Historicity of the Indian Partition in 1947

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The partition of India, in 1947, was a human tragedy, an epoch-making event of the far-reaching impact on the lives of the people of this subcontinent. It created hardships for the millions. The figures are very much bewildering. It is said ten million people were by force displaced, one million people slaughtered and almost a million of women were kidnapped and raped. Migration is of two types: Circumstantial and Forced. The historicity of the migration of the people of India during the time of Indian freedom was that in the western sector, Hindus were forced to leave the soil of their own whereas in the eastern part of India, i.e. in Bengal and Assam, most of the people migrated to India because of their sense of insecurity. People belonging to the upper strata of the Hindu society migrated mostly to the Indian side out of the fear of the Muslim dominated neighbourhood. The intensity of lootings, violence.,and killings in the western sector was more profound than that of the savagery in the eastern sector. In the eastern sector, it was a kind of circumstantial migration. Thousands and thousands of families were separated. Enormous properties were destroyed. Voices of sufferings are heard among those divided families till date. Basudeb, in this erudite and in-depth research, gives us a background of the partition of India and its echoes in literature, serialising from his book, in the regular column, exclusively for Different Truths.

The Indian partition literature in English and in English translation evokes memories of menacing madness and bestiality of human beings. Simultaneously the entire volume of this literature asserts man’s goodness and basic values. Consequently, it delineates the indescribable sufferings of common men and women of the Indian sub-continent. It also delineates how victims of partition suffer nostalgia and the untold writing of rootlessness. The displacement of population from one region to another also affects local people of the native soil. The states of West-Bengal, Punjab, and Delhi become very much burdened with the sudden explosion of population growth because of the exodus of people migrating from West Punjab and East Bengal to India. At the same time, this partition literature does underline that man is essentially sincere, committed to helping the humanity to survive and sustain. Some characters in partition literature indeed stand for the universal goodness of mankind. The theme that I intend to pursue is man’s unwavering commitment to good sense amidst the barbarous communal violence. In doing so, I would also map out the grand narratives of the historicity of the Indian partition, in 1947, as a background study, which, in a way or other, impinges this entire volume of partition literature. In this connection, a clarification on the usage of the word ‘historicity’ in this research is necessary. The word ‘historicity’ belongs to the register of history and it is an offshoot of the nineteenth-century reaction against the classicism and the enlightenment of the preceding century. The word comes into the coinage of the nineteenth century in the discourse of history. In this present study, the word ‘historicity’ is used only in the traditional dictionary meaning. The meaning is, according to The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, ‘Historic quality or character esp., the historical genuineness or accuracy of an alleged event etc.’ Throughout the present study, this conventional dictionary meaning of ‘historicity’ is pursued.

A study of the partition literature remains incomplete without the reference to those grand narratives of the historicity of the Indian partition. Historians with post-modernist approach may contest the concept of any grand narrative of historicity. The fact is that there may be unbinding or disintegrating narratives of Indian partition historicity. The existence of grand narratives of historicity may or may not be absurd. Gynendra Pandey, who challenges the reality of the grand narratives of the historicity of the Indian partition comments on the heterogeneity of Indian society and culture:

The “fragments” of Indian society—the smaller religious and caste communities, tribal sections, Industrial workers, activist women’s groups, all of which might be said to represent “minority” cultures and practices—have been expected to fall in line with the “mainstream” (Brahmanical Hindu, consumerist) national culture. This “mainstream”, which represents, in fact, a small section of the society, has indeed been flaunted as the national culture. “Unity in Diversity” is no longer the rallying cry of Indian nationalism. On the contrary, all that belongs to any minority other than the ruling class—all that is challenging, singular, local—not to say, all differences—appears threatening, intrusive, even “foreign” to this nationalism.

Writings on Indian politics need to foreground this state-centred drive to homogenise and “normalise,” and to foreground the deeply contested nature of the territory of nationalism. Part of the importance of the “fragmentary” point of the view lies in that it resists the drive for a shallow homogenisation and struggles for other, potentially richer definitions of the “nation” and the future political community.1

The debate on the reality of grand narratives of the historicity of the Indian partition, however, is not relevant to the context of the contention of this book. This book will not enter into that controversy. What, however, is relevant to the present context is that the grand narratives or disintegrating and irrelative narratives, whatsoever they are, have a direct bearing upon Indian partition literature in English and English translation. My examination of the literature in English and in English translation is pitted against indivisible grand narratives or against various “fragmented” narratives which are unbinding or unrelated historicity of Indian partition, in 1947. I am not a historian nor do I amuse myself to be. I will not even claim any mark of originality in presenting and interpreting the history of the Indian partition. My research on partition literature necessitates only references to the background facts of the Indian partition history.

