life goes unrecorded in the archives until one day a year later when his former employer contacted him. The indefatigable Amar Nath Bindra had managed to find his feet in the city of Mathura in North India. He had borrowed some money from the central government, and along with the help of ‘some good-hearted capitalist’ he had 30

partition | 1947

managed to re-establish his factory, set up the necessary equipment and machinery nad had even secured a supply of precious electricity. But now he faced a problem: he could not find suitably skilled workers needed to operate the newly installed plant. His mind turned to the men he had left behind in Pakistan. If they could come and help him, even for a limited time, he could get the factory running and use them to train some new staff. ‘I had to request the Government to allow me to have my old five Muslim artisans from Lahore who worked in my factory there for about ten years,’ he wrote to the Refugee Department: ‘during that time they served me so honestly, sincerely and faithfully that I cannot still dream that they belong to other Nationality or Dominion and I hold implicit faith in them.’

Remarkably, this appeal worked and Ahmad Hussain was granted a six-month permit to travel to India from Pakistan, along with his teenage son, Bashir Mohammad, completely against the flow of refugees still moving in the opposite direction. Leaving his wife and three younger children behind in Lahore, Ahmad Hussain was reunited with his old boss in India, where he resumed his former occupation. Periodically, the factory boss applied to extend the men’s permits: ‘when large numbers of such Muslims who are not at all of any use to India are being retained in India,’ he pleaded, in a revealing letter, ‘I see no cause why these only two most useful persons be not retained to train our people. I will stand any surety for these people.’ The pay, or the local conditions, must have been to Ahmad Hussain’s liking as in 1950 he applied for permenant settlement in India.


migration, india 1947 Margaret Bourke­-White

which surrounded him as he lay by his father’s body in 1947’, while in one instance a perpetrator of violence is also haunted by the events of the time: ‘Another Sikh living in Bhogal in Delhi who had actually been part of a killing spree as a child, would often wake in the night screaming. His wife said he could not forget the screams of the Muslims he had helped to kill.’ These could have been exceptional cases but it seems more likely that Partition continued to echo, unrecorded, in anonymous stories of breakdowns, alcoholism and suicide.Ta dolorion consequam evelit quiae vernam eatiant, sam ex et essinus.

which surrounded him as he lay by his father’s body in 1947’, while in one instance a perpetrator of violence is also haunted by the events of the time: ‘Another Sikh living in Bhogal in Delhi who had actually been part of a killing spree as a child, would often wake in the night screaming. His wife said he could not forget the screams of the Muslims he had helped to kill.’ These could have been exceptional cases but it seems more likely that Partition continued to echo, unrecorded, in anonymous stories of breakdowns, alcoholism and suicide.Ta dolorion consequam evelit quiae vernam eatiant, sam ex et essinus.

Nobis est dero dolupta tenectiur, quidi bea veliatu rempos et quosam sam vitatatur re cus verferiaes nulparit evelect ectatur sedis evendig nienitium ea nullibusciti di beaquae vollacea necus volorro dolut quibus dolor aute peligen

Nobis est dero dolupta tenectiur, quidi bea veliatu rempos et quosam sam vitatatur re cus verferiaes nulparit evelect ectatur sedis evendig nienitium ea nullibusciti di beaquae vollacea necus volorro dolut quibus dolor aute peligen issue i | may 2012




understanding the largest involuntary migration of people in history



issue ii | july 2012


partition | 1947

Partition 1947 magazine  
Partition 1947 magazine  

Design for a magazine based on the Partition of the India in 1947. There are six departments and two feature articles per issue. The purpose...