by K. Hussan Zia
Much has been written and spoken of late about partition of the subcontinent in some sections of the media that questions Jinnah’s motives and doubts if a separate country was indeed called for or good for the Muslims. The claim of the subcontinent’s Muslims to a separate identity is denounced as obscurantist, retrogressive and a folly.
In the process historical facts are often distorted and misrepresented. The ghosts of thoroughly discredited politicians, rejected by the masses at the time and whose only call to fame was that they had opposed the idea of Pakistan, are resurrected and glorified. There is a conscious attempt to re-write history that could potentially undermine the belief and faith of unwary Pakistanis.
To put things in perspective, after 1857 Muslims were singled out for the worst kind of retribution by the British. The prevailing sentiment was summed up in a letter to his father by A. C. Lyall, a British civil servant, ‘If the Musalman could by any means be entirely exterminated, it could be the greatest possible step towards civilizing and Christianizing Hindustan’.
At the same time a decision was made to drive a wedge between Muslims and Hindus. The Viceroy, Lord Canning, wrote to the Board of Control in London, ‘The men who fought us at Delhi were of both creeds. —- As we must rule 150 million people by a handful (more or less) of Englishmen, let us do it in the manner best calculated to leave them divided’.
Since Hindus were in overwhelming majority, they were favoured and patronized. A nexus developed between the two that resulted in the Muslims becoming, in the words of Sir William Hunter, commissioned to enquire into the effects of this policy, ‘a race ruined under British rule —- there is now scarcely a Government office in Calcutta in which a Muhammadan can hope for any post above the rank of porter, messenger, filler of inkpots and mender of pens’ (‘The Indian Musalmans: Are They Bound in Conscience to Rebel Against the Queen?’ p.19).
To quote some examples of this discrimination, in Bengal where Muslims were in a majority, out of the 160 Fellows at Calcutta University in 1918 only seven were Muslims. The university Senate and Syndicate did not have even one Muslim member. Out of the 895 examiners, there were only nine Muslims. Similarly, in the Punjab University out of a total of sixty-eight professors in 1933 only nine were Muslim. In 1945, it was sixteen out of a total of eighty-two. In the first half century of the university’s existence not a single Muslim was appointed to the key Registrar’s position.
The same sorry state for Muslims existed in every government department and private organization, with the exception of the lower ranks in the Indian Army and police. There were a total of 957 judges and magistrates officiating in the Bengal courts in 1901 out of which only 98 were Muslims. In the five major railway companies, EBR, EIR, GIP, NWR and Burma Railways, that operated in India in 1933, out of a total of 1,048 gazetted officers there were only 45 Muslims. In the Telegraph Department of the Government of India in 1910 there were a total of forty Divisional Officers. Not one of these was a Muslim. Among the lower staff, there were 12 Muslims in a total of 429 (Do Kaumi Nazria, by Professor Ahmed Saeed, Nazria-e-Pakistan Foundation, Lahore).
Hindus regarded and treated the Muslims in social matters as ‘Untouchables’. At most official functions, the tables for Hindus were laid out separately to the rest. Most Hindu shopkeepers would not hand over merchandise directly to a Muslim customer. It was placed at the end of a paddle and dropped into his hands or a sack to avoid any contact with the maleech.
They dressed differently, followed a different calendar and lived in segregated areas, even stayed in separate hotels where Muslims and Christians were not welcome. Separate vendors provided water to Hindus at railway stations. Their food, social mores and traditions, indeed entire ethos was different. Inter-marriages were taboo. They did not co-exist peacefully either. Bloody riots broke out with regular monotony. In the face of this the claim that Indians constituted a single unified nation can only be described as a ludicrous and delusional myth.
Perhaps the most telling contrast in the situation of Hindus and the Muslims in India was in the economic field. Hindus under the British dominated commerce, banking and industry. Any Muslim venturing into the commercial arena was denied credit and systematically squeezed out. The areas that comprised Pakistan produced eighty per cent of India’s jute and cotton crops but virtually all of the processing plants and facilities were owned by the Hindus.
Their domination became starkly evident at the time of Partition after Hindus and Sikhs moved out. The cities appeared like ghost towns. In Lahore, all the shops in Anarkali and The Mall were closed. Houses in the more affluent areas were abandoned. The number of cars left on the roads was probably less than half a dozen. The railways ceased to operate and road transport was minimal. It was the same with the Post and Telegraph and other service departments. All economic activity had been brought to a grinding halt.
Compare this with the situation today to know the blessing that is Pakistan. We were told that the country would not survive economically. Now, it has a vibrant middle class that constitutes forty per cent of the population, as against twenty-five per cent next door. The share of Muslims, who constitute about fourteen per cent of the population in India today, is no more than one per cent in the white collar jobs and about three per cent in the blue collar jobs. In the armed forces it is less than half per cent. According to Sachar Commission, set up by the Indian Government recently to enquire into the state of minorities, Muslims are now worse off than the Untouchables. This is what it would have been like for us also had it not been for Pakistan.
What transpired at the time of Partitition can never be forgotten. Close to a million innocent people were brutally murdered —- more than ninety-five per cent of them Muslims. East Punjab was turned into a picture of Dante’s Hell. Village after Muslim village was burnt to the ground and unsuspecting inhabitants struck down in the cruelest ways imaginable. Pregnant women had their bellies ripped open; others had their breasts sliced off. Many jumped into wells and killed themselves rather than fall into the hands of murdering Sikhs. Babies were cut in half or had their skulls smashed before throwing them back to their dying mothers. Children were burnt alive in fire pits. It went on for four months without let until there was no Muslim left in the province.
Members of a supposedly cohesive nation do not go on rampages and orgies of slaughter and mayhem against their own. The victims may have belonged to a different religion but like the rest they too had become citizens of free and professedly secular India. Yet the State did little to protect them. In many cases it actively participated in the bloodlust. There were numerous cases in which local officials accompanied the bands of killers to facilitate their grisly work. No man was ever put on trial for the horrendous atrocities. We have to ask, would the reaction have been the same if the victims had been Hindus or Sikhs?
There are memories that continue to haunt. Each night when the alarm was sounded I, only thirteen at the time, would pick up the shotgun and rush to the roof to take position next to my father. As we lay there in the stillness of the dark night waiting for the attack to materialize, he would remind me that if he was killed first not to use up all of the cartridges but save at least one each for my mother and sisters to make sure they would not fall into the hands of the Sikhs alive. Try as one might, it is impossible to get rid of the image of what might have happened had we been overrun. Only Allah saved us from the tragic fate that befell a million others whose luck had run out. He also gave us a safe haven for the future.
This is what makes Pakistan so precious for without it the future would have been very bleak indeed. Freedom can’t be taken for granted. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. There are enemies both external and within. It is the latter that are most dangerous. The threat can take many forms. It is for each of us to guard against it. There is no better way than to follow the Quaid’s dictum and maintain our unity, faith and discipline.
The writer is author of ‘Pakistan: Roots, Perspective and Genesis’ and ‘Muslims and the West: A Muslim Perspective’.