 Frenzy of Insanity not Final

Moreover, after referring to the historical events pertaining to the Indian partition I would examine the crowd behaviour as well as the individual behaviour during the time of Indian partition, in 1947. in relation to the partition literature in English and in English translation. This study of the behaviour of the crowd as well as the behaviour of the individual in the vast volume of the partition literature will establish that the frenzy of insanity is not final. Amidst this pall of darkness and perils of lunacy, there is a ray of hope. Not all are insane. One of the important distinctions of the Indian Partition Literature in English is that it registers systematically man’s basic goodness along with the bestiality of human nature. By partition literature, partition fictions are meant. The number of poetry and play on the partition theme is very limited; hence, this necessitates that the present study will be limited to only partition fictions in English and in English translation.

The partition of India, in 1947, was a human tragedy, an epoch-making event of the far-reaching impact on the lives of the people of this subcontinent. It created hardships for the millions. The figures are very much bewildering. It is said ten million people were by force displaced, one million people slaughtered and almost a million of women were kidnapped and raped. Migration is of two types: Circumstantial and Forced. The historicity of the migration of the people of India during the time of Indian freedom was that in the western sector, Hindus were forced to leave the soil of their own whereas in the eastern part of India, i.e. in Bengal and Assam, most of the people migrated to India because of their sense of insecurity. People belonging to the upper strata of the Hindu society migrated mostly to the Indian side out of the fear of the Muslim dominated neighbourhood. The intensity of lootings, violence, and killings in the western sector was more profound than that of the savagery in the eastern sector. In the eastern sector, it was a kind of circumstantial migration. Thousands and thousands of families were separated. Enormous properties were destroyed. Voices of sufferings are heard among those divided families till date. Alok Bhalla observes:

The partition of the Indian subcontinent was the single most traumatic experience in our recent history. The violence it unleashed was unprecedented, unexpected and barbaric. Provoked by the hooligan actions of a few, the vengeance that ordinary Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs wreaked on each other coarsened our social sense, distorted our political judgments and deranged our understanding of moral rightness.2

 Partition Divides a Heart into Two

The partition of India is not merely the partition of a country. It is an event that divides a heart into two. Mushirul Hassan’s comment, underlining the Indian partition, as the most cataclysmic event in modern Indian history, is relevant to the present context:

Which country did an author like Sadat Hasan Manto belong to? India or Pakistan? When he sat down to write he tried in vain to ‘separate India from Pakistan and Pakistan from India’…. Other Urdu writers and poets, including Josh Malihabadi, Krishen Chander, Khadeeja Mastoor, Khalilur Rahman Azmi, Rajinder Singh Bedi and Ram Lal shared and described their agony and experiences in their own inimitable styles…. Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, a key figure in the Progressive Writer’s movement, bemoaned the ‘death’ of one’s country. ‘Who killed India?’ he asked indignantly.3

Urvashi Butalia in The Other Side of Silence makes the following comment:

It was also, to use a phrase that survivors use repeatedly, a ‘division of hearts’. It brought untold sufferings, tragedy, trauma, pain and violence to communities who had hitherto lived together in some kind of social contract. … A brother and a sister were brought together after fifty years at the border by the same newsmagazine. A father whose thirteen-year-old daughter was abducted from Pakistan by Hindu men, made several trips to India to try and track her down. On one of these, he was arrested on charges of being a spy and jailed. His daughter was never returned to him.4

Here ‘survivors’ refers to those who somehow or other managed to physically escape the holocaust of the Indian partition. A menacing madness took hold of both Hindus and Muslims in this sub-continent. Rafiq Zakaria observes:

A few weeks before the advent of Pakistan, a reign of terror was unleashed by anti-social elements, particularly in Punjab. Already violence had erupted at most places, but the vice-regal announcement had led to full-scale massacres of innocent people; law and order collapsed; women were raped; children were stabbed.5

Two communities living together in peace and harmony for centuries start killing each other in communal pride and hatred. Khalid Hasan in his ‘Introduction’, Mottled Dawn Fifty Sketches and Stories of Partition comments:

Savagery such as that witnessed at the time of Partition has few parallels in history. A fierce madness seems to have taken hold of people who had lived together for centuries and, barring occasional and limited violence, in a spirit of mutual tolerance and understanding. In 1947, something snapped. The holocaust of Partition was in a way more horrifying than the extermination of European Jews by the Nazis. It was the Third Reich which undertook the liquidation of the Jewish population as a matter of state policy. The machinery of the state was pressed into service to accomplish this grisly task. It was organized and meticulously planned killing.6

 Ismat Chughtai, an eminent Urdu writer, makes the following comment on the aftermath of the Indian partition in 1947 thus:

