This historical opinion piece titled “Separated Siblings” is the story of two nations, India and Pakistan. You can also read the Punjabi translation of this piece by Seerat Gill here.
As kids, whenever my sister and I would fight over a toy, our mother would take it away from us .We grew up with the principle that anything that makes us fight should either be discarded immediately or shared. We still fight (almost everyday), but over the years, we have agreed to disagree and resolve our disagreements before going to bed.
If you think about it, Hindus and Muslims are also like two siblings fighting, aren’t they? In fact, the fight is not even theirs, rather forced upon them. They are two siblings who hitherto lived and fought together for their country. What is worse is that their hatred has blinded them, their decisions are not rational but born out of revenge to gain leverage over each other.
Every time I swear at my sister, I am engulfed by immediate guilt for swearing at the person who always has my back. Is the hatred between Hindus and Muslims so entrenched that they have both forgotten the great rebellion of 1857, when Nana Saheb fought bravely alongside Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar? Begum Hazrat Mahal took an active part in organising the uprising against the British. In Jhansi, Rani Lakshmibai joined the rebel sepoys and fought the British along with Tantia Tope, the general of Nana Saheb. In the Mandla region of Madhya Pradesh, Rani Avantibai Lodhi of Ramgarh raised and led an army of four thousand against the British who had taken over the administration of her state.
My mother used to praise me when I would stand up for my sister or vice versa. The 1857 revolt was not unsuccessful, in fact it was a symbol of unity in diversity. How both siblings – Hindus and Muslims fought for each other to ultimately try and defeat their enemy. Unfortunately, Britishers were smart enough to realise this unity and they attacked exactly that. Our father says that if we don’t look out for each other, people will divide us and take advantage of us. Doesn’t this sound painfully familiar? Isn’t this exactly what imperialism did to the Hindus and Muslims in Kolkata, the young kids who would draw inspiration from Ashfaqullah Khan and Ram Prasad Bismil to one day defenestrate the evil imperialistic forces “together”.
Of course, the Britishers succeeded in their “Sam Dam Dand Bhed” by igniting the spark of hatred but Hindus and Muslims also committed mistakes that fuelled it. Whenever we fight, I put my ego aside and apologise. It wasn’t exactly ego but fear that Muslims will always be marginalised and oppressed by the Hindus. As I understand, it is the majority that Congress won during provincial elections and the failure of talks between Jinnah and the Congress that had a fallout on the ground, aided by a parallel rise of extremist views and forces on both sides of the political spectrum, that fuelled the germ of the idea of partition, propounded initially by Savarkar in 1923.
Winston Churchill, merely predisposed to managing situations through creating divisions, saw innate merit in supporting Jinnah. Rather than giving into the demands of the Congress which was strongly against separation until it started to sideline Gandhi who was not convinced on the subject. It is a matter of record that Patel, on the advice of States Secretary V.P. Menon had accepted the inevitability of Partition by December 1946 and had signalled this to Nehru. Patel was convinced, as he later stated, that “if India is to remain united it must be divided”. Nehru was also eventually convinced that Partition was a necessary evil in order to neutralise Jinnah’s politics and to establish a strong and centralised Indian state which would have been impossible with Muslim League ministries in office in undivided Punjab and Bengal.
Jinnah called for “direct action” to realize the idea of Pakistan. Thousands died as the riots began in August 1946. Trouble began to spread to Noakhali in West Bengal and Bihar. This was probably the turning point when Congress leaders saw no further point fighting the idea that Jinnah had presented, the idea that the British had assiduously foisted and aggressively worked towards.
What comes next is not a petty fight between siblings but an inferno of detestation that burns the ability of rational thinking. Knives were stabbed by both Hindus and Muslims while Khan Abul Ghaffar Khan and Mahatma Gandhi opposed the partition. Kamla Bhasin and Ritu Menon, in their book “Borders & Boundaries: Women in India’s Partition” reveal that the official number of women who were abducted while on their way to Pakistan stands at 50,000, while 33,000 women were abducted as they attempted to migrate to India. This was while Amrita Pritam called out to Waris Shah and Faiz Ahmed Faiz was imprisoned in the hope of Subh-e-Azadi.
