Home Features Birth of two nations: India and Pakistan

Birth of two nations: India and Pakistan

On the 70th anniversary of partition, Fatima Zehra describes the birth of India and Pakistan and the subsequent history in the region

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According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, over 6.5 million people had been displaced in Syria by 2014. Experts believe there are 4 million Iraq refugees around the world. In Nigera, there are over 200,000 people categorized as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC).

In 1947, over 10 million people were displaced in the Indian subcontinent. On 14-15 August, three parties, all with individual stakes in the game, officially established partition.

And at midnight, India and Pakistan were born.

British India

The British Raj’s policy of divide and rule helped them govern India for over a century, beginning in an official capacity after the Mutiny of 1857 – which locals still refer to the as War of Independence. Initially arriving in the aftermath of the Dutch and the Portuguese to trade in cotton and spices, British forces systematically annexed and took over territories governed by either independent rulers or by the Mughal dynasty. By the twentieth century, Britain’s hold on India was secure.

Trouble began in 1905, when the divide and rule policy backfired with the partition of Bengal, a measure undertaken by viceroy Lord Curzon in an attempt to divide the vast province of under religious lines to help in the representation of minorities and the administration of the province. His reasons were immediately dismissed – the partition was too soon after the 1885 formation of the Indian National Congress, and was seen as a direct attack on the region’s governing Hindu elite. In response, in 1906 the All-India Muslim League was formed, to combat the growing Hindu influence in British India. Thus the Partition of Bengal and its reversal in 1911 began the debate that would last over 40 years: who should rule India?

Pakistan

The idea of Pakistan is attributed to many people – Sir Syed Ahmad Khan has been considered the architect of the Two-Nation Theory, firmly believing that a separate area for Hindus and Muslims was necessary in order for the latter community to flourish as it had under Mughal rule. Allama Muhammad Iqbal, a philosopher heavily involved in the formation of the Muslim League and a strong promoter of Muslim rights in the Indian subcontinent, was another notable influence. However, the man often given sole credit for the creation of Pakistan – once called the Ambassador for Hindu Muslim unity when he was a member of Congress – was Muhammad Ali Jinnah. A trained barrister from Lincoln’s Inn in London, this esteemed politician has been given the title of Quaid-e-Azam: ‘Father of the Nation.’

Jinnah and Gandhi from Wikimedia Commons

Critics of Jinnah argue that religion was a means to an end, a convenient way to unite the Muslims based on the one thing they all had in common. Caste, creed, language, and geographical locations came second, which was the definitive reason behind East and West Pakistan being separated by more than 1,000 miles of territory governed by the newly formed and independent India. In addition, the Pakistan Movement did not begin until 1940. Prior to this, Jinnah was advocated the idea of self-rule perpetuated by Congress, but unwilling to go along with the idea of a separate nation for Muslims. It was not until the provincial elections of 1937, when the League failed to create a government and Congress’ policies were found to alienate Muslims, that Jinnah took a stand.

India

Mahatma Gandhi is a name renowned world-wide, not only as the leader of the Indian independence movement but as the founder of a variety of nonviolent civil disobedience campaigns in India that have inspired countless other operations all over the world. Beginning as a lawyer in South Africa, Gandhi arrived in India in 1915 to organize the disgruntled peasants and farmers, calling for them to protest what he saw as unfair taxation and administration by the British Raj. Prior to Jinnah’s decision to split from an independent India, Gandhi assumed leadership of Congress in 1921 and called for “Swaraj” – self-rule. It is noteworthy, however, that while Gandhi was insistent on British rule ending in the subcontinent, he did not advocate the two-nation theory. Under his model, India would remain united, with Congress leadership representing both Hindus, Muslims and all other religions.

Gandhi from Wikimedia Commons

It was Jawaharlal Nehru’s vision of a secular, socialist India that was to emerge after Gandhi’s efforts. Despite strong policies and popularity with the people, Nehru’s unwillingness to compromise on the united India ideal has been seen as a major contribution to the bloody partition that took place in 1947. His personal friendship with Lord Mountbatten and his family has also been viewed as a reason for his extreme dislike of the creation of Pakistan.

Then and Now

Salman Rushdie, arguably one of the most famous writers to come out of South Asia, has referred to Pakistan as a failed state – a “failure of the imagination”. However, it is necessary to examine what exactly the imaginary homeland was that Muslims envisioned for themselves, and how the modern Pakistan differs from this conception. Jinnah’s idea for Pakistan was a land for the Muslims, by the Muslims, comprising of Muslim-majority states of the Indian subcontinent. What we have today is only West Pakistan (East Pakistan fought for separation and emerged as Bangladesh in 1971). A country dogged by numerous challenges, such as debt and political controversy, it is not the ideal that Jinnah had painted for his followers prior to 1947.

Then again, India is not perfect either. Despite Nehru’s insistence on a secular state, India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (Prime Minister Modhi’s party) has Hindu nationalist policies that echo the era of the Indian National Congress in 1935, when critics began to call it a Hindu dominated party rather than a representation of all the people of the Indian subcontinent. This may have contributed to the violence of 2002, which was based on Hindu-Muslim clashes, leading to the alleged rape, torture and murder of over 100,000 people.

Unresolved Issues

The two countries have gone to war multiple times, notably over the state of Kashmir and the war that led to the creation of Bangladesh in 1971. In 1960, the Indus Water Treaty was signed with the aid of the UN that allowed Pakistan water from mountain ranged based in India, without which the agriculture-based economy would have perished. Border skirmishes are also common, and the changing of the flag ceremony at Wagah Border is attended by hundreds of people daily as an expression of patriotic spirit.

It is easy to focus on the problems of these nations as their responsibility. However, divide and rule is something that most historians have brushed under the rug of history. How was it, that an empire which had been functioning perfectly well on its own, should fall into disorder and chaos once it was given the right to rule itself after nearly a century of oppression and divided accordingly? The keyword is, of course, divide. Hindus and Muslims, the two dominant religious groups of the area, had been turned against each other steadily since 1857 once the ruling authorities had figured out that the only way to stay in India was to ensure that the Indians wanted them there. And for years, it worked – most did. The British kept religious violence to a minimum, and soon Muslims forgot that they had once ruled India, just as Hindus forgot they had once helped them do it. It was not until political awareness took root and the effects of revolution reached the subcontinent that its inhabitants realized they were not dependent on the British Empire. Battles and wars had been fought and won and lost for a cause many did not believe in, and even more did not understand. In the end, the only battle that mattered was the battle for independence. Unfortunately, subsequent battles between the two nations have had less than noble motivation, which only goes to show how far the divide aspect of the divide and rule policy has seeped into the mindsets of the residents of the once-united Indian subcontinent.

Hope

Nevertheless, faith in one’s nation has rarely been a force that can be defeated. A strong feeling of patriotism is often expressed by Indians and Pakistanis. This may perhaps be because the stories of freedom and the migration across the border are ingrained into the minds of all from an early age, whether they lived through that time or not. Pakistan hosts the fourth highest number of refugees in the world, boasts two Nobel Prize winners, and is the only Muslim-majority country in the world to possess nuclear weapons. Its average economic growth rate in the first five decades of independence had been higher than the growth rate of the world economy during the same period. Similarly, India has a booming software industry, a 70 per cent literacy rate, and has kept the spirit of democracy alive without a single dictatorship in its political history. Only 70 years old, their history and culture spans centuries, giving an impression that they have been around for far longer. And, with a little bit of luck and a lot of effort, one day they might just be friends.

 

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