The flood of communal violence came and went with all its evils, but it left a pile of living, dead, and gasping corpses in its wake. It wasn’t only that the country was split in two—-bodies and minds were also divided. Moral beliefs were tossed aside and humanity was in shreds. Government officers and clerks along with their chairs, pens, and inkpots, were distributed like the spoils of war. … Those whose bodies were whole had hearts that were splintered. Families were torn apart. One brother was allotted to Hindustan, the other to Pakistan; the mother was in Hindustan, her offspring were in Pakistan; the husband was in Hindustan, his wife was in Pakistan. The bonds of relationship were in tatters, and in the end, many souls remained behind in Hindustan while their bodies started for Pakistan.7

 Sexual Savagery and Slaying of People

Thousands and thousands of families were divided and homes destroyed. Sexual savagery and slaying of people were widespread. A once undivided India was partitioned with borders based on head counts of religious identity, creating an incontrovertible fear and a grinding security. The violence, mass destruction, gnawing insecurity, abduction of women, setting localities on fire and political occurrences which followed during the time of Indian partition led to the redefining of religious, cultural and territorial boundaries. Bipan Chandra in his book on the colonial period comments:

On 15 August 1947, India celebrated with joy its first day of freedom. The sacrifices of generations of patriots and the blood of countless martyrs had borne fruit.… But the sense of joy … was mixed with pain and sadness.… (For) even at the moment of freedom a communal orgy, accompanied by indescribable brutalities, was consuming thousands of lives in India and Pakistan.8

India earned her freedom at the cost of untold suffering of the people caused by the hijack of the freedom movement by the communal forces present in both the Congress Party and the Muslim League.

To examine the facts of history is not the focus of my present study. Nevertheless, it may be kept in mind that the Indian partition literature in English and in English translation need not be dehistoricised for its appropriate evaluation. The historicity of this disastrous event underlines man’s indescribably psychological sufferings, i.e., man’s rootlessness and economic hardship. The hangover of man’s rootlessness from their century old home haunts those victims of the partition till date. A study of Urvashi Bhutalia’s The Other Side of Silence, Chaman Nahal’s Azadi, Khuswant Singh’s Train to Pakistan and Sadat Hasan Manto’s short stories marks the reflection of this historical reality. Frequent and explicit references to the historical perspectives of the Indian partition in 1947 are a unique feature of the partition literature; hence, the following reference to the historicity of the Indian partition.

A careful study of the grand narratives (if we hypothetically accept the reality of grand narrative) of the historicity of the Indian partition shows that it is a single and composite phenomenon having multifarious dimensions and varieties of facets and experiences. The way the partition affects the Hindus is not identical to the way it affects the Muslims. To the Hindus, it is a mass-destruction and a colossal loss of life and property. The Hindus even today recollect it as rioting and bloodbath. The Muslims look upon it in a different way. Muhammad Umar Memon observes:

“For some, especially for Muslims, the event necessitated defining their national identity and cultural personality. For Muslims, therefore, important questions were raised: What and where were their cultural roots? How are they to interpret the harsh reality of the moral fall of man within the large and, perhaps, more enduring context of the Indo-Muslim civilization of the Subcontinent?”9

 The Muslim Identity Crisis

Who is responsible for the crisis of Muslim identity in India? Why do the Muslim community in the twenties and the thirties of the last century feel that their interest will not be safeguarded by the Indian National Congress? The Muslim identity crisis is one of the cardinal themes of the partition literature. Jinnah’s Presidential address at Lahore conference of the Muslim League, in 1940, on the two-nation theory reinforces the validity of this proposition. M.A. Jinnah says:

It is extremely difficult to appreciate why our Hindu friends fail to understand the real nature of Islam and Hinduism. They are not religions in the strict sense of the word, but are, in fact, different and distinct social orders.… The Hindus and the Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs, and literature. They neither intermarry, nor interdine together, and indeed belong to two different civilizations, which are based mainly on conflicting ideas.… Mussalmans are a nation according to any definition of a nation and they must have their homelands, their territory, and their state. We wish to live in peace and harmony with our neighbours as a free and independent people.10

Jinnah with his political sagacity and expediency could construct the image that the Congress party worked mainly for the fulfillment of the Hindu ideals and aspirations; it was mainly for the Hindus while the Muslim League was mainly for the Musalmans. Jinnah is known as ‘an Ambassador of Unity’ and he turns to be an ardent advocate of Muslim nationalism, in the 1930s and 40s. Sarojini Naidu’s enthusiastic remark on Jinnah is as follows:

Sufficient to say that in an hour of such grave and bitter crisis, calculated to shatter the master-dream of Indian nationalism, this dauntless soldier of unity rose to the heights of an invincible patriotism. With a proud and splendid indifference, to all personal suffering and sacrifice, heedless alike of official dissuasion or disfavour, the aggressive malice and machinations of his opponents or even the temporary injustice of distant friends, Mohamed Ali Jinnah strove with an incomparable devotion and courage to create that supreme moment in our national history which witnessed the birth new India, redeemed and victorious in the love of her united children.11