The partition was accepted to prevent an eternal fragmented India. However, the communal violence left Hindus and Muslims on both sides of the border scarred beyond healing.
Attempts at reconciliation were still made when we adopted a Constitution that sought to accommodate diversity and establish a secular state. Compromises were reached to mourn the death of the beloved Mahatma and Communal politics lost its appeal as organisations like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh were banned.
Unfortunately, the trauma of separation, mutilation and violence is now being used as a political agenda to attain leverage among political parties. Historical evidence is tarnished and manipulated to suit partisan ideology. Statues of leaders who spoke of secularism and would be disappointed to see the lynchings, violation of rights etc. are being erected to cover the blatant infringement of rights.
Post-independence, Pakistan waged vindictive wars, sponsored terrorism and the Government stayed silent. Kashmiri pandits were violently thrown out of their house, while we tried to pursue peaceful negotiations. We have always posed a defensive front, which has been taken advantage of. We eventually responded through a surgical strike. An offensive front is important, but what about inciting violence and hatred against the innocents? How is that justified? Killing people on mere suspicion of eating beef? While formulating laws, it was the Congress and Jansangh that put cow protection under Directive Principle of State Policy. Besides, shunning beef has been projected as the single-widow solution to all the woes of Indian Muslims. It would be inherently illogical if we were to continue slaughtering cattle for export, while denying our own poor people the right to sell it and eat it. At last, how is it justified that girls wearing hijab are stopped from entering classes or are made to sit separately, a practice that originates from the principle of untouchability abolished by the Indian Constitution. Instead of stopping them from studying, they should be left to consciously choose whether to accept or reject that practice.
Saat sanduqon mein bhar kar dafn kar do nafratein
Aaj insaan ko mohabbat ki zarurat hai bahut
To conclude, there were times when Hindus and Muslims united to leave a legacy of fraternity. There are many examples of this. In 1919, the idea of refraining from cow slaughter was conceived by nationalist Muslims like Maulana Mohammad Ali, Shaukat Ali, Hakim Ajmal Khan who actively took part in the Mahatma Gandhi led Non-Cooperation Khilafat movement. The friendship of Agha Ahmed Raza, Amar Kapur and Rishad Haider who grew up in Lahore, Pakistan survived despite the division.
There still is a Hindu savouring kebabs in the streets of Lucknow or a Muslim at the Parantha Wali Galli. There still is hope and willingness to reconcile amongst the youth of this country. Don’t punish them for a Burhan Muzaffar Wani or Kasab. Despotism has never suppressed revolts, it has only resulted in rebellions. We don’t want another innocent brainwashed by separatists (equally fascist individuals) into terrorism. Democracy is falling as one community enjoys power being pumped out of forced donors. Protesting for a fair democracy is not terrorism, dissent is not anti-nationalism. Do not let these vague statements to protect an individual hinder the initiatives that can heal the scars of partition. See beyond the toxicity, remember the boats decorated by a Muslim family in Rameswaram during the annual Shri Sita Rama Kalyanam ceremony. Come together to recognise the concerns of Mahatma Gandhi who was shot for trying to end communal violence and strived for truth, non-violence, justice and tolerance and Bashir Badr, who urged his fellow countrymen to bury hatred far out of sight, despite his home in Meerut being looted and set on fire.
1. The 1857 Revolt: NCERT Textbook for Class 8
2. The Hindu Editorial on Congress and Partition
3. Gandhi is being Maligned in the New India Influenced by Hindu Extremists but it isn’t Going to Work: Indian Yug
4. The Wire: Savarkar the staunch supporter of British colonialism, came to be known as Veer.
5. Indian Legal Services: Freedom of Conscience, Fundamentals and Exceptions
7. The Wire interview with Karan Thapar
8. Brown History: Gandhi’s Assassination, The glorification of Nathuram Godse
Manushree Swami(she/her) is a history enthusiast. She is interested in studying societal constructs such as misogyny, casteism, and communal clashes etc. So much so that she will compliment you and perhaps (definitely!) fight with you on controversial theories and social divisions. She loves meeting new people.