Jinnah also voices his protest against the partition of Bengal, in 1905. He thinks that the introduction of the Separate Electorates for Muslim mass on the basis of Morley-Minto Reforms is “the obnoxious virus introduced into the body politic of India with evil design”12. His participation in the Muslim League, in 1913, is a clear pointer to his sincere endeavour to bring the Muslim League close to the Congress. In this context, K.M. Munshi comments the following:

Jinnah of those days was a thorough-bred nationalist. He captured the Muslim League in the interest of nationalism and worked for the Lucknow Pact. He had not then come to love the community before the nation. (Dr. Ajeet, p 15)

Mohamed Ali Jinnah at this critical position of his political career is an Indian nationalist. That Mohamed Ali Jinnah while inaugurating the Pakistan Constituent Assembly on 11 August 1947, made a radio broadcast – the broadcast that revealed his secular philosophy.  A few years ago, L.K. Advani, the leader of BJP, visiting Pakistan, gives a tribute to Jinnah as a secular politician. In Bapsi Sidhwa’s Ice-Candy-Man, Lenny and her Cousin are seen sitting in front of the radio for listening to the celebration of the new Nation. They hear Jinnah’s voice on the radio:

You are free. You are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or any other place of worship in the state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste, or creed that has nothing to do with the business of State … etc., etc., Pakistan Zindabad.13 (Bapsi Sidhwa, p.144)

How he becomes ‘the Sole Spokesman’ of Pakistan, in the 1930s and 40s is a matter of mystery. The internal politics of the Muslim League in the United Province, Baluchistan, and North-West Frontier Province may be one of his compulsions to propagate the two-nation theory. There may be another reason and that is the Muslim businessmen are scared of the Hindu domination in the world of the business activities in the undivided India. Most of the industry houses before the partition of India are owned by Hindus. Muslims are primarily traders. The pressure of Muslim traders on Jinnah on the issue of the partition may be formidable. Another important reason that may lead Jinnah to be ‘the Sole Spokesman’ of Pakistan is the anti-Muslim role of Hindu leaders like Lajpat Rai, G.D Birla, K.S. Hedgewar, Veer Savarkar and some other leaders of the Congress Party. The role of these Hindu leaders has pushed Jinnah ahead to play the Hindu card for his political survival. Jinnah in his Presidential address to the Muslim League Conference held at Lucknow, in 1937, comments:

The present leadership of the Congress, especially during the last ten years, has been responsible for alienating the Mussalmans of India more and more, by pursuing a policy which is exclusively Hindu, and since they have formed governments in six provinces where they are in majority, they have by their words, deeds and programme shown, more and more, that the Mussalmans cannot expect any justice or fair play at their hands. Wherever they were in majority and wherever it suited them, they refused to co-operate with the Muslim League and demanded unconditional surrender and signing of their pledges.

The demand was insistent: abjure your party and forswear your policy and programme, and liquidate the Muslim League; but where they found that they did not have a majority, as in the North-West Frontier Province, their sacred principle of collective responsibility disappeared, and promptly the Congress Party in the Province was allowed to coalesce with any other group. Any individual Mussalman member who was willing to unconditionally surrender and sign their pledge was offered a job as a minister and was posed as a Mussalman minister although he did not command the confidence and respect of an overwhelming majority of the Mussalman representatives in the Legislature.14

 Jinnah’s Allegation and Political Ambition

No one can ignore Jinnah’s allegation about the role of some of the important leaders of the Congress Party, in the 1930s. Jinnah’s political ambition, too, may be an important impetus behind his stand on Muslim nationalism in India. Here again, I repeat that the objective of my present research is not a marshaling and interpretation of the facts of Indian partition history. The contention of the present work is to study Indian partition fiction in English and in English translation. And this study is in relation to the identity crisis of the Muslim community in India, the second, ‘the collective madness’ of both Hindu and Muslim communities during the time of partition, and also how in the morass of this ‘collective madness’ how some characters in partition fictions show their commitment in vindicating basic human values of life.

Furthermore, in the same Presidential address at Lahore Jinnah reads out an excerpt of a letter written by Lala Lajpat Rai to C.R. Das. The excerpt of Lala Lajpat Rai’s letter is given below:

There is one point more which has been troubling me very much of late and which I want you to think (about) carefully, and that is the question of Hindu-Mohammedan unity. I have devoted most of my time during the last six months to the study of Muslim history and Muslim law, and I am inclined to think it is neither possible nor practicable. Assuming and admitting the sincerity of Mohammedan leaders in the non-co-operation movements, I think their religion provides an effective bar to anything of the kind.

 You remember the conversation I reported to you in Calcutta, which I had with Hakim Ajmal Khan and Dr. Kitchlew. There is no finer Mohammedan in Hindustan than Hakim Ajmal Khan, but can any Muslim leader override the Quran? I can only hope that my reading of Islamic law is incorrect.15

In referring to this part of Jinnah’s speech that contains the content of Lajpat Rai’s letter addressed to C.R. Das, I would not examine whether Lala Lajpat Rai is correct in his perception of the Quran and the contemporary Muslim leaders. That is not the focus of this present research. However, the fact is that Lala Lajpat Rai, being an active member of the National Congress, writes a letter like this to C.R. Das. What is more important than this is that Jinnah, without caring for the necessity of Hindu-Muslim unity, makes this letter public to the audience of the Muslim League conference at Lahore. Perhaps it will not be an exaggeration to say that Jinnah knowing fully well of its possible repercussions chooses to read out this letter only for the purpose of sharpening the division between Hindus and Muslims as two different nations. Jinnah’s inflammatory speech does not end here. He further refers to the concluding part of Lala Lajpat Rai’s letter:

What is then the remedy? I am not afraid of the seven crores of Musalmans. But I think the seven crores in Hindustan plus the armed hosts of Afghanistan, Central Asia, Arabia, Mesopotamia, and Turkey will be irresistible.

 I do honestly and sincerely believe in the necessity or desirability of Hindu-Muslim unity. I am also fully prepared to trust the Muslim leaders. But what about the injunctions of the Quran and the Hadis? The leaders cannot override them. Are we then doomed? I hope that your learned mind and wise head will find some way out of the difficulty.16

That Jinnah and Lajpat Rai do not respond appropriately to the necessity of Hindu-Muslim unity is not the subject matter of my research. I refer to this fact of history only to show that the study of the partition literature in English and in English translation is impossible without bringing in the context of this history. The literature on Indian partition theme is intrinsically related to the historicity of the Indian partition, in 1947. What I intend to emphasise is that the role of Lala Lajpat Rai and of Mohammad Ali Jinnah create Muslim identity crisis. Chaman Nahal’sAzadi delineates this identity crisis. Indeed the partition literature reflects the consequences of such communally provocative speeches upon Hindu-Muslim relationship in India.

The role of Lala Lajpat Rai is not the singular instance of sharpening the cleavage between Hindu-Muslim relationships. The role of Hindu Mahasava is also no less important in creating the Muslim Crisis Identity. Veer Savarkar who is the author of Hindutva: Who is a Hindu is proud of his presidential address to the annual conference of the Hindu Mahasabha in the year 1938, at Nagpur. The cardinal feature of Veer Savarkar’s address is that the Hindus are a separate nation. K.B. Hedgewar, the founder of Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh, popularly known as RSS, gives a clarion call that ‘the Hindus are the nation in Bharat and the Hindutva is Rashtriyatva’. Pralay Kanungo comments:

Hedgewar claimed India as a Hindu Rastra (Hindu Nation). Golwalkar concretized this ideology. For the RSS, the Hindu Rashtra has been existing since time immemorial; rather than making India Hindu, it is only discovering, recognising and asserting this identity. However, in reality, the RSS is constructing a Hindu identity quite meticulously and methodically by reinterpreting community, history, and nation. 17

 RSS and GD Birla

The main slogan of RSS is that ‘Hindustan is for Hindus’. G.D Birla, a determined disciple of Gandhiji is also of the opinion that to solve the problems of Hindu-Muslim relationship the partition of India on religious line may be a welcome decision. An excerpt of Birla’s letter to Gandhiji is relevant to this context:

I wonder why it should not be possible to have two federations, one of Muslims and another of Hindus. The Muslim federation may be composed of all the provinces or portions of the provinces, which contain more than two-thirds Muslim population and the Indian states like Kashmir, which is composed, of Mussalmans. Another Federation may be of Hindus.18

G.D. Birla, in December 1939, meets Stafford Cripps in New Delhi. He presents a specific suggestion to Cripps pertaining to the solution of the Hindu-Muslim relationship. The suggestion is that there should be two states – one for Hindus and another for Muslims.

At the same time, it cannot be said that all Muslims in India accept Jinnah’s two-nation theory. We may refer to Abul Kalam Azad in this context. On Hindu-Musalman communal relationship, Abul Kalam Azad’s Presidential address in the annual conference of the National Congress, held at Ramgarh, December 1940, underlines categorically that the Constitution of India will guarantee the rights and interests of the Muslim community and the consent of the Muslim will be the only criterion in making any decision on the issues of the Musalmans. The democratic practice i.e., majority vote will be irrelevant in taking any decision on any Muslim issue. However, the Muslim League represents the voice of the Muslim mass in the forties of the last century. The Hindu perception of the Indian Partition is neither unitary nor indivisible. The Hindus belonging to the lower strata of the society during the colonial rule are happy because of their social and economic rehabilitation as well as prosperity in Independent India after 1947, though no one sheds his memories of killing and looting during the Partition violence. The economically solvent Hindus, particularly of higher caste, have to migrate to Independent India during the time of the Partition. In Punjab, the trade and commerce is primarily in the control of the Hindus and in Bengal, most of the Jamindars and Taluqdars are Hindus. The Muslims are mainly landless agricultural labourers. Money-lending business is the monopoly in the hands of the Hindu landlords and Talukdars. A microscopic section of the Muslims who is successful economic entrepreneurs before the partition of India has to migrate to Pakistan during the Partition violence. Their experience is also different. However, the general feelings of the Muslims who are united under the banner of the Muslim League pertain to the Crises of Identity. Perceptions of the Partition thus vary at different levels of society.

My purpose in referring to all these facts of the history of Indian partition is to show that the partition literature in English and in English translation replicates the loathing consequences of all these events. One of the fall-outs of these crosscurrents of events is the Muslim crisis of community identity. And it has been delineated by fictional writers on the theme of Indian partition. By the phrase, ‘Muslim crisis of community identity’, I mean the crisis of identity of Indian Muslims as a separate community.

The British Needed Jinnah

This is where Jinnah proved to have his uses. This ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity now seemed the best guarantee the British could find in India against a united political demand. With his limited mandate from the Muslim-majority provinces, Jinnah now had a semblance of a right to speak for Muslims at the center. This is where the British needed him and where they were ready to acknowledge his standing. But they wanted to keep him out of the affairs of the Muslim-majority provinces. The fact that Jinnah was hardly a free agent, a mere vakilof the Muslim provinces, made him a particularly convenient instrument from the British point of view . . . . Just how confident Delhi was of its ability to exploit the weaknesses both of the Congress High Command and its much weaker counterpart, the League, was shown on 3 September 1939, when Linlithgow, without consulting any Indian politician, simply announced that by declaring war on Germany Britain had automatically turned India into a belligerent in the allied cause. . . . The next day the Viceroy invited Jinnah, on an equal footing with Gandhi, for talks, and informed them that the efforts to implement the federal provisions of the 1935 Act would be suspended until after the war.19

Ayesha Jalal further comments:

With the constitutional question now effectively in cold storage, Linlithgow turned increasingly towards Jinnah and the League. He frankly admitted that Jinnah had given him ‘valuable help by standing against Congress claims and I was duly grateful’. Had Jinnah supported the Congress and ‘confronted me with a joint demand, the strain upon me and His Majesty’s Government would have been very great indeed . . . therefore, I could claim to have a vested interest in his position. On his side, Jinnah, mindful of the risks of making an open declaration of collaboration in the war effort, preferred to sit on the fence. In private, however, he thanked Linlithgow ‘with much graciousness’ for what the Viceroy had done to ‘assist him in keeping his party together. 20

The role of British rulers is important in the historicity of the Indian partition in 1947. A close examination of some partition fictions reveals how the Colonial rulers play a decisive part in separating India into two sovereign countries. Bhisham Sahni’s Tamas is a document on how the British administrator instigates the hostilities between the two communities.

A close reading of partition fictions also gives us an idea about the contradictory role of common people belonging to both Hindu and Muslim communities during the time of partition violence. An individual, whether a Muslim or a Hindu, is out-and-out humane, but when the same person is in his community, he looks a fiend, determined to fight members of his opponent community to the finish. Two communities, even long before the Indian partition in 1947, are hostile to each other. The vast volume of partition fiction shows instances in abundance – instances of an individual playing the most humane role in protecting the lives and properties of another individual belonging to other religious groups. The most interesting thing to note is that the same individual as part of his community takes an active part in most barbarous and inhumane killing and looting. Here again, the double identities of a person involved in partition violence become conspicuous. As a community, often and apparently in the name of religion, they loathe each other.

Thus, the phenomenon that both the Hindus and the Muslims despise each other is not a universal one. Hostility and friendliness are simultaneously present in the Hindu-Muslim relationship. The reality of both conflict and cooperation in the Hindu-Muslim communal relationship manifested itself through the vast volume of Indian partition literature in English and in English translation. In Tamas, Train to Pakistan, Azadi and in many short stories on partition theme, it is found that a Muslim protects a fellow Hindu in his own village during the time of communal tension. Yet, the same man goes to another village, indulges in rioting and kills members of the Hindu community. Bestiality and benevolence coexist in one man. As an individual, he is humane but as a member of the community, he is a devil. Suranjan Das in his doctoral thesis shows that the communal frenzy in Calcutta unleashed, on 16 August 1946, is a blend of benevolence and bestiality. The toll on human life is frightening. Writes Suranjan Das:

An official estimated that 4,000 died and 10,000 were injured. Contemporary newspapers are replete with shocking descriptions of swollen bodies –of young and old, men and women –lying in heaps, folded in gunny bags in the middle of roads, on lorries and hand-carts, or floating in canals.… An English official, Tennyson, described Calcutta as ‘a cross between the worst of London air raids and the great Plague’.21

 Hindu and Muslim Peace Committees

Suranjan Das goes on presenting further that amidst this gruesome turbulence and turmoil both the Hindu and the Muslim communities organise meetings and form peace committees. Leaders of both groups lead processions to restore communal amity. Suranjan Das also refers to numerous instances of communal help extended by both these two groups to each other. Nearly a hundred Hindus are given shelter in a central Calcutta Muslim ‘bustee’. Let me refer to a letter to the editor of The Statesman, dated 27 August 1946, written by A. Mumtaz Toor who unequivocally states that they have received ‘selfless help’ and ‘boundless human sympathy’ from Sikh and other Hindu neighbours. Correspondingly, old Muslims in some areas also protect Sikhs. In many diverse localities, a collective defence arrangement is developed to save people of both communities from external ‘goondas’. The communal identity and the individual identity of both Hindus and Muslims are contradictory to each other. 22

Thus, what is surprising is that both a Hindu and a Muslim have two identities – identity as an individual and identity as a member of his respective community. The role of the individual and that of the crowd in this turning point of Modern Indian history need a thorough examination. A comparative study of the role of the crowd in the epoch-making historical events in Europe and that in India during the time of Indian partition in 1947 is relevant to the context. The role of the crowd in the post-industrial militant society in England, in particular, and in Europe, in general, popularised a particular variety of ideology in the socio-political environment – the ideology that aimed at dislodging the forces of the Establishment and elite class, elimination of poverty, natural justice, religious sovereignty and so on. It also asserted the triumph of democracy and the rights and privileges of the common people in general. Let me refer to what “Hobsbawm cites the case of the Italian brigand leader of the 1860s – at the time of Garibaldi’s wars — who issued a proclamation that ran?”

 Out with traitors, out with the beggars, long live the fair kingdom of Naples with its most religious sovereign, long live the vicar of Christ, Pius 1X, and long live our ardent republican brothers”.23

The Indian partition, in 1947, is not merely a division of a country; on the contrary, it is a division of two hearts. The contention of this work is not to research the cause of this unique feature of Indian partition riots. Suranjan Das in his doctoral research has made a probing and thorough study on why and how the Indian partition riots in Bengal during the period 1905 to 1947 prop up communal consciousness. According to Suranjan Das, the Indian pre-partition period is ripe for the transformation of those riots into the struggles for redistribution of lands and struggles against social injustice, landlordism, and economic exploitations.

 Indian Partition Riots Delineated in Literature

My contention that this communal consciousness of the Indian partition riots has been faithfully delineated in Indian literature in English and in English translation. Naturally, the consequences of this communal consciousness result in bestiality, inhumanity, killings, lootings and large-scale mass destruction; hence the relevance to this point. This is the character of the inter-communal partition riots in India. In the partition, violence the Indian crowd consciousness hardly centers around any ideology of social transformation.

Another interesting narrative of the historicity on the partition of India is Mahatma Gandhi’s saintly role in averting this cataclysmic event of partition in 1947. During the last phase of Indian struggle for Independence i.e., after the conclusion of the Second World War in 1945, Gandhiji becomes very upset at the meandering negotiations among the British rulers, the leaders of the Congress Party and of the Muslim League. Virtually, Gandhiji is sidelined by all political leaders. Taking almost a back seat in the political process leading to the Independence of India, Gandhiji does not accept at his heart the partition of India. Jinnah’s stubborn demand for a separate homeland for the Musalmans in India and some Congress leaders’ strategy to win quick freedom from the British rulers even at the cost of the partition of India makes Gandhiji exasperated. The saintly man makes up his mind to send his personal emissary, Sudhir Ghose to the Cabinet Mission and to Mountbatten with his suggestion that Jinnah be made the prime Minister of India for a limited span of a period and that will be Jinnah’s trial of how he protects the interest of the majority community. Such a suggestion isolates Gandhiji from the mainstream of Congress politics. Some Congress leaders start apprehending that the fulfillment of their personal ambitions may be jeopardized if Gandhiji’s suggestion is accepted by the colonial rulers. Sumit Sarkar describes the state of Gandhiji’s mind in an emotive manner:

Gandhiji’s unique personal qualities and true greatness was never more evident than in the last months of his life: total disdain for all conventional forms of political power which could have been his for the asking now that India was becoming free; and a passionate anti-communalism which made him declare to a League leader a month after Partition, while riots were ravaging the Punjab: ‘I want to fight it out with my life. I would not allow the Muslims to crawl on the streets in India. They must walk with self-respect’ (Khaliquzzaman, Pathway to Pakistan, p.404). A Calcutta resident who is otherwise very far from being an adherent of Gandhi still recalls how at prayer meetings he used to brush aside the very idea of Hindus and Muslims belonging to different nations with a gently – depreciating smile.24

Gandhiji wants the Congress leadership, particularly Jawaharlal Nehru to renounce the position of the Prime Minister of India in favour of Mohammed Ali Jinnah to ensure the Independence of an undivided India.

Once again I reiterate that the reference to all these various facets of the narratives of historicity of the Indian partition highlight the fact that the fictional narratives in English and in English translation by writers like Chaman Nahal, Khuswant Singh, Urvashi Butalia, Bapsi Sidwa, Bhisma Sahani, Manto and others are parts of the narratives of Indian partition historicity. All these writers historicise one or other aspects of history in their fictions.



Works Cited:

 Notes and References

  1. Gynendra Pandey, “In Defense of Fragment:  Writing about Hindu-Muslim Riots in India Today”, Representations, No.37, Special Issue: Imperial Fantasies and Postcolonial Histories, Published by California University Press, (Winter, 1992), pp.28-29.
  2. Stories About the Partition of India, ed. Alok Bhalla, Introduction, (New Delhi: Harper Collins, 1999), p.xii
  3. India’s Partition Process, Strategy and Mobilization, ed. Mushirul Hasan (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1993), p.31.
  4. Urvashi Bhutalia, The Other Side of Silence, (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1998), p.8.
  5. Rafiq Zakaria, The Price of Partition Recollections and Reflections, (Mumbai: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 2002), p.156.
  6. Mottled Dawn Fifty Sketches and Stories of Partition, ed. & trans. Khalid Hasan, “Introduction”, (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1997), p.xii
  7. The Partition Omnibus, Introduction by Mushirul Hasan, (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004), p.xii.
  8. 8. Quoted Gynendra Pandey, “In Defense of Fragment: Writing about Hindu-Muslim Riots in India Today”, Representations, No.37, Special Issue: Imperial Fantasies and Postcolonial Histories.  p.30
  9. Muhammad Umar Memom, “Partition Literature: A Study of Intizar Husain”, Modern Asian Studies, Vol.14, No.3 (1980), p.380.
  10. Mushirul Hasan, India’s Partition Process, Strategy and Mobilization, pp.56-57
  11. Ajeet Jawed, Secular Nationalist Jinnah (New Delhi: Kitab Publishing House, 1998), p.10.
  12. Ibid., p. 15.
  13. Bapsi Sidhwa, Ice-Candy Man (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1988) p.144.
  14. Quoted from Ajeet Jawed, Secular Nationalist Jinnah, pp.259-60.
  15. Mushirul Hasan, India’s Partition Process, Strategy and Mobilization, p.53.
  16. Ibid., p.54.
  17. Pralay Kanungo, RSS’s Tryst with Politics (Delhi: Manohar, 2002) p.278.
  18. Quoted from Suniti Kumar Ghosh, The Tragic Partition of Bengal (Allahabad: Indian Academy of Social Sciences, 2002), and p.279.
  19. Tariq Rahman, A History of English Literature in Pakistan, (Lahore: Vanguard Books Pvt. Ltd.1999), p.24.
  20. Ibid., p.25
  21. Ibid., p.49.
  22. Ayesha Jalal, The Sole Spokesman Jinnah, the Muslim League and the Demand for Pakistan, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), pp.46-47.
  23. Suranjan Das, Communal Riots in Bengal 1905-1947, (Delhi: The Oxford University Press, 1991) p.171.
  24. Ibid., p.181.

Materials and language are taken from my book, Chakraborti, Basudeb, Indian Partition Fiction in English and in English Translation: A Text on Hindu-Muslim, Relationship. Calcutta: Papyrus, 2007.

 ©Basudeb Chakraborti

Photo by the author and internet.

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Basudeb Chakraborti is a retired professor of English and Faculty Dean, University of Kalyani. He founded the Department of English in Sikkim Central University (2013). He taught in the USA and India. He wrote more than 100 articles in different literary journals in India and abroad. Among his books, Thomas Hardy’s View of Happiness, Some Problems of Translation: A Study of Tagore’s Red Oleanders, Indian Partition Fiction in English and in English Translation, etc.